Here's How Life Sciences CRM Manages the Industry Challenges

Life Sciences CRM For Pharma, Biotech and Medical Devices

My experience in deploying CRM solutions for life science companies leaves me with two initial take-aways other life sciences CRM adopters should consider.

First, the best CRM Life Sciences solutions are a combination of industry specific strategy and supporting technology designed for the unique challenges and objectives of pharma, biotech, cosmetic and medical device companies. Attempting to reapply a horizontal CRM software solution in this industry will likely incur challenges and limited payback.

Customer Relationship Management facilitates customer interactions across clinical, safety, support, sales and marketing operations—and each of these processes is unique for the industry.

Second, there is a tendency to lump life sciences CRM software into the broader healthcare industry. However, this is an over simplification as the top business objectives and the regulatory constraints are different enough that the two industries favor different business software solutions.

Recognizing the unique goals and constraints of this industry will save time and accelerate results when deploying business software.

The Industry Challenges

In addition to intense competition, challenging margins and fragmented customer communication channels, companies face several unique obstacles.

  • Market access strategies, such as expanding beyond existing geographic and industry sector boundaries to deliver an increased product portfolio to more patient groups and customers in more markets.
  • Regulatory (FDA) reform and compliance, including GMP and life sciences regulatory compliance with sampling, aggregate spend and transparency disclosure requirements such as the Sunshine Act expense disclosure.
  • Special regulatory consideration with regard to marketing and promotional materials. Customer communications management, compliance and audit controls. That includes being able to approve and trace every promotional material delivered to any client based on regulatory agency request or filed complaint.
  • Challenged access and less available time with customers such as physicians and HCPs. The combined effect of regulatory reform such as the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, state-level aggregate spend regulations, and gift ban laws combined with 32 million newly insured patients entering the U.S. healthcare system is creating a big change in the primary care physician-to-patient ratio from the current 1:1,500 to 1:8,000. That leaves even less time for physicians to meet with pharma and medical device sales reps.
  • Generic competition shows no signs of abating. Similarly, off-patent medications are accelerating, resulting in widespread cost-cutting and margin pressures from a payer-led market.
  • Healthcare reform, and its manifestations in areas such as managed care and fixed reimbursements, create artificial cost thresholds and revenue constraints.
  • The decline in blockbuster drugs and patent cliffs are delivering abrupt revenue impact to many biotech and pharma companies.

Each of these are strategic challenges which impact revenue generation, cost containment, market growth, customer management and regulatory compliance — all areas where Customer Relationship Management strategy, processes and technology can come together to deliver strategic responses.

How Life Sciences CRM Can Help

Customer Relationship Management is a business strategy aimed as understanding, anticipating and responding to your customers, in ways that grow relationships and satisfy mutual objectives.

When supported with repeatable processes and technology automation, CRM directly enables market access, customer acquisition and related strategies that impact revenues and company growth. It also delivers information for both business intelligence and regulatory compliance.

What I find most interesting about this type of application in this industry is the opportunity to apply creative combinations of strategy, people and technology. It's these combinations that achieve customer and revenue objectives that both outperform competitors and meet the company's most strategic goals.

Here are a few specific examples of how this technology can add value to your company.

  • Market Realignment. The ability to realign markets, whether by territory, product, customer segment or even as a response to new regulations, is a periodic demand in this industry. And this doesn't mean just reassigning sales people based on newly defined territories. It means being smarter than that and aligning the many types of customers (HCPs, physicians, hospitals, clinics, etc.) to the marketing and sales people and processes that best deliver the right information and engagement to the right customer segment at the right time.

While this need is well understood and the concept is simple, the execution is more complex. For my most recent client, I used the Salesforce Health Cloud to create market model hierarchies and templates which allow on-the-fly realignment that directly maps to the overarching revenue, customer acquisition and customer retention strategies.

  • Account Planning. Business development in this industry demands that sales pros manage a high number of short meetings and be equipped with the most salient information for every meeting. KAM (key account management) must also easily decipher complex relationships. That includes relationships between doctors and hospitals or payers and even the relationships that physicians or HCPs hold as KOLs.
  • Mobility. Leading companies have adopted a mobile-first approach. Delivering anytime/anywhere customer information to field sales staff is essential for those staff to maximize their limited time in customer visits. For example, increased physician demands and cost containment pressures can now limit physician visits to as little as a minute in duration.

Laptops have given way to tablets (almost exclusively iPads) which also empower field sales staff to deliver high impact rich media presentations during their short visits, and advance the agenda from selling to education. Other key mobile functions include call/visit recording, device management tracking of demo or sample units, next step automation, online and offline order management and digital signature capture.

  • Social Engagement. Forward thinking business leaders have an opportunity to change the social media communication from a one-way monologue whereby (marketing) messages are broadcast to recipients in mass, to a dialogue, whereby they actually engage customers and community members. In fact, more often than not, patients and community members at large are no longer interested in what they view as being on the receiving end of marketing or advertising propaganda. They have taken to their own social networks to engage and inform each other about their issues and their providers.

Creating a social strategy, enabled with CRM technology, is a great approach to engaging customers in social channels for business development and customer retention purposes. The technology also provides the tools and automation to pinpoint and engage influencers and KOLs and even the payer communities.

  • Nurture Marketing. The growth of more specialized and personalized medicines requires tighter customer segmentation to deliver messaging that resonates and is acted upon. Companies have a great opportunity to segment customers and constituents by very specific topics and then deliver highly relevant nurture campaigns.

These campaigns periodically relay personalized information that recipients actually find interesting. Nurture campaigns position the sender as a thought leader, keep the sender top of mind and can even score the readers responses to the content — to know exactly when to follow-up with a phone call.

But Life Sciences CRM Doesn't Do It All

Customer Relationship Management software is the underlying platform to achieve each of the previously discussed opportunities. Unfortunately, there are two critical mistakes that many companies make when implementing this technology.

First, they implement the software without an accompanying customer strategy. Software automates a strategy; it doesn't replace it. And in the absence of strategy, the software really just automates fragmented processes that may deliver piecemeal or departmental benefits, but will most certainly fail to support the company's primary business development goals.

Second, too many technology adopters view an application go-live as the destination event. No doubt about, the software can bring transaction management and repeatable processes to key business processes such as physician and healthcare practitioner (HCP) account and call management, complex HCP and physician activities, sales planning and forecasting, and closed-loop service and support.

Automating these types activities for consistency and efficiency aids management but does not grow your customer relationships, and consequently your business. But the application is extensible.

It is an ideal platform to then add mobile accessibility so that field sales can more effectively engage customers when face to face. You can add social media to better engage more customer types in social channels. You add marketing automation and nurture customers through intelligent communication campaigns. There are a host of other techniques which more directly engage customers, and actually grow customer relationships, customer value and top line revenues.

When CRM software is thoughtfully combined with a customer strategy it becomes a powerful tool to aid the company's top objectives such as increasing customer acquisitions, growing customer share and improving customers retention.