Future-proofing pharma with contract sales organisations

  • The patient is becoming much more central to the growth of, and prospects for, a brand.
  • Reps need the scientific data to support a product, but must also have the cost, economic and value arguments.
  • Companies need the agility and flexibility to grab hold of innovations in channels and technology.

Jez Moulding, Chief Operating Officer of UDG Healthcare and Executive Vice-President of Ashfield, and Julian Tompkins, President of Ashfield Commercial and Patient Solutions, speak to pharmaphorum’s Linda Banks about how deploying a multichannel approach to marketing, backed by advanced analytics, could help pharma evolve and secure a successful future.

Julian Tompkins says the world is changing but some pharma companies are still not seeing the danger of sitting still. Big pharma is notoriously slow to respond to industry trends, but it can no longer be content with maintaining the status quo.

Having started his career as the tea boy at Glaxo and moved up through the organisation in sales and marketing roles – starting at the same time as former CEO Andrew Witty – Tompkins is well qualified to know how the industry works and the challenges it faces. At GSK he was involved in implementing the company’s move towards customer-centric marketing and he has taken that valuable experience forward.

Nowadays he is on the outsourcing side with global outsourced healthcare services provider, Ashfield. This gives him a rounded view of the issues – and some solutions for how to tackle them.

So what is the current status of the industry and what are the critical trends that need to be addressed? Tompkins notes how the world is changing: there are more stakeholders whose needs must be met; it is harder to prove the value of treatments, and patient-centricity is increasingly important for engaging users and demonstrating real-world effectiveness.

Pharma reaped big rewards from R&D in the 1990s, but returns declined in the 2000s. In the last few years, though, investments have started to pay off again, helped by consolidation in the market place. Tompkins sees the industry returning to grass roots in its portfolios, terminating less promising R&D lines and focusing on products with the most potential. Among these, he thinks speciality, including orphan products, will account for over 50% of prescription spend in the next five years, and this trend makes patients’ influence even more significant.

“Now it is really about the power of the patient and how companies are grappling with patient centricity,” Tompkins asserts. “Twenty years ago, it was a lot less about the patient and more about share of voice and piling on more and more promotional effort. These days that model is being redefined and the patient is becoming much more central to the growth of, and prospects for, a brand. Companies are having to orientate their strategies and promotional mix much more around the patient.

“Intuitively, that is right, as with speciality brands – where the cost of a drug could run into hundreds of thousands a year – you don’t need many patients in order to create a blockbuster. In this situation, when you get a patient, you want to keep them – and therefore we’re seeing a big rush in the industry towards understanding how you can own that space and grow patient centricity within the organisation.”

At the same time, digital disruption is influencing every aspect of business and companies are investigating ways to exploit it to gain a competitive edge.

“In healthcare, this is shown by how patients are engaging with HCPs through various apps and consulting doctors over the web through video links. Technology is being used by healthcare providers to engage with patients via wearables and devices to help manage different diseases. Digital is also influencing how companies engage with doctors. They are using it to harness scientific content and make it relevant and digestible for target audiences.

“We are living in a multichannel environment. Look at any other industry. The analogy I draw is with going to buy a car. What influences which brand you buy? You are influenced by your personal circumstances, and where you are in your own lifecycle. You may be influenced by the salesperson at the showroom; you may have seen traditional brochures, seen adverts in the newspaper or magazines, on TV, or you may have had digital engagement through push email or social media channels. All of that multichannel engagement is coming to pharma and is an important component of how pharma engages with customers to get its message across.

“I see the emergence of new channels and the evolution of existing and old channels. Pharma is having to respond with more sophisticated solutions for different audiences.”

One strand of this is seen in the evolution of the traditional relationship rep from the 1990s. “Now, there is more of a personal relationship with Key Account Management (KAM) and reps not only have to understand and deliver the scientific data, but must also have the cost, economic and value arguments to support the brand, in order to present arguments in a compelling way to payers,” Tompkins explains.

“When we survey customers, they still want personal promotion. They want to talk to somebody, but they want a more meaningful conversation and the data required for that meaningful conversation is broader, deeper and more complex than it was 20 years ago.”

Beyond personal promotion, he says there is a place for remote engagement too, using digital and web-based channels. Regional preferences need to be accommodated, with different channels popular in different countries. For example, in China WeChat is widely used for promotion and engagement, while in Japan, the M3 portal is popular for push communications to doctors. Other options include email, phone and video detailing. “A key question for pharma is how it can help health care professionals engage better with patients to educate them and improve adherence and uptake.”

But how do you decide when to use digital engagement? Jez Moulding says it all starts with a comprehensive understanding of the patient journey from diagnosis to treatment, in-depth insight into the barriers and opportunities and then defining an integrated multichannel approach of digital and personal promotion. The overall patient experience strategy should optimise all touch points with the patient, including digital, thereby leading to increased patient engagement, better adherence, reduced switching and healthier patients.

Moulding brings extensive international pharmaceutical experience to Ashfield, having spent 18 years at Sanofi, holding numerous senior leadership positions across the globe, in Europe, South Africa, Korea, Australia, Japan and the US. In his most recent role as Senior Vice President and North America Region Head for Diabetes and Cardiovascular, he was responsible for 3,500 employees and sales of over $5 billion.

“Ask yourself how the condition starts to present,” he says. “How long does someone take to get to a definitive diagnosis? I think of it like a washing machine; people go into the system, go round and round and are thrown out to different places in an uncoordinated, unstructured, longwinded way. This means wasted effort, time, money and all the while probably the patient’s condition is getting worse before they reach diagnosis.

“Then, when they move on to the treatment pathway, they can face another washing machine cycle before they get on the right medicine, at the right dose, with the right support, emerging with better control and appropriate support mechanisms – which may be high touch, low touch, digital and so on.”

While everyone in the industry is facing these same challenges, Moulding believes, “The biggest issue that companies face is not necessarily the technologies or channels, but the agility, flexibility and speed with which you can grab hold of these different interactions and integrate them within your organisation and, most importantly, at the customer interface, to drive maximum return.”

Ashfield Figure 1His advice is, “Experiment, fail fast, learn from that and move on.”

Some pharma companies are making quicker headway than others, he states. Some understand that they need a multichannel approach and are exploring and experimenting with a mix of channels, using solutions like virtual medical science liaisons (MSLs), contact centres, KAMs, service teams and innovative patient support programmes and integrating them with their digital interactions.

But those that will win in the longer term are “those who build out the right channels, get the right content into those channels, ensure each of those channels is integrated at the customer interface, with teams constantly seeking learnings from patients and stakeholders on how to improve the patient experience. This will give them the best chance of bringing success for their brands.”

On top of this, he adds, the leaders in the future will be “those who run advanced analytics in support of their multichannel strategies, so they understand which channels are working with which customers at which stage in their life cycle.” This will help them understand how best to mix different channels for different customers and segment their customers, so they can match their highly targeted multichannel strategy to them.

“It is not a static solution,” Moulding cautions, but an ongoing process. “Companies need to continually respond to the data and alter the mix of multichannel engagement to improve sales uptake and ROI. Couple this with a change management programme and you have the right formula.”

About the Interviewees

Jez Moulding joined as Chief Operating Officer of UDG Healthcare and Executive Vice-President of Ashfield in May 2017. He oversees Ashfield Division globally and has responsibility for Group IT, Quality, Compliance, Strategy and Communications as part of his role as COO of UDG Healthcare plc. This role spans over 7,000 Ashfield employees, 23 countries across Europe, North America, South America and Asia, and more than 250 client companies.

Julian Tompkins has been with Ashfield since 2005 as a member of the board and in his current role as President he oversees the Global Commercial and Patient Solutions businesses across three continents. Having worked across the US, Europe and Japan, with over 200 customers in multiple disease areas and sectors, he has acquired a unique insight into how different companies work, their cultures, innovations and business models.

About Ashfield

Ashfield, part of UDG Healthcare plc, is a global leader in providing outsourced healthcare services to pharmaceutical, device and biotech companies. The company works with more than 250 companies, including all of the world’s top 25 pharmaceutical companies. Its mission is to partner with its clients, improving lives by helping healthcare professionals and patients get the medicines, knowledge and support they need.

Ashfield provides contract sales teams, customer service reps, medical science liaison officers, remote detailing, nurse educators, medical information, healthcare communications, market access, market research, training, event management, digital, creative, advisory and pharmacovigilance services.

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