What Makes Pharma CRM Unique

Pharma CRM: Good For What Ails

In many industries, the methods of Customer Relationship Management are fairly straightforward. You advertise a product or service to your target audience, track the responses to your marketing campaigns, pursue the best sales prospects, and follow through with customer service and support as needed.

But CRM in the pharmaceutical industry is different. For example, there are many life sciences regulatory compliance requirements when marketing products directly to the people who will consume them.

This is a unique challenge the pharmaceutical industry is faced with in bringing new drugs to market. It's a bifurcated world where manufacturers of medicine can advertise the existence of a new pill but must recommend that curious consumers ask their doctors about it. That means the manufacturer must also market and convince the people who may matter most—the doctors who write the prescriptions.

Customer relationship management is important to every business in every industry. But it often seems that Big Pharma has a bigger stake in the outcome of customer interactions. It is incredibly expensive to develop new medicines, even with advances in molecular modeling and understanding the human genome. A new drug might take a decade or more to develop from initial concept to final FDA approval, at a cost of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Once it makes it to market, the creator has to squeeze as much profit out of the drug as fast as possible. That's because many drug patents only last two years, after which generic versions become available, driving profits downward quickly.

To accelerate their go-to-market, makers pursue a two-pronged strategy of generating public interest while convincing doctors their product is the best one to prescribe for a given ailment.

The consumer side of the customer equation starts with awareness, such as generating a groundswell of interest that filters up to physicians. It then extends to post-prescription service, such as answering questions about the medication, providing discounts, and similar activities. Anything beyond that—especially if it involves collecting patient-identifiable data—may risk violating various federal and state laws.

There are unique legal battles in places like Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont regarding prescription confidentiality. The makes using customer data for outreach much more limited. In fact, for many drugs, the only piece of marketing a patient may see is the informational pamphlet in the doctor's waiting room.

It gets tricky on the doctor side of the equation as well. It's long been considered too resource-intensive to actively market new drugs to the entire medical community, so manufacturers have to focus on KOLs.

The typical KOL is a respected clinical researcher, practice leader, or prolific medical writer—somebody whose work affects other doctors and organizations. By cultivating a relationship with the right KOLs, drug makers can very efficiently reach their audience.

But once again, there's a catch. There are strict legal and ethical requirements regarding how close companies can get with a KOL before it starts looking like they have a financial relationship, whether in terms of spokesmanship or financial incentive.

Supporting or sponsoring research is one thing. Gifts and trips to junkets in exotic locales is another. Anything that may be construed as an attempt at influencing a KOL in ways that don't directly concern the effectiveness of the new medicine is a serious no-no.

KOL management, then, is all about making sure each KOL gets just the right amount of attention. Not so little that they cool toward your products and not so much that it taints the relationship.

Traditional CRM software isn't particularly well suited to this part of the pharmaceutical business. So specialists have turned up to take that role. The most commonly mentioned ones include Veeva, Cegedim, MedThinkConnect, OpenQ, and Heartbeat Software. Other platform publishers such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics have creates pharmaceutical and life sciences editions of their applications.

Most major software vendors with vertical integrations for life sciences give a nod to KOL management, and are developing or acquiring better capabilities in this area. Still, it's definitely worth it to consider the dedicated providers mentioned above.

Life sciences and pharma CRM solutions cover the gamut of rich influencer campaigns, complex account relationships and regulatory management.

Sales enablement is also an important factor. Salespeople still have to visit doctors and make pitches. Whenever you see a well dressed person with a briefcase and a new iPad in the doctor's office, it's probably a pharmaceutical representative.

Making sure the sales force has complete and up-to-date information on the doctor's practice, patients, and history, and the latest information on the medications, is crucial to success even after the KOL campaigns have accomplished their goals. CRM solutions find their greatest place in the pharmaceutical industry here.

Despite the industry challenges, Pharma CRM is well designed to increase customer engagement, customer share and lifetime value - for multiple types of customers.