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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – The world’s most successful computer software? Pharmaceutical Sales Management April 2007

Starting my information gathering/research in preparation for writing this piece I utilised my web browser in the same way many of us start any research project or quest for information these days.  Keying ‘CRM’ followed swiftly with a click on ‘search’ led to 81,300,000 results.  Blimey, must refine that search. Not enough hours in the day springs to mind!


Looking through the results brought no surprises. Software vendor after software vendor advertising and promoting their wares for CRM on a local, pan European and global basis.  Something caught my eye and made me smile - customer relationship management – the world’s most successful computer software. A ‘one-stop shop’ for managing all of your customer information with promises of boosted productivity, higher return on investment and increased sales. Not to mention the award winning, cutting edge sales management and sales force efficiency that often appear alongside ‘CRM’.  They are all relevant of course and we acknowledge that the concept of CRM cannot really be achieved without cutting edge software. Even more so when you consider the size of market and number of customers pharmaceutical companies have to engage with both nationally and internationally.


But it’s not just about software.  ‘Customer relationship management’ (CRM) and customer centricity are both terms that cover many concepts used by companies to manage their relationships with customers, including the capture, storage and analysis of customer information.  True CRM is more than that. It’s about knowing more about your customers than your competitors do. It’s about exceeding the expectations of your customers.  It’s about going that one step further.


Has ‘true’ CRM been achieved by the pharmaceutical industry, we ask?  The answer is probably not completely but the pharmaceutical industry to its credit has embraced, invested and strived to implement CRM to some degree or another, recognising the concept as a good one.   Many industries are embracing the values of CRM and the benefits that it can provide to an organisation in their approach to, and engagement with, their customer base.  However, in some pharmaceutical industry cases, the high level of investment has not justified the end result where an expensive software call reporting system has resulted (some of you may remember the term ETMS). Success is being measured and reviewed continually.


There are many, many factors affecting CRM achievement in the pharma industry today and if, for the purpose of this article, we can isolate the UK NHS health and care environment we can perhaps begin to understand some of the complexity our industry faces when trying to realise the true value of CRM. 


Accurate customer information is a given. In addition, organisational structure, market access, market engagement, market and customer influence, segmentation and targeting, key opinion leader identification, advocacy, promotional channel optimisation (the list goes on) are all factors affecting local market engagement. Plus, let’s not forget the constant evolution of the NHS year on year, government upon government.


Let’s take a very hot topic such as practice based commissioning (PBC).  PBC is apparently radically changing market access and bringing new challenges and excitement to the market place. But consider this. Is it that the power base is still the clinician and the patient and that it has never changed at all? If this proves to be true and is still the case, will GPs in the future be closing doors to pharmaceutical sales professionals? Which communication channel will be relevant?  How will these customers receive brand messaging?


In addition to the GP, which other customer groups are the current and future stakeholders in these new practice structures? Who is becoming of increased importance for us to consider targeting and engaging with when promotional budgets are under increased pressure year on year?  Nurse prescribers? Nurse consultants? Clinical directors in secondary care? PBC GP leads? PBC PCT leads? PEC’s? PCT management leads? GPs with special interests (GpwSI)? They all spring to mind. Plus, what consultants are going to be commissioned to primary care services and what knock-on effect will that have on secondary care?


PBC is about the commissioning of services between primary and secondary care by the practice in conjunction with the PCT.  Many PBC ‘tracking’ software offerings have appeared in the market place but why is this?  Is CRM software able to cope with initiatives such as PBC?  Will CRM cope with practice clustering?  Perhaps local market changes should be considered as such and in the case of global CRM initiatives, align with the localised market environment specialists to deliver CRM.  In the pharma industry there will be the need to use additional, complementary services and software to segment and target the market.


Customer relationship management and customer centricity depend upon an accurate, validated, relevant and maintained data source. For any CRM project or initiative to be successful it has to embrace and be aligned to specialist market knowledge and information. CRM will perhaps never be a one-stop shop.




Andrew Leeder is a Business Development Manager at Binley’s. For more information about how to achieve your CRM efforts/initiatives please contact Andrew on 01268 495600 or visit


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