Dear Colleagues! This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #621 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veterans welcome sharing of knowledge and wisdom by Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi onWordPress, the top blog site. Please email to email@example.com for publishing your contributions here.
February 2022 marked my completing 47 years of working in Pharma Industry. Allah be praised. I am still working. The first half of my working career was spent in Multinational companies, and the latter half in the Local Pharma, making me well-versed with both innovators and generics markets. I also had the opportunity to work in business as well as operations.
My journey of near half century is also the journey of Pharma Industry in Pakistan. Great changes have occurred in this time and a lot could be written about it. In my blogs, which were started about four and a half years ago, I have covered several topics related to Pakistan Pharma Industry. This multi-part series shall do and review the SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – of the Pharma Industry.
It is now time to strategize, as this was the purpose of this long exercise.
Strategies are made on these parameters:
- Strategies based on Strengths
- Strategies to mitigate Weaknesses
- Strategies to exploit Opportunities
- Strategies to avert Threats
We shall follow the same line of thinking.
Strategies Based on Strengths
Short Term/ Mid Term Market-based Strategies
- Innovate on Customer Service
- Local Pharma has been focusing on customer service since early 2000s and has done great work in this segment. In fact, the most money and effort of promotion was spent on customer service. It started with conventional practices: conference sponsorships, clinic renovation/refurbishing, and things like that. From there, it blasted off and became an unstoppable monster. It has been no-holds-barred thing since then. Topping over one another has been particularly practiced by few companies who have reaped great business also. No one wants to face the reality which is that a lot of money is wasted also.
- The competition to do more has been around for several years and the industry has come to a point where it has raised its cost of selling much above acceptable or desirable limit. The pressure is mounting now to rationalize cost of selling and maintain it within reasonable limits. The government policies have been constantly eroding profit margins, and the last straw is imposition of 17% GST which is being charged on all imports and local purchases. The deduction is immediate, and the promise of refund is still elusive. The way the things are going, the refund will be delayed by several months, and it will never be hundred percent. For all practical purposes, the cost has increased by 17% immediately and it is quite heavy.
- Customer service has gained notoriety among public. Patients and public are openly talking that the pharma companies pay to doctors for prescribing their products. Some patients even say so directly to the doctors’ face which is quite embarrassing. The patient-doctor relationship has gone to its lowest ebb. Trust on their physician is an invisible ingredient that helps patients to recover more quickly. If this is lost, a very important part is lost. Pharma companies urge doctors to sacrifice the interest of patient for the interest of company. No responsible physician would do that ever, but the world has all kinds of people. Wrong deeds done by minority are reflected on the majority.
- Pharma companies were toppled by Nutraceutical companies in customer services. Their manufacturing, quality and prices are not regulated, therefore, they produced at low cost and sold at very high price. Calcium preparations under the guise of ‘coral calcium’, ‘algae calcium’, ‘red-algae calcium’, and the likes are sold at 1500 rupees a pack or more. Multivitamin preparations are another scam which are sold at exorbitant prices. The insiders know the source of materials, cost, and the margins. Nutraceutical selling companies had been offering unprecedented services to doctors. They are more agile and flexible because most companies are small outfits and decision making is just a step away. Three factors, size and speed and flexibility of delivery have made nutraceutical companies greater favorites. Not all doctors subscribe to nutraceutical products, and this is a silver lining for pharma companies.
- Every item of customer service has been repeated. Foreign trips, air-conditioners, conference sponsorships, personal services, cash awards, anything and everything has been repeated many times. Uzbek Air at one time flew six times a week between Lahore and Tashkent. Planeloads of doctors were hauled to Uzbekistan. After a while, the charm evaporated, and no one was willing to go there. Uzbek Air was so much down they cut down the flights from six to one. Turkey was the next favorite destination, and it suffered the same fate. Europe and US are still holding their charm due to various factors. The problem is that our marketers keep repeating themselves and do not think out of the box.
Customer Service is a great area where plenty of things can be accomplished. I would like to make two recommendations.
- The range of customer services should be discussed in larger groups within Marketing. Regular items should be struck out of the agenda and the teams should discuss innovative ideas only. Crowd wisdom is always bigger than the individual wisdom.
- The focus should be shifted away from personal services to collective services, institutional services, and academic services. It will improve image of the pharma industry and will also improve industry-customer relations.
To be Continued……
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