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Pharmacy sales partners

How do you choose the right contract sales and marketing partner for your needs?
Pharmacy sales partners

There is no lack of willingness at any stage of the over-the-counter (OTC) supply chain to see OTC medicines supplied effectively and readily by pharmacies. As trade body the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) noted in June: “Pharmacy's role is to move people from scared and uninformed to confident and informed, so they feel in positive control of their lives.”

In the PAGB's annual review Reena Barai, an independent pharmacy contractor from London, added: “It's about the conversation that you have with the patient, the empathy you show for their condition, and the advice, healthy lifestyle interventions and signposting you provide.”

However, there are clear indications that this willingness is not quite enough to deliver the OTC medicines supply idyll that PAGB suggests. For the pharma company keen to prolong its products' lifecycle, it is important to understand where the problems - and solutions - lie. 

Thirty years and still not there
It has been 30 years since medicines started to switch from prescription control to OTC sale in the UK and over this time suppliers have reclassified a wide range of ingredients to relieve the symptoms of minor ailments, treat acute and long-term conditions and prevent ill health. But, despite these efforts of the OTC industry, the PAGB reports that people are still more likely to turn to the doctor when seeking advice and reassurance about common ailments, and at the same time waste scarce NHS resources. 

The Association clearly sees OTC medicines and pharmacies as part of the solution to achieving cost-effective NHS services, but critics of pharmacy say that to be worthy of this accolade pharmacies need to step up their game. What is generally accepted is that pharma companies have an important role to play in helping service providers such as pharmacy to achieve the necessary improvements. 

Although levelled at the UK pharmacy network, these comments however are equally valid in the European pharmacy context - particularly as medicines regulation continues to take on a European flavour. As health services the world over grapple with the challenges of expanding and ageing populations which increasingly require nothing short of excellence from their respective health services, the need to maximise healthcare efficiencies does not stop at pharmacies' doors either. It applies equally to other healthcare service providers including hospitals, doctors and clinical homecare providers, which increasingly are providing complex care in patients' homes and often work in collaboration with community pharmacies. Recently in the UK in primary care, where most of the UK NHS drugs budget is spent, there have been seismic operational changes. In England, service commissioning has been made more competitive and it is clear that every service model is now subject to scrutiny, open competition and tender. 

Pharma's response
So what can pharma companies do to rise to these challenges, and ensure their brand 'messages' fall on the most fertile areas of ground and reach the most receptive audience possible? And how can they ensure these messages are sent through the widest possible range of healthcare product and service supply routes available to consumers today - including those that are yet to emerge?

Forward-thinking brands would be well-advised to adopt a more collaborative approach

To answer those questions it is useful, first, to look in more detail at the 2013 PAGB annual review, and at the UK pharmacy experience. This provides useful insight into the challenges facing product suppliers today as they look to extend their products' lifecycle. 

In its 2013 review, PAGB reports that one problem is that innovative switches in new therapeutic categories can result in pharmacists and pharmacy staff feeling unprepared and less likely to support or recommend the product. Another problem arises as pharmacies attempt to find the most practical and effective support and training for their individual product-related needs from the myriad of training products and providers available to them, while at the same time grappling with ever-increasing dispensing volumes and increasing demands to deliver new NHS services. 

In the highly competitive UK market, pharmacies also want to be able to offer the right range and innovative product portfolio within advice-driven healthcare categories – at competitive prices. This becomes even more challenging for time-poor independent pharmacists with small teams, who, in particular, benefit from training support services. 

With over 14,100 (IMS data 2012) retail pharmacies operating in the UK alone, it is clearly no mean feat to provide pharmacies with the product training and brand support solutions they need. This feat can become even more challenging when interaction is required with other bodies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). For this reason, forward-thinking brand-owners are well advised to adopt a more collaborative approach. This approach requires increased resource and can involve partnership with a contract sales and marketing company with retail pharmacy knowledge, commercial expertise and, where required, logistics support. The support should also include tailored brand solutions comprising effective brand sell-in and sell-out contact strategies that can strengthen the provider's ability to meet their commercial objectives. 

Choosing the right partner
So how do you choose the right contract sales and marketing partner for your needs? 

The best contract sales strategy starts with an honest look at your brand coverage challenges. To identify your strategy needs, ask yourself the following key questions: 

  • Am I getting the most out of field training/ sales and telesales resources?
  • Am I achieving an acceptable ROI with my existing activity?
  • Are my existing field resources effectively representing our growing brand portfolio?
  • Do I have access to the best data to measure activity and adapt the contact strategy?
  • Are there any channels or geographical locations where my brands are under represented?
  • What qualitative and quantitative data do I need to make informed decisions?

For pharmacy companies with a broad portfolio of products all at different lifecycle stages, the first feature you should look for in a partner is a broad bank of insight and commercial expertise. The ideal partner will have a breadth of expertise across your chosen retail target healthcare channels from independent pharmacies to national multiple chains. The ideal partner will also collaborate with you to provide the right contact strategy to deliver the required return on investment.

Despite 30 years of OTC switches, patients are still more likely to turn to their doctor than a pharmacist

As the UK and European pharma markets continue to consolidate, the forward-thinking brand manager also needs a partner who can advise on local market regulations and requirements and execute multi-country activity. This partner should also be able to recommend the right marketing and communications, customer segmentation, consulting on financial matters, logistics options and advise on cultural nuances. Partnerships that are managed across all markets should deliver consistent quality and strong local engagement. 

Clearly, choosing the ideal contract sales partner is important and getting it right will facilitate meaningful conversations, boost OTC sales and enhance your brand performance.

Article by
Dave Bull

general manager at Skills in Healthcare. Email him

23rd October 2013

From: Sales, Healthcare

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