Cloudy Thinking

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 Recent Pf insight into medical sales professionals’ attitudes to technology may have indicated some muddled thinking. For reps, the advantages of using innovative, ‘cloud-based’ CRM solutions in the KAM era are huge. David Round explores sales force technologies and shows how making the distinction between ETM and CRM can help put you on cloud nine.

Over the past couple of years, pharma companies have made significant moves towards Key Account Management (KAM). But how effective is the technology in place to support the new culture of cross-organisation information sharing and very different models of performance measurement? The latest survey from Pharmaceutical Field would appear to show that some sales professionals are failing to see technology as the great enabler.

However, it is not the feature-rich, mobile and increasingly cloud-based technology that is the problem but the challenges of leveraging fully functional CRM to support the evolution towards Key Account Management.

Questioning technology value

In the October 2010 issue, Pharmaceutical Field ran an article entitled ‘Technology: a help or hindrance’, which argued that pharma reps are still failing to see technology as a great enabler. The article, which was based on their annual Company Perception, Motivation and Satisfaction Survey, revealed that while nine-out-of-ten reps have access to a Electronic Territory Management System (ETMS) /Customer Relationship Management (CRM) at work, only 51% use it on a daily basis.

The main problem with these findings is that the article fails to discriminate between ETMS software and CRM, yet these technologies are fundamentally different. ETMS is a relatively simple platform, primarily intended to allow reps to log call activity. There is no need to spend much time doing this; indeed, a twice-weekly update may even be sufficient to record activity details.

In contrast, CRM, which is designed to support an integrated, organisation wide information system strategy, offers an opportunity to share information across different business units; to create a plan of action for each customer and track performance against strategy, such as monitoring attainment of milestones or assessing market access success in progressing key opinion leaders through advocacy ladders. This technology provides huge opportunities to support those in Key Account Management roles but, even then, users should not need to spend more than an hour, on average, per day updating the system.

Outdated approach

So, is there confusion about just what CRM can deliver and how much time should be spent inputting and accessing information? The Pf article focused on those individuals not using technology on a regular basis and included a reference to ‘avoidance activities’ which include devices being awkward to carry and a lack of battery power. It also raised the issue of users being concerned about losing face and hence not using the kit; as well as the old issue of the ‘silver surfer’ struggling to get up to date with the new systems.

These arguments are old and frankly fallacious. With leading CRM solutions now offering iPhone, Blackberry and iPad versions, this technology is highly portable; while the pharma industry is increasingly dominated by individuals highly familiar with twitter, Facebook and other social media who, in fact, are more likely to find some of the technology currently in place a little behind the curve, rather than be dazzled by any state of the art functionality.

Instead, perhaps organisations should be looking closely at those individuals (20%) spending three hours or more per day accessing the ETMS. They need to question whether the solution is really supporting day-to-day operational requirements; whether the right training programme and coaching support is in place; and, critically, whether the software is supporting the new strategic shift to KAM.

Cultural shift

Unfortunately, for organisations which are embracing CRM, there remains the difficult question of whether to let go of traditional methods of measurement, such as target customer coverage and strict monitoring of number of calls per day. After all, if one PCT or GPCC offers huge potential, shouldn’t that organisation receive significantly more effort than the remainder of the KAM’s customer allocation?

Whatever the pharma company decides, the decision needs to be clearly communicated and understood by the end users – otherwise there is a risk that reps are left with conflicting priorities, unsure of whether to focus on the rapidly changing needs of their NHS customers, or ensure adherence to performance measures that may not be fully aligned with their customer’s requirements.

Great enabler

So what does that mean in practice? The CRM solution must reflect the user’s role – from marketeer to KAM – and support day-to-day requirements, from effective information sharing to rapid assessment of performance. And the CRM solution must continue to evolve – given the amount of change within the NHS in recent years, is a solution which was implemented five, three or even two years ago still meeting the needs of the end user?

The CRM solution should also be designed to reflect the way end users use the system; and supported with effective, regular training. Organisations that leverage regular e-learning programmes and web conference refresher courses will see significant improvements in the consistency of user adoption across the business. Back this up with knowledgeable support from people that understand both the software and the industry issues and users will be actively encouraged to delve further into the system’s functionality and broad feature set.

And for those still concerned about the tiny percentage of individuals failing to accurately record information on the system – no doubt the same ones who failed to accurately record on paper – offering users a CRM system that delivers real value and helps them become more effective in their day-to-day work is the biggest incentive which can be provided to ensure commitment and buy in to technology.

Fully committed

There is no doubt that, like the market it serves, the pharmaceutical industry is in a process of change. Many have made the move towards KAM as well as an investment in CRM, but the continuing challenge for pharma is to ensure that the two remain dovetailed.

Today’s technologies are highly mobile, cloud based and provide access to the most up-to-date information at any time and place. This enables Account Managers to be phenomenally well informed about every customer interaction in real time.

But to maximise this power, pharma companies need to commit to the CRM solution and put in place the processes, performance measures and training that truly reflect the KAM model. It is those companies that combine cultural change with technology that will really benefit from the great enabler.

David Round is General Manager of Cegedim Relationship Management. For further information please visit