Love and Other Drugs, Reloaded

A few months ago, I was on a long-haul flight from Singapore to New York. Having watched most of the movies on the plane, I decided to watch a movie titled “Love and Other Drugs”. My choice was influenced in part by the intriguing name and to a great extent by the stellar cast of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.

Thirty minutes into the movie, I realised that the movie was an accurate description of the “good old days” of B2B marketing. Having started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I could relate to the marketing techniques depicted in the movie. Hiring great reps, arming them with a lot of samples and entertaining key doctors was the name of the game. The model seemed to be working very well and companies kept increasing their sales forces.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of drug reps in the U.S. reached 100,000. However, as pipelines dried up and the rules around marketing of drugs got stricter, the drug companies started laying off reps and started looking for alternate ways to educate the doctors and promote their products.

The challenge for B2B marketers has been integrating digital marketing into their media mix, which till date has been centred on the sales team and participation in conferences. Having participated in the evolution of B2B marketing from analogue to digital in the last twelve years, what I have learned are summarised below:

1. Old is still gold.
There’s still an important place for sales reps in B2B marketing. Nothing can replace the importance of human relationships in selling and marketing. However, the new digital tools whether they are iPad detailers, webinars or web portals, are there to enhance the impact of the sales rep in the selling process. In addition using technology for B2B marketing enhances the innovation credentials of the organisation.

2. Integration is vital.
According to Manhattan Research, (Dolan, 2012) more than two-thirds of physicians in the U.S. are using smartphones today and by 2012 some 81 percent will be using smartphones devices. In addition, half of those physicians are expected to use their smartphones for administrative functions, learning, and patient care. This provides a great opportunity for B2B marketers to engage with their target audience. However, in order for this interaction to be meaningful it has to be based on a validated insight that can help physicians make smart decisions. For a brand that is involved in B2C and B2B marketing, integration across channels and messages is even more important since physicians are also exposed to the ads meant for consumers.

3. Measurement is possible and real time.
In the pre-digital marketing days, pharmaceutical marketers had to wait for the big black book from IMS Health every month to gauge the impact of their marketing campaigns in terms of prescriptions and market share. Apart from the digital version of IMS Health that was released a few years ago, there are a number of alternate ways we can measure B2B marketing performance. Two of my favourite ways are tracking sales messaging and the Net Promoter Score survey:

  • Sales messaging: Traditionally sales aids were paper based and it was impossible to measure the impact of messaging on change in behaviour. Now tools are available that provide real time data on the usage of messages by the sales team. Couple this with a messaging effectiveness survey with the doctors done either online and the marketing team has a wealth of knowledge about the effectiveness of their messaging.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) (Reichheld): A simple but elegant way to measure your company’s perception and performance according to your customers. The NPS is calculated by asking a simple question. How likely are you to recommend “the brand/company” to a colleague or friend? This metric serves as a great indictor of the health of the business and serves as a leading indicator of sales and market share.

In conclusion, these are exciting time for B2B marketers. However they will need to develop a strong understanding of customer insights and evolving media channels to keep the love alive with their customers!

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.