Attachment-Based Selling

By Malcolm Fleschner

In the never-ending pursuit of increased sales and market share, pharmaceutical companies have undertaken a veritable laundry list of approaches including, but not limited to, improving management practices, large-scale mergers and acquisitions, deploying evermore salespeople and increasing investments in marketing and promotion efforts. To a varying degree these strategies have produced results. Pharmaceutical manufacturers interested in profitability over the long haul in this competitive marketplace, however, need to adapt their tactics to identify and develop long-term customer relationships, according to Ilze Puckure, country manager in Latvia and Estonia for Ivax Pharmaceuticals and an expert on the global pharmaceutical industry.

So what does customer relationship management mean in the pharmaceutical arena? Puckure recently told the pharmaceutical industry business analysts at eyeforpharma ( that sales organizations’ focus should be on training their salespeople to create emotional bonds with customers, the kind of attachments that create the loyalty needed to provide insurance against competitors’ offensives. In an industry where product differentiation is becoming almost nonexistent in customers’ eyes, she says, relationship-based selling can genuinely help individual sales reps – and their companies – stand out from the crowd.

Of course many pharmaceutical sales professionals already are working hard to establish lasting relationships with their customers. Yet according to data Puckure cites, today only 20% to 30% of customers qualify as truly loyal. All others she categorizes as merely satisfied or extremely limited in their prescribing options. At the same time, she says, ROI associated with traditional sales tactics has dropped by as much as 25% over the past five years.

Puckure says sales forces need to reorient their approach to determine which benefits are important to physicians. The focus should not be restricted to specific products but should seek to gain a wider perspective about the issues doctors face in their practices and their lifestyles and preferences. Reps capable of speaking on this level with physicians inevitably will gain greater access while their competitors who insist on traditional detailing methods will fall even further behind, she says.

Another benefit is that building customer loyalty doesn’t involve the astronomical costs that come with hiring still more sales reps or undertaking yet another marketing blitz. This approach has more to do with how companies communicate with, sell to and respond to their customers, Puckure says, as well as whether they keep promises. It’s not a quick fix, she explains. Puckure estimates the kind of loyalty she describes typically takes at least one or two years to achieve.

Yet if the results include just a few of the benefits she lists – more prescriptions, better contacts, higher sales efficiency, lower marketing costs and an enhanced corporate reputation among medical professionals – then such efforts undoubtedly are worthwhile.