Words by Michaila Byrne
The most successful duos have one critical quality in common – whether it is Sherlock and Watson, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, or Abbott and Costello – an effective, lasting partnership is made up of two equals. Though they may possess different strengths, they recognise and respect their partner’s value, and work together towards a common good. The medical and commercial functions within the pharmaceutical industry have much to learn from one another, and if pharma can encourage stronger cross-functional collaborations, this dynamic duo can pro-create more effective outcomes for patients and payers alike.
A good start is to lead by example; if employees observe their leaders exhibiting behaviours that are collaborative, this will trickle down through the tiers of the organisation. At eyeforpharma Barcelona virtual 2020, Ana Kostova, General Manager, Europe, Allergan Aesthetics, Abbvie, suggests that leaders focus on talent management, such as moving people around so they can gain an understanding of each other’s roles and the value that they each bring: “That creates the best empathy, when you are in the others’ shoes and can see how things work.” Physically integrated workspaces, integrated roles, and integrated leadership will all encourage empathy and facilitate behaviour where people are more inclined and willing to work together.
Naturally, habit loops are motivated by reward and recognition, so defined common objectives and incentive schemes are also a savvy solution. Sandra Silvestri, Senior Vice President, Global Head of Medical General Medicine Business Unit, Sanofi, stresses the importance of alignment: “The first thing is to understand what the customer needs, then to put together a concrete, relevant plan on how to provide that in a very personalised approach, and of course the different company functions need to be aligned with the same objective.”
So, how can medical help commercial and vice versa? Medical teams have the obvious privilege of being closer to and engaging more directly with the customer. Combined with their scientific background, they provide commercial teams with detailed and actionable insights from the field. In this respect, the value that they bring is perhaps more apparent: “I think we as medical have the unique opportunity of being closer to the customer… understanding customer needs and generating insight is one of the critical values that field-based medical and other medical functions really bring,” states Silvestri. Medical can share their insights and help inform commercial strategies, not only in the early phases when preparing for launch, but throughout the whole process.
Now let us adopt the commercial perspective. Medical is more likely to be sceptical about adopting commercial skills, but this aversion to a ‘sales approach’ is fundamentally just a perception hurdle that needs to be vaulted. Heather Moses, Head of Medical Affairs UK, Global Marketing Leader, Roche, explains: “Some of the tools and training that are offered to marketing people are really important for medical as well, but aren’t often exposed to medical people.” At its core, commercial is about communication, connection, and identifying a need. What could be more appropriate for customer-facing medical teams than this? The skills medical can learn from commercial will help them to identify difficulties in the customer journey, frame questions properly, and ultimately help them uncover hidden insights. Moses continues: “Even some of the questioning techniques or communication tactics considered ‘sales’ techniques and tactics, with the right intent are completely appropriate for medical to use as well, to get greater value delivery or understanding of the customer.”
Classic marketing tools like customer journey mapping and sales skills would also be a valuable asset to medical. According to Silvestri: “Being able to ask the right questions is really the first step to collect the insight, so we need to train our people on how to do it. It’s science; it’s not negotiable, of course it is data driven, but the ‘how’ of asking the questions and how you engage with the customers is super critical.”
Any successful relationship is the sum its parts; through the exchanging of insights and skills you can far exceed what can be achieved alone. In the past, functions were separate, but shared responsibility invites shared passion. By merging the knowledge of medical and the skills of commercial, the pair can exceed customer needs and emerge as the dynamic duo of pharma.