Grading Pharma’s Use of New Commercial Sales Models

Almost every U.S. life sciences company is in the process of some form of commercial model review. A top consideration: Selecting a successful model. But giving the model a chance to succeed is just as important—and most at risk. As with most change management, success lies heavily in the process used to achieve success, and in the model itself.

To help companies through this process, I explain some innovative models to improve sales and marketing yield that are being evaluated and tested in the market. I then grade the industry on their progress against each model and propose solutions for them to close remaining gaps.

The Customer-Centric Model

We are several years into the commercial life sciences imperative of creating a customer-centric model. What does that mean? We see three strategic criteria:

1. Relevance: Providing the customer with consistent information that can enable decision making and can be put to practical use.

2. Balanced Timeliness: A customer touch point logic providing continuity without creating noise, that addresses immediate needs and makes good fiscal sense.

3. Data-Proven Channel Use: Leveraging a data-proven channel combination to accomplish a brand’s objectives while respecting customers’ preferences.

While this is a description of a customer-centric strategy, the business’s interests are not excluded. Ignoring the business’s interests will not result in satisfying customers, because it counters scalability and consistency. However, a lot of room to improve company incentives, organizational structure and governance to ensure a proper balance exists.

When we look at companies’ progress, it is evident that there is still a lot of work to do in this area, primarily because there are still dramatic organizational and technical changes being made. We see three main trends:

1. Sales and Marketing Integration

This concept looks past the differences often limiting sales and marketing collaboration, assuming that each can inform and empower the other. What does that look like?

1. Awareness Of The Other: Leveraging technology to inform the other of what touch points have and will occur and what responses have been received.

2. Customer Knowledge Sharing: Leveraging technology to capture, analyze and share customer insights to inform better customer touch points.

3. Integrated Touch Points: Creating a commercial strategy and plan combining the efforts of sales and marketing into a concerted effort that meets the strategy criteria, including enabling sales to execute or augment marketing touch points.

What’s The Current Grade?  C+

Integration is immature. Coordination typically is limited to using non-personal promotion (NPP) in place of personal when it is not allowed or economical. When evaluating commercial effectiveness through analytic studies, most companies now analyze the impact of sales and marketing touch points together—the logical approach. Despite awareness of the joint influence of sales and marketing, few organizations are developing joint strategies and tactics—though the appetite to do so exists—so we expect to see a significant uptick in this area.

The majority of commercial organizations adopted technologies for the field that can potentially tell field professionals which marketing touch points customers have received and to which they have responded. Few have enabled these capabilities, either due to lack of technology prioritization, perceived value or adoption issues. None that we are aware of have enacted data-driven recommendations to sales professionals based on responsiveness to touch points across channels.

Several large or leading edge companies enable their sales professionals to execute touch points from their tablet software to, for example, deliver a post-meeting touch point via email, but none that we are aware of allow sales to augment marketing touch points that are scheduled to go out to that customer and few have created a feedback mechanism that could influence future messaging targeted to that customer. Many are, however, in the process of developing strategies and pilots to test these concepts.

What Needs To Change?

1. Centralization and Dissemination of Customer Knowledge from Sales and Marketing: Technology exists for sales personnel to capture interests and perception from customers based on calls, details and other tactics. Combining sales with marketing promotion response data enables insights and recommendations that feed both sales and marketing.

2. Coordinated Strategies Between Sales and Marketing: Sales and marketing can no longer be viewed as distinct. They need to be aligned and operating based on the customer’s needs. This starts with data and insights integration and ends with joint touch point strategy and execution. For sales and marketing to effectively collaborate, incentives need to be revisited. Sales cannot realistically follow a coordinated touch point strategy without an incentive plan that rewards that behavior.

3. Technology To Empower Sales To Act on Customer’s Behalf: While some organizations use technology that gives the sales professional more capabilities, few have taken the bold step to give sales a fully fledged ability to act on the customer’s behalf. Organizations should test the ability for sales to have controlled augmentation ability over NPP based on call outcomes.

2. Cross-Brand Integration

It is a challenge to get a brand to coordinate efforts across all channels. It’s even more ambitious to do so across brands that target the same customers. In a truly customer-centric model, brands with overlapping customer targets would leverage market and customer data, including formulary information to determine an appropriate allocation of brand messaging and the cadence of messaging.

Figure 1 illustrates the chaos of an un-orchestrated brand and channel approach to customers. The result is a customer experience that feels highly irrelevant and disjointed, as if the company has no sense of their customers’ needs. A coordinated experience makes for a more appropriate brand and channel experience, catering to the needs of individuals while pragmatically spending on customers based on their potential total value to the company.


What’s The Current Grade?  B-

Many companies institute targeting business rules that prevent over-messaging customers within and across brands. It’s a good fail-safe mechanism, but hardly a strategy. Few approach this by allocating targeting rights to each franchise to create a truly coordinated messaging plan. In worst-case scenarios, franchises are competing against themselves, cannibalizing their sales, rather than deploying strategies to target customers based on the most appropriate therapies for their patients.

The obvious reasons are brand incentives, collaboration logistics and technology gaps. Some argue that if they don’t message independently of their overlapping brands, their competitors’ messaging will take share. When a company is sunsetting one brand in favor of a newer therapy, many organizations have had the discipline to develop a transition plan, but execution is conducted in a rudimentary, manual way, despite available campaign management technologies addressing these exact needs.

What Needs To Change?

1. Franchises Need to Rollout Strategies for Overlapping Customer Targets: Brands will act selfishly until incentives are implemented to make them act otherwise. Franchise leaders should make the hard choices necessary for the good of the business, and create incentives for their brands to fall in line. Their business plans should be specific down to customer targeting, allowing their brands to focus on the brand strategy and messaging. Targeting rationale should come from above-brand, informed by the brand strategies as a whole.

2. Technology Should Be Deployed To Ensure Strategy Compliance: Campaign management solutions are abundant and sophisticated. They enable business logic to convert strategies into touch point execution. Companies must invest not just in the technology, but also in analysis and rules definition so that the logic can be automated.

3. The Customer Experience Group

The customer-centric mandate gave birth to the Customer Experience Group, an organization acting to enable brands via a centralized means of reaching their customer using the strategies described above. This group gives brands customer insights and enables the fulfillment of coordinated marketing activities. The introduction of this organization was logical given the tendency for brands to act selfishly based on competing incentives, as is also the case between sales and marketing.

What’s The Current Grade?  B-

Many of the Customer Experience Groups we work with have made headway providing their brand counterparts with new customer insights to inform their strategies. However, brands are largely unprepared to take advantage of these insights, and insights themselves do nothing to counter the incentive-driven siloed approach that inhibits customer centricity. Customer Experience Groups rarely have governance authority to act as the customer advocate and create barriers to disjointed targeting and messaging schemes. Further, this organization is predominantly a marketing organization, with little to no influence or governance over sales, which should be viewed as an integrated channel in the mix.

 What Needs To Change?

1. Upper Management Needs to Empower the Customer Experience Group: This group needs to be rebranded as an advocate of the customer and given authority to execute on the Franchise strategy, ensuring targeting and touch points are logical between brands.

2. Campaign Execution Should Move to a Distinct, But Still Centralized Group: Many Customer Experience Groups fall into executional roles that diminish their perceived strategic value. Campaign execution is a significant detractor from strategic focus. As such, this role should be outside their remit. Some leading companies made this move already—or built their organization this way originally.

3. Sales Should Not Be Exempt From This Governance Structure: The Customer Experience Group should have influence over all channels, so that the Franchise strategy is executed in a governed structure. Sales incentives may have to change as a result.

Sidebar: New Survey Spells Good News for Industry


According to “What Physicians Want!”—a survey conducted by Publicis Touchpoint Solutions and Sermo, an online physicians’ community with more than a quarter of a million participants in the U.S.—the majority of doctors today say they’d like more visits by healthcare representatives, provided that they bring what the practice actually needs.

This year’s survey results reflect a big jump over previous tallies, with a 14% increase in doctors who want more sales calls since 2012, when the last survey was conducted, and nearly double the number since 2008, when the biennial project began.

In addition to the demand for more high-caliber sales reps—meaning those who are highly trained, experienced and able to engage doctors in clinical discussions that ultimately benefit their patients—physicians are asking for other forms of support. For example, nearly three-quarters want more clinical health educators for patients and more customer service representatives for offices. More than 60% want “hybrid” reps, who reach their target physicians through a variety of field and virtual channels and do so at times that are convenient for the doctor. Specialty reps are in even greater demand, with more than 90% of non-primary physicians saying they want more category-specific reps calling on them.

Nearly all the physicians surveyed want iPad presentations, and 83% would like to see more disease-state websites designed for professionals. The bottom line: Physicians want information and educational materials that will help them to provide better care for their patients. For a complimentary copy of the survey results, go to: And for more on the survey, read President and CEO of Publicis Touchpoint Solutions Rick Keefer’s take here.

  • Peter Robinson

    Peter Robinson is co-founder and head of Measurement & Analytics at PURSUIT. He designed their proprietary Collaborative Filtering algorithm and helps customers develop Sales & Marketing optimization solutions.


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