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Walking the Customer-Centric Walk

Intouch Team

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Over the past few months I have attended or spoken at events where the topic of customer-centric behavior in the pharmaceutical industry was front and center. The concept isn’t new but the number of customers that pharma must satisfy certainly is. In the past the doctor was the focus of most marketing output, but today pharma must communicate with patients, caregivers, insurers, pharmacists, hospitals and others who influence the script-writing process like nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. Forward-thinking companies are figuring out how to connect with various constituents in ways that are meaningful to them. Two initiatives from two different companies struck me as great examples of "walking the walk" and not just "talking the talk."

In April I heard Vic Clavelli, group leader for Pfizer’s primary care business unit, speak about the company’s decision to sell Viagra (sildenafil) directly to consumers at This was an unprecedented move in the pharma industry where companies traditionally have left distribution to others. Pfizer recognized that the Web is the first place people turn for information on drugs and therapies, and increasingly to purchase the products as well. Viagra is an especially popular online buy, perhaps because of the sensitive nature of the condition. Unfortunately online access to the drug has posed a serious problem for Pfizer and its users for years because the vast majority of Viagra purchased through the Web is fake.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, Director of San Diego Sexual Medicine, analyzed the chemical content of sildenafil purchased from 22 unique Web sites and found that 77% were counterfeit (poster presented during American Urological Association 2012 Annual Scientific Meeting). To provide patients with a trusted online source for the drug, Pfizer created the Viagra Home Delivery. Although the program is easily accessed from the site, it is actually hosted at CVS, the drugstore giant Pfizer partnered with to fulfill the orders. (All orders must be accompanied by a physician’s prescription.) Pfizer is not selling Viagra in the traditional sense, they are facilitating a secure transaction that ensures customers receive the real drug in the manner they feel most comfortable. They are most certainly meeting a customer demand head on. As Vic noted during the event, "I think businesses move forward and succeed when we’re solving for new problems, not just rearranging the deck chairs. Solving the Viagra problem was crucial in delivering more value to our patients. If we didn’t, then everyone along the value chain would lose out."

Viagra Home Delivery

In May I appeared on a panel called Consumer-Centric Healthcare: Understanding the Opportunity for Marketers with other pharma leaders. A fellow panelist Deanne Melloy, COO of Shionogi Inc., exemplified the change in mindset unfolding in the industry. Shionogi recently launched Osphena (ospemifene) in the U.S. for the treatment of moderate to severe dyspareunia (painful intercourse), a symptom of vulvar and vaginal atrophy (VVA), due to menopause. This is a sensitive topic for women, one which is rarely discussed at a doctor’s visit.

For Deanne’s sales team, the goal is to influence one customer (doctor) to approach the topic with another customer (patient). She wants her reps to get the doctors thinking about the patients who are right for Osphena. For this reason, she believes it’s no longer acceptable to send sales reps into doctors’ offices with a master sales aid and canned pitch. "We don’t script sales representatives because we want to encourage dialogue between the rep and physician. We want them to think like the customer, and doctors are customers. It about what’s on their agenda, not what’s on our agenda."

Another member of our panel was industry veteran Vita Cassesse, former CIO of Pfizer. She summarized customer centricity best: "You have to understand what’s important to your customers to provide real value in the products and services that you’re offering. I think if you do that and go back to some of the basics, you will be successful."


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