Great Expectations

My Life in Pharmaceutical Industry – Part 1

I started my pharma career right in 2004 with a top 20 Pharma company. I had no idea about the industry as I was hired as an mobile applications developer. Back in 2004, they were looking for someone to develop an in-house CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application for their medical sales representative. I recalled my then supervisor telling me, “You got to go out on the field with the sales representative, understand their day to day job and the issues they face.”

The key of having a good CRM app is to allow our Sales Representative to spend more face time with the right customers, who are doctors and pharmacists. My supervisor explained to me that in the business of pharmaceuticals, we can’t advertise medicine directly to patients, except in several countries like the US and New Zealand. I am taught that the way to drive sales was highly co-related to our “Share of Voice”. 

He used an analogy to explain this to me. Imagine that you are in a loud pub, and someone is trying to speak with you. They have to make sure they are speaking loud enough to get your attention and to send the message across. 

Now, a doctor is a really busy man. Most of them look at patients all day and does administrative work. 

Back then, our main product was a hypertension pill. It was targetted at general practitioners and cardiologists. The problem was, there were many competitive products out there. There were different classes of medicine for hypertension. Ace-inhibitors, Beta-blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, Diuretics, Angiotensin Receptor Blockers. They all work in different ways. Some are designed to flush water out of our system (diuretics), so that the heart doesn’t need to pump as hard. Some are designed to increase vasodilation (dilating blood vessels to decrease the blood pressure). 

The problem is, there are just so many drugs out there, and each of the drugs have countless research papers designed in various ways to show the three different dimensions of a drug (Efficacy, Safety and Convenience).

Having a more “convenient” drug meant that it is more likely that a patient would adhere to it. For example, taking a drug once a day as opposed to taking it three times a day. 

Doctors and Pharmacists are bombarded with Sales Representatives fighting for their “Share of Voice”. We built an app that collects the information on the doctor. The information ranges from their personal information from their date of birth, their family members, medical associations, job history, the clinical papers they wrote, number of patients in clinics and so forth. Back then privacy laws was not strict and we could collect much of what we wanted. These information are then fed into an algorithm. Doctors are ranked on two dimensions. The first was their potential to prescribe. Higher potential to prescribe means higher sales. They were ranked from 1-10. The lowest being, having little potential and 10 being high potential. 

The second dimension was share of drug, what is the percentage of our drug that the doctor is prescribing vs. our competitors. The lowest being those doctors who prescribe our competitor’s products all the time. The highest being those doctors who prescribe our product all the time.

Ranking the doctors on both dimension, we put them in a matrix of four segments.

The doctors with A are those of high potential and high share of drug.

B are those with high potential and low share of drug.

C are those with low potential and high share of drug.

D are those with low potential and low share of drug. 

Then, we started a process called “Resource allocation”. 

What are resources? Resources come in various form.

  1. Sales Representative Facetime. A sales representative has time to visit 6-10 doctors a day, depending on various factors. If you have 10 sales representative in a team, it meant that you have a resource of approximately 18000 calls (10 sales rep x 180 working days a year x 10 calls a day).
  2. Gimmicks – like pens, cups, writing pads and all kinds of items that you would put in a doctors office to drive your “Share of Voice”. 
  3. Events. Doctors usually need some kind of continuous education to ensure their licenses are renewed by the medical board. These are usually called CME (continuous medical education) points. However, most of them do not like spending money on their CME so as a pharmaceutical company, we “sponsor” them to events. It used to be business class flights and 5 star hotels for the doctors and their family until some years ago when regulations caught up and they started restricting “transfer of value” from a pharmaceutical to a doctor. 

With all these resources, we started allocating them to the different segments of doctors. Those in segment B usually get most of the “perks”, because we are trying to move the high potential doctors to prescribe our drug. Those in segment D, we simply monitor their “career progression”. 

….(to be continued in Part 2)

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