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Market researchers must become internal consultants

Bayer's Dr Thomas Hein gives his first interview as president of the European Pharmaceutical Market Research Association

Thomas Hein  
Since starting in market research 20 years ago, Thomas Hein's driving force has been to weave market research into the fabric of a company. “I see the most important part of my role as integrating customer, market and competitive insights into the company's marketing and management decision processes,” he says. “Without these insights, we cannot make the best decisions for the company and for patients.”

The attitude of market researchers within the pharmaceutical industry must change, says Hein. “Market researchers must become internal consultants. We must go beyond being 'request-takers' and 'data and information providers', and become important players in multifunctional teams. I train my co-workers to ask marketers a crucial question – what is the business question supported by the outcome of this research? We are not in the business of providing 'nice to know' information, only business-critical insights.”

In his experience, once marketers work with proactive market researchers, they soon see their value. “In Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, we have reached a situation where marketers engage with market researchers; they describe the problem and ask our opinion on how to address it,” says Hein. 

“By challenging marketing, we help them to step back and see the bigger picture. Also, by focusing on the studies they really need, and avoiding 'nice to know' research, we can ensure they have sufficient budget for essential projects. We now have marketers who will not attend a major meeting with the global brand team without their market researcher.”

Market researchers must become internal consultants. We must go beyond being … 'data and information providers'

It takes time to establish a new mindset but researchers can use that time to develop new skill sets, he says. “In addition to core data and analytical skills that all researchers need, we must also refine our 'soft' skills around communication and negotiation. We need highly developed people skills: people who are comfortable talking to different management levels and able to argue the merits of our case, to defend our corner.”

The end of an era
The value of quantitative research is decreasing, says Hein. “The central question that we must always strive to answer is 'what is driving customer behaviour?' But the old quantitative techniques are failing to deliver the insights we need and it is growing more difficult to get representative samples of physicians,” he says. 

“Going back to basics, in order to achieve a representative sample from a population, everyone must have the same chance of being selected and must participate. This is not the case right now. When agencies have to contact 10-20 physicians in order to conduct one interview, the situation is likely to be biased.”

Capturing customer insights
Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical's Thomas Hein details a study that used innovative observational technique to answer a crucial business question. “Market research agency, Segmedica, presented a case study in oncology where there was a disparity between the projected and real-life use of a medicine. To find out more about this gap, and why physicians prescribe one drug over another, the agency recorded live conversations between patients and oncologists,” he says.

Two key elements of the study were psychological profiling of the physicians and follow-up telephone interviews with physicians and patients. The client's drug was perceived to be an effective but aggressive treatment option, where side effects caused distress to some of the patients. 

“By recording the conversations, it was clear that in patients who were perceived as emotionally fragile, physicians tended to prescribe the older, less aggressive treatment,” says Hein. “Whereas the newer treatment tended to be given to patients who were perceived as health-conscious and informed, who stated that they wanted to fight the disease. These drivers were subconscious and if you asked the physicians directly they were unaware of them.”

To counter these subconscious motivations, the company ran an educational programme aimed at helping doctors to see how they react to the personality of their patients and to make the decision-making process more conscious.

Hein also sees role-playing as an interesting technique to gain insights into current practice. “By using actors instead of patients, you can prime them to ask certain questions of the physicians,” he says. “The situation is clearly artificial and, at first, physicians tend to answer in a textbook way. However, after as little as 30-40 seconds we find they tend to fall back into their regular behaviour and react to the actor as they would to a patient.”

Market researchers should make greater use of such qualitative techniques and look to develop even more innovative approaches, says Hein. “We must look to the experience of consumer companies, especially retail companies that spend a lot of time observing the behaviour of their customers. Who knows what techniques are out there that could really make a difference?” 

Market researchers must help marketing to realise that quantitative studies will not deliver real customer insights. “If you ask a question, the respondent rationalises his or her answer,” says Hein. “If you ask physicians how they treat specific patients in specific indications, they will give you the textbook answer, not the real-world situation. We need less intervention, not more.” (See Capturing Customer Insights, above, for more on new techniques to capture customer insights.)

How EphMRA can help

As the newly elected president of EphMRA, Hein has several priorities. “My first and most important priority is to raise awareness of the vital work that goes on within EphMRA,” he says. “Through our continually updated Code of Conduct, EphMRA is creating excellence in pharmaceutical market research, raising professional standards and aiding market researchers as they strive to become highly valued business partners. The Association runs events and meetings throughout the year that are the best places for market researchers to meet, to hear about the latest trends and developments and, most importantly, to work together to tackle the problems and issues that face us all. As President, I intend to engage as many companies as possible and increase the reach of EphMRA yet further. After all, the more perspectives we have on a situation the better.”

If you ask physicians how they treat specific patients … they will give you a textbook answer

Under Hein's guidance, EphMRA will also actively engage two key constituents; the public and healthcare authorities. “We must educate the public at large about the purpose of market research and that is not about promoting products. Our job is to bring customer perspectives into the company so that we can improve our products, services and educational materials to better meet their needs. 

“When I say 'customers', I am increasingly talking about patients, because capturing their insights and understanding their needs is a crucial part of market research's role in helping to improve patient health.”

Hein points to the importance of patient education campaigns. “In oncology, raising awareness of the disease is vital. Colorectal cancer, for example, is often treatable when diagnosed early but the mortality rate for patients with a later diagnosis is much higher. 

“Educational programmes that encourage patients to visit their doctor for routine examinations like colonoscopies increase the rates of early diagnosis and save lives. However, to ensure that we get our educational campaigns right, we have to know how to best explain the disease, and this requires insights from both physicians and patients.”

Greater engagement
Under his leadership, EphMRA will engage with healthcare authorities about key issues. “Pharma market research needs a closer relationship with authorities such as the European Commission,” he says. 

Career timeline

Vice President Global Market Research
Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals
January 2007 – Present; Berlin, Germany

Vice President Global Market Research
Schering AG
2001 – December 2006

Head of Market Research Specialised Therapeutics
Berlex Laboratories Inc
November 1999 – December 2000; Wayne NJ, USA

“We must do a better job of explaining the nature of market research and that it can be hindered by additional regulation, thereby damaging public health. The new pharmacovigilance legislation that requires researchers to report adverse drug reactions mentioned by a physician during an interview is a cause for concern.”

Research works best when it is double-blind, he says. “When the physician doesn't know which company is running the study and the company doesn't have the details of the respondent there is no danger of any data being used inappropriately.  As soon as you break anonymity, as with the adverse event reporting, you risk biasing the results. 

“I believe there are better channels through which to carry out the vital task of adverse event reporting, approaches that do not destroy the neutrality of market research. As president, we will be speaking to the authorities about this and other issues.”

12th December 2012

From: Sales, Marketing

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