Commentary

What Should Pharma Really Sell?

Rosuvastatin, imatinib, sitagliptin—just a few of the magical molecules worth billions of dollars in sales over the last few years. Many of us are thankful for these life-changers, but we’ve also seen duds whose performances haven’t matched their promises. Change is underway in the U.S. healthcare system, and it doesn’t matter if you voted red or blue—we all deserve affordable, quality care. It’s no longer about selling the magical molecule, and lower drug prices aren’t a gateway to better care either. 

As we move from a volume- to a value-based business model in healthcare, our perspective needs to change. The goals are to get healthy, stay healthy, and manage health problems before they become more severe and costly. Incentives are aligning so that everyone has a stake in improving health and the quality of care. 

In an environment where our customers work in highly integrated health systems that span the care continuum and have a wealth of analytics on both practice and patient behavior, the value of the “healthcare experience” is emerging. For healthcare marketers to seize this opportunity, we’ll need to pivot on some very important concepts.

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Teams vs. “Dr. God”

We called it “The Hand of God” ad. It was for a billion-dollar molecule, and it had a reassuring, white-jacketed hand resting on the shoulder of a white-haired gentleman. The ad glorified the sole healthcare decision maker in an earlier era. At the moment of truth, we might wish that our doctor was all-knowing and all-powerful, but today the real power is in the team. Healthcare is a team sport connected by technology, talent and commitment. At its best, it’s a Stanley Cup-winning hockey team, moving fast and working together towards a common goal. And the team can be big and broad, including generalists, specialists, technologists, pharmacists, friends and family members. As marketers, we need to understand, respect and engage the team.

Servicing vs. Selling

Putting service first isn’t a new idea, but it can be difficult to execute. It’s a cultural change that requires longer-term thinking, which is challenging in an environment where companies get quarterly physicals from Wall Street. Let’s look at service differently. What can we do to make sure that our brands have the greatest chance to improve someone’s life? This question seems obvious, but holistic and honest answers that put the value of the healthcare experience above the brand are difficult to come by. We need to think about the experience that surrounds the brand and create value by servicing the healthcare team.

Relationships vs. Transactions

Back when I still had enough hair to use a comb, I was sitting in the office of a product manager for one of the first billion-dollar brands in the pharma industry. He gestured up at the clock on the wall and said, “Do you realize that our brand just made $20,000 in the last 10 minutes we’ve been talking?” Today, we still pour over weekly and sometimes daily sales numbers—transactions. Sales numbers are easy measures for pharma success, just as drug prices are easy targets for public scorn. And both are short-sighted. Nobody wants to be a transaction, especially when it comes to healthcare. We want the quality and value that come from trusted, long-term relationships.

If the first question that comes to mind when we develop strategies or kick off a new program is “How is this driving sales?”—let’s pause. The customer is a team that wants service that builds a long-term relationship. We have exceptional products, technology, intelligence, insights, and talent throughout our organizations. We can offer an experience that changes lives. That’s our challenge and our opportunity.

1 comment about "What Should Pharma Really Sell?".
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  1. Randall Isaacson from Stori Health Inc. replied, December 21, 2016 at 10:19 a.m.

    Thanks for the comment Paula. You're actually hitting on a major change underway -- greater healthcare consumerism (different from "direct-to-consumer" advertising). I think there are more choices/more competition than many people are aware of, but when it comes to healthcare, we probably know more about the computer we bought than the drug we're taking or doctor we're seeing. But as we all take on more responsibility for our health and costs (i.e., premiums, deductibles, FSAs, HSAs, etc.), we need to demand more transparency, information/education, service and quality. All for the better.

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