“Customer centricity”, “patient engagement”, and “patient-focus” are popular buzzwords in the pharmaceutical industry as companies continue to adapt to an ever-evolving customer landscape. So, what’s getting in the way of transforming these businesses to fully embrace a more horizontal, end-to-end approach? TayganPoint Consulting Group hosted a panel with leaders in the pharma industry to find out more about how they are working to keep the focus on patients.
Linda Palczuk, Former VP, Mature Brands and Global Commercial Excellence, Astra Zeneca
Mark Ridge, Vice President Clinical Development Operations, CSL Bering
Bala Sreenivasan, Associate Vice President, Supply Chain Management, Merck
Drivers of cross functional collaboration
Patients are clearly the end customers, but pharma companies often deal more directly with prescribing physicians, regulators and payers. All three of these stakeholders have a significant hand in shaping the patient experience as they continue to influence decisions about whether and how to market individual products.
“In order for quick decisions to be made, companies have to set up functions where people from across the value chain are talking and making decisions collaboratively – this way you understand the customer no matter where they are in the cycle,” said Palczuk.
Ridge agreed, and added, “One of the biggest drivers to create more collaboration is increased competition, regulation, scrutiny on what companies can invest in R&D and integrating new businesses after an acquisition.”
Sreenivasan asks her teams to think about starting a new pharma company today, and consider what that might look like. “We wouldn’t build it the way companies are structured today as it’s not sustainable. There is more data than ever before and cost pressures aren’t going away. This kind of thinking alone helps us break down our silos as we work to influence collaboration internally.”
Aligning teams with corporate strategy
A customer-centric mindset is critical at every level of a pharma organization, not just at the front line. Everyone has a role to play.
“It’s key that every person in their job understands how they are brining value to patients,” said Ridge. “That’s what makes people come to work.”
“I believe performance management must be aligned to collaboration,” said Palczuk. “Non-executive level employees often feel like they can’t influence the global goals that the company has. There has to be some line of sight into the corporate strategy for everyone, and everyone has to feel like they have the opportunity to make an impact.”
Not surprisingly, all of the panelists agreed — organizational focus on the customer can create some impressive business results. “You have to know that having a forecast is great, but knowing it’s just a forecast and not the end all be all is key,” said Palczuk.
“I’d like to throw the forecast in the trash as this continues to encourage that processes are driven by incentives. The sales side is driven by selling more and that drives the manufacturing side but in the end this thinking doesn’t serve the patient or shareholders because neither drives performance of the company or patients getting drugs on time,” said Sreenivasan.
“Instead of talking about incentives inside the company we should be talking about saving cash flow for clinical trials,” she continued. “Bottom and top line performance hinges on the strength of the clinical trial pipeline.”
How to manage end to end processes
Establishing and documenting the end-to-end business process design in a hierarchical manner is essential. A well-documented process enables communication of the process to the entire organization and helps process participants understand their roles, as well as how and where they fit into the end-to-end design. It also provides the basis for developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) which become a part of the quality system and enables a way to monitor compliance.
“A bunch of meetings don’t make things end-to-end. It is a constant struggle to do true end-to-end thinking,” said Sreenivasan. “Pharma companies take for granted that even doing something that seems small to us – like making a packaging change – can completely impact the customer in a huge way.”
“I think companies need to look at the big picture for end-to-end processes before putting technology in place,” said Ridge. “That’s a big conversation now, given the need to have a clinical data management strategy. But before we put technologies in place that don’t work across the company let’s map out how the clinical information goes from the design stage, all the way through to submission of that information to a regulatory authority.”
“Companies must bring the commercial side together with the R+D side. You can’t just throw a product over the wall when it’s ready to be commercialized,” said Palczuk. “The commercial side of the organization isn’t enough. The teams have to co-lead a product into the marketplace. This can be tricky as it takes the right personalities who can work together on that, and groups get territorial and want to stay in their swim lanes. But, it’s far more powerful when you can live in each other’s worlds while recognizing you both have different specializations.”
Keeping the focus on the customer
The notion that customer experience matters in pharma is old news. The challenge starts with the very definition of “customer.” And, as the landscape continues to evolve, pharma companies need to translate insights to action.
“It’s imperative to get closer to the commercial side of the business and have brand level discussions. By that, I mean ask what’s going on in the marketplace,” said Ridge.
Sreenivasan agreed, “go and see the customer and understand what’s going on. As we are developing oncology drugs, we’re going to oncology centers to see how the drug is administered what the pain points actually — what could be better? We want to make sure we’re adding value and not just sitting in an office mining data. We’re focused on creating teams and leadership with empathy. Pharma isn’t here to just acquire, get big, and make money. We’re here to innovate and help patients.”
“From a clinical standpoint, we need to help our physicians understand our science,” said Ridge. “Be a partner, not a pain to work with. So much of the administration has been outsourced, and this has taken focus off little things that really matter. For example, pay on time and get contracts signed efficiently. Bringing decisions like that back in house can go a long way to solidify relationships.”
“Finally,” added Palczuk, “remember if you’re a global company, collaboration just in the US market isn’t enough. Be aware of what life is like outside of the US. Stay abreast of global cultures.”
Simply put, it’s much easier to talk about great customer relationships than to build them. The challenge is how to create organizational capabilities that delight customers on a repeat basis, simultaneously encouraging advocacy and boosting the bottom line.