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New age of web-enabled tools

Choose the right technology to support workers so that they are free to extend their marketing creativity

Web toolsPharma invests a lot in updating the skills of marketers and business intelligence people, but the problem is that doing this properly takes time and best practice is not necessarily put into action. How often have people been sent on an 'interesting course' that has not resulted in a change in behaviour which will actually improve business performance?

Of course, people naturally do what gets the best results in the time available. The training informs them what 'best' looks like and, if time permits, how to do it. Unfortunately, too often achieving 'better' requires more time, which is something brand teams generally do not have. This is why these new skills are not used in practice.

Keeping skills up to date and honing them via training is important – that is not the issue. What is needed is to find a way of working which enables people to have the time to do things as close to best practice as they can.

To achieve this there are two options. The first is simple, or perhaps simplistic: employ more people to share the workload, giving everyone in the team the space to fully flex that newly-upgraded capability. However, in the current climate, this is unlikely to be the popular choice among corporate bodies in the pharma industry.

So what is the other option? How can we drive best practice, and hence improve business performance, without increasing human resources?

The answer lies in making sure that the existing human resources have the right tools to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

As well as improving staff skills, companies need to provide the tools people need to carry out tasks to exceptional standards easily and quickly, rather than doing them in their own 'it will have to do' way that they may have adopted previously.

Step-change
Just as the first industrial revolution handed the tools to workers to enable them to increase efficiency (and drive improvements in quality), there is an equally important step-change happening now, which the industry needs to embrace. As the nineteenth century was the age of steam-driven tools, now is the age of web-enabled tools.

Pharma brand teams should be looking at the main areas where web-enabled tools can help them put best practice into action more effectively, improving the quality of thinking and output. The aspects of planning, forecasting and decision making that tend to consume the most time are:
• Sharing plans with colleagues to obtain input and support
• Gathering and analysing data to validate assumptions
• Strategy evaluation and decision-making
• Calculating and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), sales and costs.

Fortunately, all four of these are areas which lend themselves to web-enabled applications, which can both save time and improve performance. So how can these applications help?

Sharing plans
The number of people in an organisation who have input on a plan can be daunting. They can include business intelligence, other members of the marketing team, plus channel owners (sales manager, market access manager, key opinion leader management, digital, medical etc). Added to those are the departments which have to review the plans and forecasts, such as finance, management teams and so on.

All in all, there could be a dozen people involved in the creation, refinement and signing-off procedure. This can involve a lot of time and hassle getting the documents to and from people, along with the version control problems it creates. However, by using online planning tools, people can be given access to certain sections of a master document and invited to input and review through a workflow process. This is simpler to administer, control and track and it saves time too.

Gathering and analysing data
When starting to analyse data, it is likely that someone, somewhere, has done the same thing before. A lot of time can be wasted duplicating effort. Of course, it is necessary to validate the resource required to roll out a new value proposition, and the probable returns, but if the work has already been done, this is a horrific organisational inefficiency.

It would be far better to hold an online library of analysis and analogs in order to fast-track this process. The analogue and analysis owners would be visible, so any additional questions could be directed to them. Ideally, they will have captured the expected uplift, what happened in practice, costs and what was critical to success, saving the next analyst much effort and time, which can be directed elsewhere.

"Now is the time to be developing web-enabled tools in order to set free the human marketing creativity. This is the future."

Every pharma marketer has at his or her disposal a number of professional decision-making frameworks, from the basic Boston Matrix and Balanced Score Card to Net Present Value models. But do they use them? Not if it takes too much time to prepare them.

Again, web-based applications can do much of this preparatory work, leaving the marketer free to do the thinking and analysis needed to turn that evaluation into sensible decision-making.

Simply pick the app that provides the decision-making framework that best applies to the situation and plug in the inputs (or import them from Excel). The result is a nicely presented output for the plan that shows how the decision was taken.

Calculating and tracking
When it comes to cost estimation, there seem to be two approaches: either the finance department rules with an iron fist, or each pharma marketer adopts his or her own individual Excel approach. Even accepting that each of these methods is valid, how are sales uplift and ROI calculated?

Here, the library of analogs which is available to the brand team is key. Any company not building such a library is missing out on something it would probably find invaluable, and it is strongly recommend that every pharma brand team should be putting one in place.

Crucially, how the case files are built is key to how useful they are likely to be for others. They need to explain more than the simple numbers and go into the details of explaining the 'what was done' and 'why' elements. The identification of meaningful KPIs can be made easier with the use of online tools that capture best practice for the areas and channels in which the company intends to operate.

The tracking element is then managed through having a dashboard that all can access online, into which they can input as new data comes in and which they can view to aid ongoing decision-making and plan refinement.

Driving efficiency
No-one today would argue that mechanisation and innovation have done anything other than drive efficiency in manufacturing.

Now the same kind of thinking needs to be introduced to processes such as pharmaceutical marketing, to ensure that the skills and creativity of talented marketers are channelled into areas which add the greatest value to pharma companies, with process-based activity delegated not to additional people, but to online tools which can do the work efficiently.

It is pointless to improve the skills of industry's marketing leaders if they are not given the time and the space to use those extra skills in as good a 'best practice' model as possible. So now is the time to be developing web-enabled tools in order to set free the human marketing creativity.

Alex Blyth - MSI Consultancy

The Author

Alex Blyth is a managing consultant and head of marketing sciences at The MSI Consultancy.





26th September 2011

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