When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I was told I would never work in pharma marketing without having been a sales rep. The fact that I hold a Masters in International Marketing, grew up in the industry (I followed in my father’s footsteps) and brought a range of highly pertinent skills was irrelevant – being a sales rep was seen as more critical to being a successful marketeer than having the right qualifications or skills. I have since disproved this “fact” by spending the majority of my career working as a digital marketeer, in some shape or form, for some of the world’s top pharma companies.
During my career I have fortunately seen a shift in thinking away from this mentality but the sad reality it has not completely disappeared, as evidenced in a job application I just saw for a top pharma. There it was again – listed among the basic requirements of the job spec. In this day and age I cannot for the life of me understand why work as a sales rep should still be a pre-requisite for a marketing role. Far more critical should be a good understanding of basic marketing, multichannel engagement and a degree of creative flair or innovative thinking.
Sadly I have experienced, time and time again, the result of having sales people in marketing roles. The lack of understanding of basic marketing by pharma marketeers, including senior people, is shocking. As I try to support brand teams and companies in developing and implementing innovative multichannel strategies I often have to also train them in basic marketing before we can even consider looking at how to navigate the complex multichannel world we now live in. For example trying to explain to teams how to develop plans and strategies tailored to their customer segments I may discover that their idea of segment actually links to HCP group such as GP or Oncologists rather than actual detailed segments linking to behaviours and beliefs.
In order to be a successful marketeer today you need to understand not only basic marketing but you also need to understand the complexities that digital has driven. You need to be creative and innovative to come up with marketing strategies that actually deliver real impact and engage, and not just be able to complete a brand planning template. Our customers now face so much choice and can simply click away from pharmaceutical content and messages. In many countries the role of the rep has diminished drastically and yet we still have many companies placing an inordinate amount of effort on this channel – and this is not helped if marketeers have been hired because of their sales skills rather than marketing expertise. Whilst reps still play an important role for many brands they are now one of many channels and a marketeer needs to understand the reps role within a more complex and interconnected landscape.
We live in a noisy world where the customer has the power and the choice. If companies continue to hire marketeers who tow the old line they will never see the impact they could be achieving. Our industry needs innovators and people who will challenge the status quo. We need people who will above all else always put the customer in the centre and try their utmost to understand what that customer wants and needs, and then deliver the brand messages in such a way that it speaks to those needs and resonates with those customers. The big tech giants are already investing heavily in healthcare and if pharma companies start having to compete head to head with these companies it is pretty clear who the winner will be unless we change our approach and who we hire. Anyone can learn to fill in a brand template but coming up with successful, innovative strategies that speak to today’s customers is a very different skill that takes talent, experience and a different mindset.