Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Tighten the loop

Truly embracing CLM principles can build relationships and RoI

A loop of yellow lightYou know the facts; existing sales models are breaking down and pharma has to change its approach to sales and marketing.

Enter Closed Loop Marketing (CLM), which is often touted as the sales saviour of the industry. However, given the industry's risk-averse tendencies, combined with a lack of substantiated success stories, it is not surprising that the current market share for CLM is only around 10 per cent. This figure is based on taking the number of companies listed on Cafepharma as an indicator of the number of drug companies with sales forces and then overlaying the number with  active or pilot CLM programmes.

The prospect of successfully implementing a multi-channel CLM programme is daunting. It requires a wholesale review of the way you do business and how your staff interact with customers and with each other.

Those firms that take the risk, though, can gain abundant benefits, including:
• Improved sales force effectiveness, sales and marketing productivity and overall company performance
• More personalised and relevant interactions with health care providers (HCPs)
• Real-time data and feedback, which allows fine-tuning of existing messages and quick, efficient development of new marketing strategies
• Increased sales rep and marketing compliance on customer interactions
• Reduced, or even eliminated, costs associated with printing and distribution of paper-based detail aids
• Optimised sales force productivity through call reporting automation
• Improved return on customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) investment
• Long-term HCP relationship building
• Round-the-clock access to information and key people for HCPs.

If you are considering a multi-channel CLM programme or are in the process of implementing one right now, what steps should you take to make sure your investment pays off? Consider the following top tips to help you survive the transformation.

Strategic approach
Multi-channel CLM is not about technology; technology is a commodity. These days, it is possible to build and complete a bespoke end-to-end multi-channel CLM system, based on open source applications, that links in to a pre-existing CRM platform, in less than 10 weeks.

It is a strategic approach; a way of doing business to offer better service and value to customers. It is based on what HCPs want to know, at a time and place that suits them. It creates personal relationships between customers and sales reps or other stakeholders in the company. Plus, it makes communication more relevant to HCPs through digital channels, content and media, thereby driving the frequency and impact of messages.

This extends far beyond the PC Tablet model. The sales process may start with a PC Tablet, but closing the loop involves service portals and websites, online meetings and e-conferencing, call centres and so on, all integrated and intelligently informing each other. It is a move away from the traditional mass-produced detail aid, scripted sales call and software-focused perspective, towards a consultative and customer-centred marketing approach, where the HCP's explicit needs are at the forefront.

Prepare for change
Before you do anything, get the change management aspects right. Conduct a thorough feasibility analysis. Clarify where you are now, what is missing and what you want to do. You will need active, board-level sponsorship, buy-in across all levels of the organisation and new ways to organise, motivate, reward and train people.

Internal e-marketing workshops are an indispensable way to get the digital approach on the agenda, increase awareness about digital opportunities and gain an understanding of how to organise around it. In addition, insight-gathering sessions with internal stakeholders are essential, which should include everyone from top management to foot soldiers. Gather understanding of external stakeholders at all levels, ranging from organisations like the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and payers to prescribing leads, as well as jobbing doctors and nurses.

Teach those on the front line, like the salesforce, brand and marketing teams about how the new model impacts them, and how to use the system to create relevant content, increase productivity and improve results.

Break down silos
This influences almost every part of the business, so set up a project steering committee that includes stakeholders from key functions and get everyone talking to each other. Consider whether you should change your current structure. Marketing, sales and brand teams will probably need to be integrated. The medical, legal and regulatory departments need involvement, since this is a new way of looking at content. The medical people may have direct contact with customers in the new model, so their input is vital. Support functions have a role in tying the programme to pre-existing CRM technology, software and content fulfilment. The role of HR in training and contracts is essential.

Each individual is involved to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the stage the project has reached. Further, remember to include local and regional representation if you are aiming for a multi-market programme, as having input from these people from the outset will minimise costly mistakes that do not work at a local level.

Know your customers
Manhattan Research's Taking the Pulse of Europe report suggests that 90 per cent of HCPs are turning to the web for clinical content and that they average almost 10 hours per week online for professional use, both in practice and out of practice hours at home.

Multi-channel CLM means you will be moving away from telling people things towards conversing with them. You need to understand your customers and their digital behaviour. What is their buying/information-seeking process? What is a valuable visit or communication? Once contact is established, what will they do next and what do you want them to do? What are their preferred platforms – web, email, mobile? How much time do they spend on those platforms? What type of content do they consume? How, when and where do they prefer to be serviced?

Our own research, conducted in 2009 on HCPs in the UK, France, US and Scandinavia, shows top digital needs are:
• Relevance of content
• Trustworthiness
• No marketing speak
• Easy to access, navigate and find content
• No intrusive advertisements or product promotions
• Improved service and experiences based on user feedback.

Make sure your CLM programme and content are developed with HCPs' needs in mind, not just your business or brand objectives. If they don't see the value, they simply will not engage.

Think differently about content. Typically, digital content in pharma is approached as an afterthought, something that is done once traditional assets such as the ad and detail aid are developed, if there is any budget left. Banish the clickable PDF version of the detail aid from your repertoire.

Consider how the entertainment industry uses content. For example, the New Moon franchise uses appropriate and different content for assorted digital media channels. First came the book, then a film script was created; a rewrite of the book to support storytelling in moving images. Next there was the computer game. It had some of the characters from the book and the film, but the plot was completely different, being based on user exploration, not linear storytelling. Then the content was revised and applied in relevant ways to an iPhone app, a ringtone, a sound track, a blog, a discussion forum and so on.

True, some of this is not suitable for the pharma industry, but the point is that you need to develop customer-centred content that works for all your different media and channels as you grow your strategy and not as an afterthought.

You may also have to help your current agency partners understand how the new strategy will affect the content they provide to you. Or you may have to find new agency partners, if the existing ones do not have the skills needed to create relevant and appropriate digital content.

Set objectives before you start and put a framework in place to measure them. Include a combination of hard and soft factors:
• Impact on business. This includes business benefits in terms of sales, but also classic marketing metrics like share-of-voice and message recall
• Customer satisfaction. This is the most critical measurement, as it indicates whether you have actually created a solution that meets the HCP's needs. It also supplies invaluable feedback on customers' requirements, allowing further refinement of activities
• Employee satisfaction. Has the solution made life easier for the sales reps? Does the solution help them to meet their targets? Is the customer relationship developing in a positive way?

Test, test, test
Talk to the HCPs. Build a prototype. Ask the HCPs again. Build the model. Ask the HCPs again.

Refine. Keep repeating this process. Remember to test in a combination of large and small markets if you are approaching multiple markets. It is vital to listen to, and act on, the feedback.

Long haul
Multi-channel CLM is not a 'plug and play' solution that you walk away from once the implementation box is ticked. The real work starts the day it goes live. Give yourself the best chance of success:
• Make sure you have a proper governance process in place; who owns CLM in your company? 
• Listen to your customers. If they are not engaging with you, they are not impressed with your approach. Work with them and improve until you have something valuable to offer
• Continuously explore how content and brand assets drive engagement with key targets
• Find new and innovative ways to reach out to customers. The digital landscape is changing by the minute, so keep on top of developments
• Love your reps! Love your reps! Love your reps! CLM is a great opportunity for reps to change how they interact with customers, but they will need a lot of training, support, reward and recognition.

Bearing in mind HCP needs, your solution should look scientific and editorially-led, not advertising-led. Do brand your solution as HCPs won't trust a pharma company that pretends that the information is unbiased, but make sure your branding is discrete and not overly promotional.

Tell people
You're switching to a new model, so devise a plan for how you will tell HCPs about it and its benefits to them. Ongoing internal communications and training programmes are also essential, since the strategy will affect how your people work.

When done well, CLM is a win-win situation for pharma companies and HCPs alike.

Yes, it requires time, effort, leadership from the top and a shift from the silo mentality, but the ensuing rewards are going to be worth all the hard work.

The Author
Carl Engelmarc and John Hackney are co-founding partners of Refreshed Wellbeing

To comment on this article, email

5th May 2010


Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Havas Lynx Group

We are the Havas Lynx Group. Devoted to fresh thinking. Changing the way the world does healthcare communications for the...

Latest intelligence

Top-10 Reasons Why You Should be Adding Asynchronous Virtual Touchpoints Between Your Real-time Meetings
Influenza – the risk to vulnerable populations
Why we can't get complacent about flu vaccination...
Alzheimer’s Research UK highlights socio-economic inequalities in dementia risk
The charity aims to improve the number of women participating in dementia research and grow awareness of dementia risk factors...