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The MNCs enjoyed major share of market. Local Pharma also had well-known names. The important thing was that the tradition of having a niche-for-own was followed by all. The MNCs had their research products but the local pharma also had their own formulations and brands to boast. The pattern of working was similar, and the customers were the same. The concept of customer services had not come in anywhere, not just in Pharma but in consumer industry too.
The focus was the product, its quality, efficiency/efficacy, durability/predictability, and it was across all industries from automobiles to typewriters to FMCG to Pharma. Gradually, the focus shifted to customer/consumer. Has this shift occurred at the cost of the product features/benefits? The question needs to be delved deeply into.
The MNCs had different cultures and working styles and adhered to it. Austerity, not opulence was the norm. Senior Executives were treated with deference, but protocols were different. Senior Executives in Glaxo head office (then at I. I. Chundringar Road, Karachi) had a separate lift. When the butler went to serve tea to them, he would review his white uniform properly, and include a white head turban. Glaxo was British and showed it. American companies such as Wyeth and Lederle didn’t have such protocols. Heochst being German, was sort of in-between, not very formal but not informal either.
The integrity and authenticity of promotional information and claims was watched and guarded. The salespersons were trained and asked not to make any wrong claims. If they didn’t know or were not sure, they had to tell the customers so, and request them to give time to get the desired information. The customers trusted the information given by the salespersons, unless they proved otherwise. When a salesperson established his/her credibility with the customer, he/she would get preferential treatment.
MSD (Merck Sharp Dohme) used to have an interesting element in the pattern/model detailing. It was called ‘Balancing Statement’. And it was usually the most note-worthy adverse effect of the product. The idea probably was that while the customer may be carried away by the good points of the products, he/she should be made cognizant of the undesired effects also. To my knowledge, MSD was the only company that went to such length to reinforce integrity.
The memorization system of Abbott had the advantage that the retention by trainees was higher as compared to others. I felt that personally also. I despised memorization, but I found that I remembered almost everything we learned during training. This was unlike other trainings I had received earlier. In the field, Abbott salespersons delivered the model detailing provided by the head office; they were required to do it. The customers also understood their plight and mostly allowed them to do it. Once, we had a new campaign for Erythromycin about its accumulation into Neutrophils and support to body immune system. I and my colleague presented the whole eight-page folder to a senior professor. He kept listening patiently but said in the end “Don’t try to over-sell your ordinary product to me, I know what it is”. It looked like he would remember it anyway, albeit negatively. I certainly do not mean that we should offend the customers to make them remember us, but I am pointing out the force of Abbott system. I observed at that time and later that Abbott did very well with simple products but not as well with complex/ specialized ones.
But what is Marketing? It is to get the mind-space first, to get the physical-space later.
The rule of 80/20 was always talked about. We were told that 20% customers gave 80% business. We were asked to find those 20% and focus on them. The number of customers was small, but so was the number of salespersons. The average size of a team in most MNCs was between 25-40 nationwide, depending upon the nature of products. The same trend continued in 90s. With such a size, success was impossible without 80/20 focus.
Sometime in August 1985, I received an interesting call……