Prescriber Loyalty – Is Pharma Chasing a Mirage?
A joint study by HBR and Bain & Co. reveals that a 5% rise in customer retention rate spikes organizational profitability by over 25%. In India, where doctors enjoy demigod status, repeat prescriptions directly translate into robust market share and superior competitiveness for pharma. And yet, Prescriber Loyalty continues to be the Achilles’ Heel of pharma companies, an ever-elusive goal that even marketing mavens flounder with.
Why is doctors’ loyalty so hard to secure? What makes prescribers switch brands? How can pharma marketers win them over for life?
The Loyalist Mindset
A loyal physician has a deep commitment to the brand. He/she shares the same values and objectives that the company projects. A loyalist often goes beyond prescribing a particular brand to actively advocating it. Such strong brand allegiance indicates that the doctor has had repeated positive experiences with the company’s products and favors it to such an extent that he is willing to associate his personal reputation by endorsing them.
Why Do Prescribers Switch?
Securing prescriber loyalty requires pharma to have all-round long-term commitment to nurturing doctors’ faith in its brand. However, most pharma companies adopt a narrow-minded approach in which they focus efforts only on certain aspects while completely ignoring the others.
Smart Pharma Consulting notes multiple factors that could dissuade doctors from prescribing a particular brand:
From Mirage to Reality: Gaining Customers for Life
Loyalty is a complex interplay of several clinical and nonclinical factors. Satisfaction with the company’s brand, products, services and reputation is a precursor to loyalty. This feeling is derived from the superior quality of core offerings, meaningful relationships between prescribers and companies, and a sense of trust built on shared beliefs and values. These factors come together to form the Prescriber Loyalty Mix.
It may be noted that every element of the loyalty mix contributes almost equally towards building a loyal following. Also, there is a correlation between all three components in which each one influences and is influenced by the other two components of the mix.
Quality of Product/Service
- Product Efficacy – Efficacy and safety of drugs is the holy grail of repeat prescriptions. Prescribing doctors are close witnesses to real-world effectiveness of a drug, where it interacts with other medications or is affected by other health conditions of the patient. The recent death of five women in a Hyderabad hospital due to substandard medicines is just one of the examples of Indian drug manufacturers’ struggle with product quality. It is imperative that a company’s drug delivers the promised therapeutic value within safe boundaries. This can be ensured through quality compliance. Commitment to highest quality standards during a drug’s development and commercial manufacture is a must. For real impact, a culture of quality should be initiated from top management. Lupin has committed to quality by having all Quality Heads to directly report to the MD. It also promotes the practice of retraining the whole team even if one team member is found to have erred on quality.
- Superior Service – Quality should extend beyond the actual product to include associated services as well. Drug companies should be attentive to doctors’ needs, rapidly resolve their concerns, and fulfill requests such as literature to educate patients, drug samples, etc. Product documentation should be exhaustive, transparent and clear. Sound scientific information of the product and associated pathology should form the base of all communication with doctors be it medical meetings, CME programs or interactions with the sales force. KOLs opinions of products have a huge impact on other doctors. Therefore, proactive measures to assess and address negative opinions of KOLs, if any, should be adopted.
- Physician-centric Approach – Experts are unanimous in their opinion that modern marketing success rests on a customer-oriented approach. However, the pharma industry has always placed products at the center of physician-engagement strategies. Marketers should now invest in initiatives that not just disseminate product information but create an ideal environment for doctors to deliver their best. This can only happen through two-way communication that provides deep insights into physicians’ mindsets and pain points. Such ‘listening’ is the best way marketers can identify the gap between what is required by doctors versus what is currently available and then developing practical solutions to bridge it. Some ways to create real value to a medical professional would be offering assistance with practice management, providing latest medical updates, developing quality educational courses for skills upgrade and partnering for improving treatment compliance.
- Upgrade to Sales Force 2.0 – Marketing heads need to ensure that the above-mentioned engagement approach is internalized by its field force, pharma’s face for the medical community. The focus should shift from Sales to Service wherein the goal of field force is not to close a deal but to provide prescribers with all resources needed to make an optimal prescription decision. This may necessitate revisiting job descriptions, training and development, redefining KPIs and managing attrition rates. Upskilling existing resources for more meaningful interactions and equipping them with new assets and digital solutions to build better relationships will play a crucial role in establishing a long-term bond with physicians.
- Continuous and Comprehensive Connect – In this digital age, seeking a long-lasting relationship with doctors through intermittent communication via a particular channel is the biggest blunder marketers can make. A positive perception is built over time when marketers offer consistent and quality experience at varied levels. Therefore, pharma should aim for an integrated approach by connecting with the medical community through multiple channels and delivering the same value every time at each touchpoint. This will create the perception that marketers wish to understand physicians’ needs and are dedicated to addressing their grievances. It will reinforce pharma’s commitment to delivering exceptional value to its core customers, ultimately strengthening the bond and promoting loyalty.
- Strong Brand Association – As mentioned earlier in this article, doctors become loyalists when they feel invested in all that the brand stands for. A distinct brand identity improves recognition and attracts followers who share the same objectives. Marketers must ask themselves these questions: What do prescribers value the most? What message does your brand convey? How strongly do physicians associate their goals with your brand? Additionally, they should ensure that the branding clearly conveys the unique strengths of its products vis-à-vis competitors. Superior perceived value of product and service attributes not only ensures higher prescriptions but also better brand endorsement.
- Impeccable Corporate Reputation – In recent years, several pharma companies have become infamous for unethical practices like marketing of non-approved drugs, giving cash incentives to prescribing doctors, overpricing drugs, off-label promotions, etc. This has created a sense of distrust within the medical community about their commitment to shared goals of curing disease and saving lives. There is no doubt that unethical practices rapidly erode prescriber base. Regaining loyalty of prescribers lost due to questionable activities is an arduous affair, but it is definitely not impossible. One of the first steps to take is showing commitment to research and development of innovative drugs that fulfill current unmet medical needs. Actively working towards improving patient access and compliance is another key focus area. Complete disclosure with respect to pricing, results of clinical trials, marketing practices, KOL compensation, etc., is also recommended.
What about Incentives?
It is a well-known fact that incentives are an integral part of pharma’s marketing strategy. Such is pharma’s obsession with rewarding doctors in lieu of prescriptions that incentives form the crux of most MR-Physician meetings. However, compensation, monetary or otherwise, may not necessarily translate into lifelong brand loyalty. A recent Docplexus survey revealed high displeasure of most Indian doctors over pharma’s focus on incentives. Physicians want pharma to add real value to their clinical practice. They expect engagement to be scientifically inclined, leaning towards real world evidence and personalized medicine. They demand that pharma ceases being a seller of drugs and becomes an equal partner in the medical community’s quest to improve outcomes. Therefore, it could be concluded that although incentives may lend a temporary push to improve prescriptions rates, they contribute little towards establishing real, long-term loyalty towards a drug.
In a country where almost 90% of drugs sold are branded, high physician preference for a particular brand guarantees ultimate market dominance. For turning the loyalty mirage into reality, Pharma companies must rid themselves of marketing myopia and commit to creating better relationships with physicians for the long haul. Investing resources in optimizing every component of the loyalty mix would be the key to attaining this goal.