“Tony, that is the billion dollar question. My team try to tell me that they know and I believe they have hunches but I don’t think they really know.”
This was the response given to me by a board-level executive of a major global pharmaceutical company. Incidentally, I asked for his permission before using our discussion as a basis for this article. We were in the middle of a meeting wherein I had asked what was front of mind for him currently. After stating that he was focused on improving the uptake of a relatively new product in at least two key geographical regions, he mentioned that the team were busy developing initiatives designed to uplift the brand’s sales. I then asked what was driving the slower than expected uptake in sales and what the latent behavioural drivers were that they were not yet tapping into. This is when he repliedas above.
For many healthcare marketers, the most glamourous period of their working life is to be found around the launch of a new product. There, they get to breathe new life into something that had very little chance of survival without their intervention. In many cases, they feel that the guys in clinical development throw something mostly undifferentiated over the fence at them and that they are then expected to perform miracles with it.
So that is what they then set about trying to do. They begin to believe in the new product and the hype surrounding it. They suddenly become aware that it has ‘great’ potential because aside from the guys in discovery and development telling them that it has great potential, they also asked 10,000 doctors in an omnibus survey if they will prescribe it once it is on market and 85% said, “absolutely” and in “78%” of their patients.
Nevertheless, here you are at T+12 and the uptake has been significantly below expectations. Senior management’s expectations, you now declare defensively. You explain, to anyone that will listen, that you were never certain of those forecasts that were built around the sales objective handed down to you by senior management. This scenario happens and quite often. Even products with substantial evidence indicating that they really can make a difference, such as Novartis’ CHF drug Entresto, can and did, suffer from slower than expected uptake, even after a strong launch. There is nearly always a disconnect between senior management expectations and the expectations of those tasked with bringing a product to market. That’s almost a given. Notwithstanding that, the key question for you now, is ‘now what?’
A major global management consultancy analyzed “a random sample of 20 drugs launched in the US market between 2005 and 2008, and found that only 15 percent of them achieved a significant improvement in market share in their therapeutic area after the first six months of launch.“
At Kasocio, we are so confident of our uplifting brand performance results, that where companies have failed to get their launch right first time, we will guarantee to help them uplift their growth rates and will put a significant part of our fees at risk against their 100% satisfaction to prove it. More about that later.
Increasing the sales performance of a brand in this situation requires a robust but pragmatic investigation into why the brand is not performing better before we can begin constructing a strategy that will create the sought after uplift in sales. This should not be a post-mortem investigation into how we got where we are today. That can be done later. We are where we are; the focus should now be, what can we do to improve our situation? What are the sales drivers we are performing badly in or not addressing at all, in our current campaign? What needs to be stopped, amended or started?
Here is an approach that we recommend:
Step One: Diagnose The Problem. Do we have the right strategy for this product and are we executing to the plan?
There are 2 ways to find out if a strategy is fit for purpose. The first is to implement it and see what happens. In this situation just outlined, you’ve already done that. It is very likely that there are some very weak elements in the plan. It is unsurprising really. More than likely, you and your team have put a lot of time into the document you now have in front of you. Your focus will have been defending the plan rather than checking whether it would do what was expected of it. It’s not too late. Now would be an excellent time to do what is the better way to fiund out if a strategy will do what is expected of it: conduct a best-practice ‘pressure test’ or health-check review of the assumptions underpinning it. Consider it a ‘road worthiness check’ where ‘the tyres are kicked’ the oil is checked, gears, etc. to ensure that what is on the road will perform and get you to where you want to be. Rather than just a tick-box exercise to check whether standard elements of the plan have been filled in, we would recommend examining the ‘quality’ of what has gone into the plan. We highly recommend deconstructing the key assumptions underpinning the plan and then reconstructing them through independent eyes to see if they can come to the same conclusions as you did. The worst case scenario is that they agree that your assumptions are 100% verifiable and the strategy and its plan are fully optimised in which case, for example, they would focus on an examination of the execution to see if there are ways to optimise it. Experience tells us though, that significant value-add can be derived through the opportunities that are uncovered during the pressure test to improve the probability of success.
In this particular instance, we would also suggest examining the implementation strategy to see if there are any further clues about why the strategy and its execution failed to deliver, thus far, what was expected.
Once a good understanding of where the weaknesses lay in the strategy and its execution is achieved, it would be possible to develop some solutions for performance improvement. Testing and piloting these solutions to see how far they move the needle in the direction you would like, followed by refinement and roll-out would make sound sense This approach can deliver very good uplift and Kasocio has supported several clients in this way. If the health-check suggests that a deeper more comprehensive approach to understanding the problem is required, you could proceed directly to:
Stage Two: Understand The Behaviours Underpinning The Slower Than Expected Uptake
If you have read any of our previous articles, you will know that the key insight we recommend looking for is behavioural in nature. It has to be. The reason sales are slower than expected is because some key stakeholders are not carrying out the behaviours that you want them to, whether it is patients staying on their medication or physicians prescribing it. It is imperative to know and understand why. If you have a better understanding of why they are behaving the way that they are, better than your competitors do, you can develop some solutions to do something about that. But how do you gain that deep understanding about the drivers and barriers of stakeholder behaviour?
Certainly not by using traditional market research techniques alone. Traditional market research assumes that respondents are able to recall accurately, report fully and elucidate their behaviour, when often they cannot. Reported behaviour, attitudes and declared intentions often bear little relation to behaviour in the real world. This discrepancy can often be explained by behavioural and cognitive biases. If our preferences and choices are actually less the result of linear, deliberative and inhibited processes than the standard model would have us believe, then as innovators we need to understand the “hidden” influences on human behaviour and the normal inbuilt biases residing in all of us.
Kasocio challenges the long-held traditional economic view that people are rational, price-minimising, value-maximising, socially-remote automatons with relatively constant preferences. While some of the traditional market research practices claim to go beyond superficial responses, most still rely on the idea that respondents understand their own thoughts and decision-making processes; this is something for which there is very little supporting evidence, whilst the contrary view is supported by countless experiments where behaviour is clearly influenced but the source of the influence isn’t recognised by the people taking part in the study.
Using a robust behavioural insight-based approach to gaining directional insights, lays a solid platform for developing objectives and generating impactful solution options that address them.
Stage 3: Develop Solution Options
Developing solution options on the basis of directional behavioural insight ensures that they are designed to create the desired behaviour changes. Identifying the best solutions is not possible without fully elucidating good alternatives. Alternative solutions should reflect substantially different approaches to the problem or different priorities across objectives and should present decision makers with real options and choices. Unfortunately for many companies, it is most common to move to a single solution, without truly exploring alternatives.
In our view, there should be no distinction between marketing and technical functions when working on a product. They should come together under the core team objective of successfully commercialising it. A commercial team. The output from these core teams should be good information about a small, carefully thought out set of good insights-based solution options – their consequences, key differences (trade-offs) in their consequences, and the response of key stakeholders with respect to these trade-offs.
Most often, solution options are not single actions, but a set of actions – a package of individual elements that together provide a comprehensive approach to the decision situation.
What are good options made of?
Developing good alternatives is an iterative task. Initially, the task is to generate a range of option prototypes. These prototypes are carefully evaluated technically, financially and strategically, in terms of their estimated consequences. They are also evaluated deliberatively, in terms of their relative desirability. New prototypes are generated, cumulative gains are found and the key trade-offs and uncertainties are highlighted. By the time a short list of evaluated and refined solutions are presented to decision makers, they should be:
- Stakeholder Value-Focused, meaning that they are explicitly designed, and ideally co-created, to address the fundamental needs of a specific stakeholder
- Analysis Based, meaning that in developing alternatives for achieving the objectives, the project team has drawn on the best available information about cause and effect relationships and has designed creative and diverse alternatives based on sound analysis
- Consistently Described, meaning that all alternatives are defined to a sufficient and consistent level of detail using logically consistent assumptions and that a base case against which all alternatives can be compared has been clearly established
- Comparable, meaning that individual elements or components of a strategy are directly comparable
- Trade-off Based, meaning that they emphasize rather than hide difficult but unavoidable value-based trade-offs and present real choices for decision makers
- A Refined Shortlist, meaning that poor (dominated) alternatives have been eliminated and those remaining have been iteratively refined to incorporate new ideas and joint gains;
So far in this article we have taken you through the initial steps that lead to an uplift in sales performance for brands that are not meeting sales revenue growth expectations. In Part 2 of this article we will show you how to uplift your brand’s sales growth.
You may think that much of a product’s post-launch trajectory is determined before launch; I’d agree with you. However, just because you made a mistake with the launch does not mean there is nothing that you can do to maximize uptake post launch. Oh, and this applies to any brand.
Still need to be convinced? Book a 30 minute initial call right now and we will show you how. Clue: It’s a little bit about what we do but a lot about how we do it!