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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Analysis paralysis?

Highly versed in customer relationship management and eCRM, Fonny Schenck looks at the current need for fusion between online and offline data management

What has always struck me about pharma marketing and sales is their ambiguous relationship to metrics. Some marketers, often with a scientific background, are highly quantitative and throw a lot of money at market research before, during and after a project, which often leads to analysis paralysis, overly complicated reporting and an elusive (and expensive) search for RoI. 

Others (the majority I would say) merely go by gut feeling (“in gut we trust”) and do not measure at all. Very few have found the middle ground and make the right distinction between metrics (ie, any measurement), KPIs (ie, a specific metric that drives performance) and RoI (ie, a financial KPI that measures the efficiency of an investment).

Fortunately, there are a lot of exceptions… I know a pharma company that used KPIs in a brilliant way to dramatically improve its sales force efficiency and effectiveness across Europe from the late 90s onwards. It settled on nine qualitative and quantitative KPIs, which were measured monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the metric – across all its 25+ affiliates. Senior local and regional management leveraged the resulting dashboards to steer for performance and at the same time created a common language around what 'good' looked like. No surprise that this company enhanced its sales operations significantly in the next decade.

Multichannel – galvanising the 'new normal'
When it comes to multichannel, we see the same kind of divide. On the one hand, some marketers research everything to death to ensure a strong hypothetical RoI before even embarking on a cross-channel programme. Others get attracted by the latest hypes in social/mobile… and just want to “innovate”, not realising that it's also about establishing digital as a key (and often decidedly unsexy) channel. Neither of these two extremes will galvanise the slow movement of pharma to the 'New Normal', where digital is not about innovation, but has become a commodity. 

The quants do not realise that their limited multichannel investments (15 per cent of the marketing budget, according to our Digital Barometer 2012), are merely a drop in the ocean in line with the time spent online for professional purposes by HCPs (and other stakeholders). In addition, if you can prove RoI in an experimental setting, it is often the result of highly variable factors – competitor activity, quality of execution, message relevance, salesforce integration… and not so much about the channel per se. Channels do not have an RoI! 

On the other hand, the metric-averse group will often get burned in the process and get completely disenchanted with cross-channel after yet another underwhelming project. As a result, fact-based organisational learning has been very limited, and digital remains undervalued and underused.

Putting your money…
So what is needed to really move the multichannel needle in pharma after all these years? How about taking a position between the two extremes? Reducing the RoI measurement budget for proven tactics, increasing the investment in multichannel overall and moving beyond the Bermuda Triangle of product-company-disease site, and selecting a few leading KPIs embedded in a straightforward dashboard to maximise learnings and steer for performance.

Two key enablers will further help companies right-size their digital budget and help them move from a one-way, mono-channel blast toward true cross-channel, customer-centric marketing. On the one hand, the value of customer analytics should finally start coming to the fore. The plethora of unique behavioural and attitudinal customer data (channel preference, promotion sensitivity, influence networks, etc) in cutomer relationship management (CRM) systems, websites and other 'stovepipes' will be aggregated and put to use across the key customer channels to enhance customer preference, organisational efficiency and business impact. 

A level of change management
This is about 'big data', 'true closed loop marketing (CLM)' and, importantly, 'change management'. All eyes are set on the iPad as the Holy Grail to solve the declining impact of the salesforce. Indeed, it's a true iPad rush out there, with almost 50 per cent of companies using it today versus only 10 per cent in 2010 (again see Across Health's Digital Barometer 2012). But the initial feedback in terms of adoption, CLM optimisation and customer impact is not very reassuring. In the 'New Normal', iPads are a commodity. It will be about being clever with them… otherwise iPad CLM will be the new CRM: high hopes versus underwhelming impact.

Secondly, pharma needs to look at the channel mix in an entirely new way. Zero-based budgeting rooted in a solid understanding of channel dynamics is a key prerequisite for being successful in the  'New Normal'. Econometric modelling is not helping here, as the data sets on multichannel are limited versus the dominant channels and certainly in pharma the past is not a good predictor of the future. 

A better way is to initiate primary quantitative research into key channel (and stakeholder) dynamics, followed by a qualitative validation, resulting in a zero-based, robust cross-channel plan followed by flawless execution. In the course of recent years, Across Health has tailored this model (hailing from FMCG) to pharma and run several highly successful projects (prioritising cost savings and top-line impact). Fusing this macro-perspective with the micro-perspective (customer-level analytics) and selective dashboard tracking would certainly accelerate the transformation of pharma to the 'New Normal', resulting in a virtuous cycle of measurable impact and higher budgets. So, what are we waiting for?

Article by
Fonny Schenck

CEO of Across Health. He can be contacted at

26th November 2012

From: Marketing



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