The 7 habits of highly effective digital Pharma companies

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A recent paper from McKinsey & Company* looks at the 7 habits it says are shared by those companies that have encompassed and succeeded using digital. Looking at these habits, we can see that they can just as easily apply to Pharma companies in a local setting.

1. Be extremely aspirational

According to McKinsey, digital leaders don’t just look at digital as another channel but as a potential business changer. Companies can set targets and measure growth or market share but the key is to ‘jar an organisation’ as they term it, into treating digital as something that creates value, something new.

Healthcare and digital health is starting to look very exciting with many new digital ideas in areas like compliance, wearable health trackers and the whole area of preventative medicine. Pharma companies could also look at digital ways to make them more efficient.

Are you spending lots of time and resources tracking information between systems? Do you have a whole series of spreadsheets for tracking information that need constant updating and re-entry?

2. Acquire capabilities

In all likelihood, digital talent will not be found from within so it is important to acquire it, even if you have to go outside your industry. This holds particularly true for Pharma and will be one of your key challenges. Because this skill-set is not usually associated with the industry, it makes it more difficult to evaluate candidates and then to position them with the existing company structure.

To start it makes sense to get digital expertise from outside from the likes of a digital agency or consultancy.  In time, digital leaders develop their own internal digital team, who will provide an internal focus for their existing teams, and external collaboration with important stakeholders like customers. Pharma teams of the future won’t just comprise of the traditional sales manager and territory reps, but instead will include digital personnel to communicate with customers as well. Sales reps of the future will be highly ‘digital literate’ and comfortable in this space.

3. ‘Ring fence’ and cultivate talent

Once digital talent has been acquired, it is important not to simply let them immediately assimilate into other departments and be diluted. The report instead suggests that digital talent must be allowed its own working patterns and tools to establish itself.

This point is very relevant in Pharma, where digital capabilities are usually tagged-on to existing marketing efforts, or worse, treated as part of a website initiative. Pharma companies needs to build up a digital team and then once new business ideas start coming from this, only then incorporate the new business into the more traditional structure of the business.

4. Challenge everything

By far the biggest changes have come from standing back and questioning everything. Apple famously did it with the iPhone, and most of the recent tech start-ups have focussed on areas questioning why you have always done something in a particular way. Think of Ryanair scrapping tickets and seat allocation or some consultants here in Ireland starting to conduct follow-up patient meetings via a secure video application with the patient – no more need for long commutes to hospitals and waiting rooms.

Are there areas of your business that could be done differently by thinking digital?

5. Be quick and data driven

McKinsey highlight the fact that rapid decision making is part and parcel of the digital environment. Digital enables you to test and pilot much quicker and to change and adapt in response to constant feedback. This agile approach means you usually know if something is going to work much quicker than a normal campaign.

Digital also facilitates very precise measurement, so ROI calculations and project success can be more easily defined. Everything can be tracked and analysed.

How many doctors have opted in to receive digital marketing from you? How many doctors have signed-up to your webinars? How many times has your e-detailer been viewed by key healthcare professionals?

6. Follow the money

The obvious areas of focus are on customer-facing solutions but great value can also be found in optimising back-office functions. Digital projects like any others do need to be focussed clearly on value building or cost reduction and the report is clear that successfully companies find areas where benefits start appearing and then  ‘zero in on digital investments that create the most value’. It warns against a series of pet projects, ‘spread haphazardly’ across the company – experiment, analyse and decide on the real value projects.

7. Be obsessed with the customer

Although this last point is as relevant in the non-digital world, it is important to keep remembering the customer is key.

Healthcare professionals like any customers have an expectation of a seamless experience through all channels, whether it is a sales rep call, a website search or a company sponsored webinar. Clever companies look at improving the customer experience at each stage and removing as much as possible any hassles or bad experiences.

How easy can a doctor check your product information? Order your samples? Get CME assistance? Get Patient support material? How can we help the healthcare professional treat and manage his or her patients more effectively?

As McKinsey states, being good at one or two of these is not enough, the real innovators must learn to excel at all seven.


*The Seven habits of highly effective digital enterprises: Tunde Olanrewaju, Kate Smaje & Paul Willmott, McKinsey & Company 2014


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