“A successful marketing partnership can be the jewel in the crown of a company’s strategic plan. Such partnerships demand sustained commitment and effort from all involved, but the rewards can go far beyond increased sales alone,” says Mark Connolly, Marketing Director, for Boehringer-Ingelheim UK. In this article he describes how successful partnerships work and the impact that they have on employees.
Marketing partnerships are not undertaken lightly; they are always the result of strategic decision-making and are integral elements of a company’s overall plan. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly recognising the value of their marketing expertise and some are looking to develop marketing partnerships as part of their strategic plans.
From a business planning perspective, a market-ing partnership represents a way of investing for success and this is probably the main reason for establishing a partnership. Even a good product will not sell itself and, if a product has a lot of potential, it is worth investing effort and resources in estab-lishing a marketing partnership to maximise the ‘share of voice’ in the marketplace. A well-planned joint marketing arrangement can raise awareness of a product very effectively. This kind of approach should grow the business to a level which neither partner could have reached alone.
Another benefit of partnership arrangements is that they enable pharmaceutical companies not only to share the success but also to share the risks and the overall investment of resources so that a well-planned operation can result in lower risks and higher returns for both partners.
A marketing partnership can also be exploited as a means of covering a short-term gap in the prod- uct pipeline. The development of new pharmaceuti-cal products follows a long and difficult pathway and an unexpected problem at a late stage can sometimes create a gap in the pipeline that could reduce a company’s presence for a time or, worse still, reduce revenue. In this situation, a company may be able to leverage its marketing expertise or knowledge of the therapeutic area to find a partner with a suitable product. A partnership arrangement can also enable both companies to benefit from an insight into how other businesses work and to learn new ways of doing things.
What it takes
For a marketing partnership to work well, both parties must bring something to the table. In addition to an effective product, the other critical ingredients are knowledge of the product therapy area, including contacts amongst key opinion leaders, and sales and marketing expertise. Ideally, neither partner should have a competitor product in the same therapy area. These are the fundamentals of a marketing partnership but the thing that makes it work in practice is the effort that goes into build-ing and sustaining a cohesive team at all levels in both companies.
One example of a successful marketing partner-ship has been the joint marketing of Spiriva® (tiotropium) – a bronchodilator for the maintenance treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – by Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer. In this case, Boehringer Ingelheim had developed the product and had considerable knowledge of the product therapy area, based on its long experience with Atrovent® (ipratropium bromide) and Combivent® (ipratropium bromide/salbutamol). Pfizer has strong marketing skills and a proven ability to create blocbusters, a well-trained sales force and no competitor product in this therapy area. Together the two companies have been able to launch the product and quickly establish it as leading brand in the respiratory market.
Another good example is the recent jointcommercialisation of duloxetine hydrochloride. This product, developed by Lilly, is a balanced reuptake inhibitor of both serotonin and noradrenaline (SNRI) that has been developed for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence and depression. There are no pharmacological treatments currently available for stress urinary incontinence and yet the problem is widespread and frequently under-diagnosed, so the potential market is large. Boehringer Ingelheim has extensive partnership experience and product therapy knowledge in the field of urology built on its worldwide experience with tamsulosin (Flomax®, Pradif® Alna®), today the most widely-prescribed alpha-blocker for benign prostatic hypertrophy. Again, this represents an excellent match of product, knowledge and marketing expertise that promises to bring significant returns to both companies.
We must never lose sight of the fact that our customer’s perceptions and experiences are the most important factor. It is essential that there is one common approach to customers and this is something that has to be worked out in advance and some guiding principles need to be set down. The only way to arrive at this is to have open, honest, consistent communication between the partners from the outset. There can be no room for misunderstandings that might result in cus-tomers receiving conflicting messages. It follows that there has to be a high degree of trust between the parties, because without this it cannot work at all.
Communication is the key
Communication between the partners is impor-tant at every level and no one should underestimate the amount of time and effort that this will take. Sometimes partner companies will have very different organisational cultures and time is needed for the two sides to develop an understanding of each other’s viewpoints before any agreements about operational matters can be reached. Although much of the work will fall on the specific product marketing and sales management teams, the work done at territory level is critical. The field force needs to be given detailed information about local benefits of partnership. This is particu-larly important because partnership working inevitably means that additional effort is needed to implement the plan successfully. This needs to be clearly understood and supported by everyone in the partnership team. This type of approach ensures that a co-promotion project becomes a satisfying and rewarding experience for all involved.
Although the main purpose of a marketing part-nership is increased business and reduced risk for both companies, we must not overlook the other advantages of a partnership arrangement. In fact, there are often broader gains to be made, especial-ly if the project is approached with an open mind. In the first place it is possible to learn a great deal about how other companies work and this can be the starting point for new ideas about business processes or marketing initiatives. Another advan-tage is what might be called a ‘third party quality check’ on the marketing campaign. The partnership arrangement means that the plans have to be discussed with another pharmaceutical company, which, by virtue of the partnership, has your best interests at heart. As a result, the very best kind of constructive feedback and criticism is generated. The other more subtle benefit of this arrangement is that it plays on the natural competitiveness of sales and marketing people in a very constructive way that really drives performance and makes the work very satisfying.
To sum up – partnerships are always the result of sound business decisions that build on individual company strengths to maximise returns and grow business. Carefully planned, with adequate training and support for the field forces, partnerships can bring a new, satisfying and rewarding dimension to pharmaceutical marketing and sales.