Facing the Customer

How many people in your organization other than sales reps saw customers last week?  What did they do and what did they learn?  Do your customers know people they can talk with in your organization other than their sales representative or their account manager?  For that matter how many can even give you the name of their sales representative or account manager?  I would suggest the answer to these questions might give you a view on the vitality and longevity of your organization.

Perhaps the most memorable ad of all time was the United Airlines commercial where the head of a small company was passing out airline tickets (remember paper tickets!) to each of his senior staff members indicating that it was time to get back out with the customers.  They had just lost a major account due to their lack of customer contact and they knew things had to change.  When asked where he was going he responded that he was going to visit the “old friend” who had just fired them.  Everyone watching the commercial knew that this should have happened before not after the firing, but the story really hits home because it is so common today.

When doing some consulting work last summer, I surveyed a number of executives to get their views on how often marketing and other home office people should work in the field.  When asked how much time they should be in the field versus in the office, one incredibly successful executive seemed stumped.  He wondered why anyone needed to come to the office anymore.  In the old days they needed to come to connect and study the data that was only located in the office.  Now all the data is everywhere and technology allows everyone to be connected virtually at all times.  So what is the purpose of the office?  Is it a country club where executives can be isolated from the rest of the world?  Is it some type of bomb shelter where they can huddle together in a safe environment?

Perhaps the biggest concern in our industry, and in many others as well, is the smugness that senior leaders have that they believe they know the customers because they were in the field a hundred years ago.  They remember a world of Marcus Welby doctors seeing reps every day and writing prescriptions based on these interactions.  They remember a world where managed market customers could be overcome by having solid relationships with physicians.   They still see generic drugs as lesser competition relative only when a drug loses its patent protection.  Product launches are all about the excitement of a new drug and when they fail it is because the representatives didn’t execute or the marketing materials were weak.  Perhaps the biggest issue today is they still think the physician is the ultimate decision maker and the most important customer.

If airline tickets were being passed out today to senior leaders, the destination would be much different than it was a decade or so ago.  The tickets today should be to visit PBMs that have incredible control over the industry.  It should be to Washington and to state capitals to understand all the fine points of healthcare reform and how Medicare and Medicaid are changing.  It would be to every commercial insurance company to see how they are preparing for the health insurance exchanges.  It would be to visit leaders of accountable care organizations.  It would be to visit members of Congress and legal experts to make sure co-pay cards remain a viable tool.  KOL visits should center around how the companies can help support their treatment protocols, improve adherence and compliance, which are all critical to improving patient health.

A simple analogy might be what is happening in North Korea.  Do you feel more comfortable when Dennis Rodman is meeting with their leaders or now that John Kerry, as Secretary of State, is trying to connect?  If North Korea was a customer, which of the visitors would make them feel like we cared?  I agree that in either case the visits may not be fruitful but that is often the case with customer visits.  The key is to make the effort, and when all introspection is done it really is about effort, right?

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