Vol. 2, No.10: November 2003

OpEd by John Mack

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) means different things to different people. Technically-minded IT people, on the one hand, think of CRM as a technology solution with interconnected databases. “Creative” marketing people, on the other hand, think of “warm and fuzzy” communication principles and techniques.

For CRM to work, both IT and marketing must work together.

First, everyone should agree that the essential feature of a relationship is dialog — two-way communication — and the goal of CRM should be to better understand and serve the customer (see “Putting the Customer Back in Customer Relationship Management.”)

Pharma Customers
Pharmaceutical companies have two types of customer — the physician and the consumer/patient. It’s much easier for a pharmaceutical company to have real relationships with physicians — they have an army of sales reps making personal visits to physicians and maintaining the dialog over time.

On the consumer side, there is not much personal contact, although direct marketing techniques using technology like the Internet allow for “personalized” two-way communications with consumers.

Both types of relationships need better management, according to the experts featured in the November, 2003 issue of Pharma Marketing News.

On the physician side there may be too many touch points and not enough coordination and targeting! For example, several sales reps may call upon the same physician and each may not know what the other is doing. The other problem is too many ineffective relationships-communications that are not targeted to the right physician at the right time.

Pharmaceutical companies have less experience establishing and maintaining relationships with consumers and patients. One reason is the sheer number of interactions that must be tracked. There is also not a direct, personal channel to this group of customers as there is with physicians.

To offer more effective, coordinated communications, pharma companies need lots more data from their customers and must be able to use this data intelligently. That is what CRM is all about.

A Technical Challenge
Maintaining customer data obtained from multiple channels is a technical challenge, even for large pharmaceutical companies. For example, I’ve heard some pharma privacy officials argue that this is one reason why they cannot meet some privacy best practices such as allowing access to data and deletion of records upon request.

Implementing a CRM solution would have a positive effect beyond marketing and sales operations. It would finally bring pharmaceutical companies up to par with customer-centric industries such as the financial services industry, which by the way, grapples with the same privacy issues as does pharma.