What Pharma and Finance Marketers Can Teach One Another


Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “Drug Reps Soften Their Sales Pitches.”  In it, Jonathan D. Rockoff reports that several drug companies (including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck& Co and Eli Lily & Co) told sales reps to stop “detailing” doctors with aggressive, tightly-scripted sales pitches and instead provide information that doctors really want – i.e., patient education materials, caregiver resources and reimbursement guidelines.  In the process, physician satisfaction has improved and drug sales are rising.

With this shift, big pharma has discovered what the services sector has long known:  customers want conversations and solutions, not well-rehearsed messages.

The challenge, of course, is that real solutions are hard to come by.  As Chris Wright of Zs Associates notes:

“Shifting gears has proven thorny in some cases….Some longtime sales representatives, used to repeating  a scripted message, aren’t equipped to intuit and respond to what doctors want.  Promotion of drugs is highly regulated, making it tricky to give salespeople lots of leeway in what they discuss with physicians.”

In this respect, healthcare companies are quite similar to financial services organizations.  Both sell complex, sophisticated products.  Both are highly regulated.  Both have been slow to adopt new marketing and distribution models.  Both are under intense pressure to transform themselves due to new regulations and new financial strains.

Each sector has important lessons to teach the other, including:

  1. Education and Personalization.  More than a decade ago, financial services companies understood that consumers are in the driver’s seat.  In response, they supplemented product campaigns with financial literacy programs, decision-support tools and advice.  They also customized products and educational programs by customer life-stages, behavior patterns and goals.
  2.  Consultative Sales.  Years ago, money management firms replaced “sales professionals” with “advisors” and “planners.”  Today, big pharma companies are moving toward a more consultative sales model – as are health insurance companies, who are acquiring healthcare advisory firms and integrated care management firms at a rapid pace.
  3. Endorsement-Marketing.  Pharmaceutical companies are experts at endorsement-marketing.  They understand the power of Key Opinion Leaders (e.g., doctors, researchers) – and the credibility of advisory boards and academic studies.  Financial services companies have been slow to enlist expert endorsement.  As consumers take on more responsibility for their financial futures, look for more guidance from highly-credentialed financiers and risk managers.

What other lessons can communicators and marketers in these two sectors teach one another?


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