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I am a hoarder. Not the “I’ll be appearing on an A&E series next month, buried in my belongings” type of hoarder. I’m more the “Oooo, that book looks interesting! I’ll buy it and probably never actually read it” type of hoarder. I used to have shelves and shelves of books, but then I started paring them down to the point where I bet there aren’t 50 books in my house. However, I have hundreds of electronic books that I hoard like an old lady with cats.

I hoard them because they make me feel as if I have access to new things. Every new book is the opportunity to learn something new and amazing (though, in reality, it’s really like there’s a 4.7% chance the book will be worth getting past the first few pages). I collect them in some vain hope that having them on my iPad will make me more likely to be smarter by some sort of mental osmosis.

Alas, it doesn’t work for college kids who buy their textbooks but never crack them open, and it doesn’t work for me, either.

I’m guessing you have collected a lot of data lately. A lot of sales numbers. Geographic distribution data. Attitudinal data. Behavior data. Data about how many and who opened that last email, and the one before that, and the one before that. You know who is registered on your site, who watched the last eLearning, requested a rep, requested samples and requested patient sales cards. You know their specialty, probably where they practice, probably how old they are, where they went to school and if they ate lunch you paid for.

That’s a lot of data. What good is it doing you?

Ostensibly, you’re going to use that data one day. You’re going to hire a bunch of geeks who did their own math homework and probably majored in mathematical modeling. They are going to unlock that data and turn it into something called “usable insights.” You are going to apply those insights, increase brand awareness by 17% per annum without spending any more money, and get that promotion and corner office you always wanted.

That’s a great story, but are you really ever going to use that data?

How much did you spend on your data in the last month? The last year? The last five years? How much do you spend to maintain all that data every month? What could you spend that same amount of money on to make the needle move right now?

Let’s explore a simple “what if” scenario. If I told you right now that female PCPs over the age of 45 are prescribing your brand 20% more than the average (a fairly interesting and important finding), what could you do with that information? How long would it take you to design a campaign that focused on that segment and got it approved and launched? Three months? Six? Would the insight I just gave you still be useful in six months?

To that point, how hard would it be for you to turn off existing messaging to that audience? Could you do it in a week? A month?

The ability to respond to data insights is as important as the data itself. Just as the ability to leverage the knowledge in your books is predicated on reading and digesting them, getting value out of your data is a function of being able to change course. The CRM that holds all of that data is worthless without the system in place to leverage it.

Now, I’m a known fan of CRM strategies. But if you can’t commit to one – if you can’t commit to building a system that can respond to new information –  stop what you’re doing right now. Those nice reports they give you are pretty and interesting, but if you haven’t used one to make a business decision in the last couple of months, or if you simply can’t change anything based on the data, you should stop looking at them. They will only stress you out.

Stop being a data hoarder. Data is only as good as its ability to influence your decisions. Keeping it around in the hopes that magic springs out of it is as silly as sleeping on your textbook.

No, wait. Just because this is going to be about CRM doesn’t mean you need to bring your call to action into the room. This will not be about computers. The problem is that we just see the acronym and not the words themselves. You think you know what CRM is, that it’s a big database filled with info about all your customers and it spits out all sorts of insights like what channels each target prefers and what messages they seem to respond to.

Except none of that is in the name itself: Customer relationship management. No tech. No servers. No database. No channel preference. It’s just a way to manage the relationships you have with your customers.

If you owned a bar, knowing what the regulars liked to drink and remembering that Ol’ Joe gets a little maudlin after his fourth – that would be customer relationship management. You wouldn’t need a server, because you would know many of your customers by name, by drink, and by story. That’s what a good bartender does, right?

So why do we need to inject databases into the concept? When you think CRM, don’t think servers and analysts, think strategy.

Because that’s what CRM is — a strategy. It is a way of thinking about your customers to help them have a positive experience, so that they come back for more. It is a system and structure that forces you to put the customer in the center of all your marketing thinking.

Allow me to be specific. You’ve got a target list. Maybe you’ve broken it down by deciles. And you are recruiting everyone on that target list to opt in to your email campaigns. Now, your email campaigns, are they a bunch of emails you send out every few weeks in a specific order? Maybe you occasionally interrupt that order with breaking news about a conference or a label change? Yeah, I figured as much. So what’s that getting you? Are you learning about your targets? No, you’re shouting at them. And worse yet, you’re shouting at them all the same way. The twenty email messages you’ve spent the last nine months crafting and pushing through MLR are to be sent in order, to everyone who opts in, are they increasing your prescription rates? Are they increasing your rep and sample requests? Are they increasing your target’s understanding of your brand?

I’ll buy you a drink at ePharmaSummit West this year if you can answer ”yes” to all those questions.

Let’s assume you’ve embraced an adoption path for all your targets, that everyone was either unaware of your brand; aware but ignorant of what the drug does; educated but unconvinced of its value, convinced of its value and prepared to prescribe; or ready to tell other people about their positive experiences with the brand. Which of your twenty emails speaks to which of those audiences? Are you sending your messages in a way that moves each target from one step to the next? Can you confirm that each target has moved to the next step before you send the next message? (Did you notice that every question asked where the customer is? This is what I mean by customer-centered.)

This is what CRM can tell you. With proper implementation, it can see that Dr. Smith is aware of the brand (because she went to a conference and dropped a business card in the bowl to try and win an iPad). So it sends Dr. Smith three emails in a row about what the purpose of the drug is. The system knows that after the second email, the doctor clicked the link to learn more and watched most of the eLearning video. This means that our target has moved to the next step, so skip the third ”brand awareness” email and move on to the campaign to get them to request a sample.

At the same time, Dr. Jones already is aware of the brand and it’s mechanism of action, so a series of messages are sent about requesting samples and formulary information.

This is how you manage your customers. The strategy comes first. We can figure out how to build the database and tracking system later.

Here’s the scary part: you can’t say that you don’t think CRM is valuable because every business tries to manage their relationships with their customers. It’s a cornerstone of building a good business. What you may object to is the way that strategy is implemented, but you can’t ignore the strategy itself.

So tell me: how are you managing the relationships you have with your customers?

When I went to pharmaceutical marketing blogging school, they taught us to always lead with a killer headline, something that demands people’s attention. I always try to pick something that intrigues you, but this time it was easy. Because the days of products are gone.

I realized this a few weeks ago when I decided to try to use a different product from iTunes to manage all my music. While I am deeply in love with my iPhone, I’ve never been a Mac guy. I’m strictly PC simply because I like cheap commoditized hardware that I can switch out myself as needed without having to go to some “genius” to help me make a minor fix.

So I have a PC running Windows 7, iTunes and an iPhone. I tried out two different programs, both of which worked great. They let me import my music, went and found lyrics and album artwork, let me tag tracks, make playlists, etc. You want to know the one thing they couldn’t do? 

Load music to my iPhone.

Why not? It’s just an unbelievably pretty external hard drive, right? Wrong. It’s an Apple product, which means it really only likes to talk to other Apple products using Apple software. You can almost hear my iPhone sigh when I plug it into my PC, as if it can’t believe it has to keep company with such a philistine.

The same thing happened when I was trying to manage my contacts on my iPhone. I have a lot of contacts in Gmail, which is my environment of choice. But it was a tremendous hassle to get contact lists from both places to play well together. 

You’re probably wondering why, if I love Google products, didn’t I buy an Android? I will retort, why should I be forced to?

Because we have entered the age of a system.

Facebook and Twitter are systems. They only (barely) play together through APIs. Your social media platform is a system and might not want to integrate other tools. Your CRM program is a system, and it might not talk to other systems. How you manage, communicate with and collect information from your reps is a system. 

Heck, even the products we sell are systems. Diabetes drugs seem to be prescribed in groups, as do surgical recovery drugs. 

And what about electronic medical records? Can I take my records from your hospital to my doctor? And even when the answer is “yes,” it’s not easy.

Hospitals are systems. Insurance groups are systems. 

Cars are systems (drive a Toyota all your life? It will take time to learn what each stem and button does on that Ford or Mercedes). Political parties are systems (what Republican or Democrat believes every tenet of their party’s platform? You may buy in because of their economic policies, but you’re also endorsing their social policies, whether you agree or not). Even countries and religions are systems.

What does any of this mean? It means that you need to stop trying to sell a product and understand that people need a system, and if it’s a system that can exist within and work well with an existing system of theirs, all the better.

Imagine you’re trying to pitch a new social media platform on your organization. You want them to buy into FiveStepChicken (I just made that up, but now I own the name). 

How do you do that? List the features? Show how it will increase productivity or effectiveness of communication? No, show how it works within the system first. That’s the first hurdle and if you can’t get past that, you’re dead in the water.

We live in a system world. Embracing that idea sooner rather than later will help you achieve your goals.

Let me take you back a long, long time ago to the day I joined Diaryland. You don’t remember DL? I’m not surprised, because three months later I abandoned it and joined LiveJournal. Ah, now you have a frame of reference. We’re talking years ago, almost a decade ago. 

And I was on LiveJournal for a year or two before I found myself spending more and more time on MySpace. But that was short-lived, and I quickly moved to Facebook. And then Twitter. And then FourSquare. And then Google+. 

Yes, that’s quite the travelogue of web 2.0 real estate, and it doesn’t take into account a similar progression from AIM to YahooIM to GChat. 

What do all these things have in common with each other? I joined each and every one of those sites for a single reason: I already knew someone on it.

Social media and their brethren are called social because they are of limited value without other people there to hang out with (note <a href=”http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2131/social-media-Facebook-twitter-myspace-linkedin”>the study</a> that shows that two thirds of social media users are on those sites specifically to stay in touch with friends). What good is being the first person on Match.com if there’s no one to flirt with (which is why they gave accounts away to anyone for free for more than a year)? None. 

These online places even build their own cliques. At one point, I had one group of friends on LiveJournal and a different group on MySpace. Put these two groups of people in a room, and ten minutes later, they’d be self-segregating into two very different parties.

Beyond joining a crowd, having people already onboard to act as your personal tech support is also a draw. My wife is a Facebook ninja, in that she knew every security and privacy feature backwards and forwards. She taught her friends how to lock down their pages long before Facebook felt inclined to explain their privacy policies in plain English. She was everyone’s go-to for Facebook advice. And when she had questions about Google+, she asked me (it’s a well-balanced relationship). 

What does this have to do with pharma and CRM? Well, the reason you haven’t dived head-first into CRM is not because you don’t understand it. It’s not because you don’t see the value of it. It’s not because you can’t see the ROI.

You know that 99% of your HCP targets are online, that more than 90% are in social networking groups, that more than 60% use Google to find out more information about diagnosis, treatment and pharmacology. You know that most HCPs are neck-deep in the Internet to help their practice and their patients. You know that this kind of environment is perfect for CRM, for tracking and measuring all your digital marketing initiatives, for seeing which ones work where and when it’s time to cut bait on under-performing tactics.

What’s really stopping you is that you don’t have a social network drawing you into CRM. Not enough of your peers have dived in, so you are waiting to see how things work out for them.  

Sure, I understand. You’re scared of diving into new technology that you don’t think is proven yet (to that end, have you met Amazon, the greatest example of how a CRM gives actionable data about one’s customers?). You don’t want to spend money on the PushMedia, Apple Newton, or WebOS of today: ideas that sounded good at the time but died miserable and expensive deaths.

And if you’re first to adopt, who are you going to turn to for advice? CRM is big and complicated, and if your CRM vendors don’t know the ins and outs of pharma, they aren’t going to be in any position to help.

But what happens when everyone else adopts and you’re still sitting on the fence? Yes, a CRM program takes time to implement, but once it’s all set up, it provides useful data very quickly. While you’re waiting to hear how things are working, your peers are already making tactical changes and thinking about how all their new data will help them adjust their strategy.

How long are you going to wait? You already know that digital is taking over, and that CRM helps you manage all the new digital channels. Ask around: how many of your peers are signing agreements with CRM vendors? Are you falling behind without realizing it?

What are you waiting for? Are you like the person who still isn’t sure that Facebook will really take off before signing up?

How often is too often to send an e-mail to someone? What’s the magic number of e-mails per day/week/month that defines the border between Helpful Communication and everyone’s nemesis, Spamistan?

That magic number is three.

Oh, was that not enough information for you? Oh, okay, I’ll spell it out. 

First of all, let’s all embrace the idea that one person’s spam is another person’s (um, your and my) job. Yes, there are messages that are always spam, like the ads for Canadian Viagra, Lovely Ladies Looking for Me (ladies, do you get spam about hunky guys who are new in town? Just wondering), Foreign Exchange Investing, and Re-growing Hair (huh… I just realized that a huge percentage of the spam we get is tangentially pharma related. I wonder what that means? Anyway…). 

But if these messages are spam for everyone, no one would ever make a dime from those e-mails. And if there wasn’t any money in it, no one would be spending money on sending them. Thus, there are people out there who believe that that pill is their long-lost answer to male pattern baldness. Even Viagra spam is someone’s idea of an interesting message.

So there’s no such thing as perfect spam (i.e. an e-mail message that has no value to anyone ever). That also means that there’s no such thing as a message that’s 100 percent interesting to everyone. Even e-mails I normally look forward to getting might feel like spam if I don’t have the money to spend on them today.

So everything is on a “spam spectrum,” as it were. A good marketer’s job is to position all the elements of an e-mail campaign to make the message feel relevant and useful to all the recipients (relevant and useful being the opposite of spam). This involves designing the e-mail to be readable, even if images are turned off, removing as many spam-flagging words as possible, picking a time to send when it won’t get lumped in with the rest of the early-morning or lunch-time spam waves, and doing the technical work to make sure e-mail servers don’t think it’s been mass-mailed from Russia. 

And good marketers will make sure that the content of the e-mails is actually useful to as many people as possible. 

I know it’s a given that we think that HCPs need to be sent an e-mail every X days or else they’ll forget about our brands. We think that if HCPs don’t see our logo every day, they’ll assume the brand is gone and never prescribe it again.

I’d like to challenge that assumption. I believe the if we sent an HCP five e-mails in a row, say, once a week or so, to explain the value of our brand, to show off its method of action, how it’s different, when to prescribe it, its safety record, you know, the entirety of our brand’s value proposition, we should stop and get out of our own way. Thereafter, just send news like new research, label changes, formulary changes, etc. Oh, and maybe an occasional “thanks.” And that’s it. 

As we get closer to better managed and used CRM systems we should be able to do this very easily. But instead, we take a few dozen messages and send them out every X number of days like clockwork. It doesn’t matter if there’s something useful or relevant to HCPs for us to send, we just send it because our instinct says a semi-worthless message is better than no message at all.

Which brings us back to the magic number three. No, what I’m about to say has not yet been tested. I’m basing it off my experience and some basic sociology and psychology. So here it is.

When your audience gets the third message in a row that it doesn’t see value and relevance in, they reach for the spam button. 

Of course, the issue is that what’s valuable to one person (male-pattern baldness cures) is worthless to many others. So a marketer’s goal is to build more and better high-value e-mails, ones that don’t invite spam complaints.

So you can see why I’m intrigued by the idea of short-course e-mail campaigns instead of year-long clockwork campaigns. By distilling your best content into a five-message run, you might have a more powerful campaign on your hands – one that actually costs less because you’ve stopped building and sending fluffy content that serves no purpose other than to count as a “touch” in your (okay, our) metrics. You’re able to focus on building a handful of killer messages instead of thinking up ways to spread your messages out even further. Remember, Apple built the capping to remake itself as a home-computing expert with a single ad that only ran once. Quality, not quantity, will put your message into your audience’s mind.

It is tempting to look at CRM and say “we now have collected a lot of structured data about many/most HCPs… So I wonder what other interesting data we can stuff into it,” and cast a glance towards social media, the land of unrestricted opinions and attitudes. Tempting, but untenable. And here’s why:

One, data issues. Even if you were able to hack into Sermo or Facebook or some other huge social media site and drain it of it’s content to stuff into the CRM, the data will be almost useless. The reason why CRM works is because it’s been optimized to a high glossy sheen. The data has been structured and standardized and cleaned and properly tabled in ways to allow meaningful (read: complicated) queries to extract useful information.

The reason social media is interesting is because it is the unfettered thoughts in digital form, like an endless stream of focus groups already transcribed. That “data” (if we can even call it that) is a mess. It would take a million monkeys at a million terminals to evaluate, code and input attitudes and opinions into the database to give it any use. For example, if you wanted to ask the question “what are the TV shows that Brand X-prescribing HCPs watch?” you need to query the CRM for a list of high-prescribers, query social media for the likes or interests of those HCPs and then run some data analysis to determine which shows correlate to high-prescribing HCPs (Hogan’s Heroes? Really?). But the data would already have to know what’s a tv show and what’s a book or website or hobby. And that does even take into account the most basic standardization (so that American Idol was the same as american idol). So there’s the data issue, but Google proved that these kinds of issues can be solved with enough money.

Two, personal and professional social media is different. The fact that some people include UpToDate as “social media” is indicative of how hard it is to define social media itself. Is anything interactive and vaguely personal social media? If so, let’s lump Amazon and email into the social media realm and muddy the waters further. But the real issue is one that Google has highlighted with Circles: we treat personal and professional social media differently. My personal twitter and Facebook is where I say personal stuff, make jokes (not all of them completely funny or tasteful), talk to my friends and generally am “off-the-clock” (assuming that any of us are truly off the clock much anymore).

My work twitter, blog, and linkedin account are professional. My opinions there are far more guarded (if you can believe that) and rarely stray far out of professional bounds. I don’t talk about my interests here. I don’t give much away. I start conversations, espouse opinions I may not agree with in the attempts to generate counter-arguments (too much debate training in high school, I guess), and generally talk about things I might not in my personal life. What good is any of that info to the CRM?

Social media is an amazing barometer of attitude in the aggregate, but worthless in the specific. People lie, or are silent, or pass along things they disagree with for no other reason than it was funny or worth mocking. Log into Klout with your personal Twitter account and discover what it thinks you think about. It’s a party game for the nerdy marketer. Laughable.

Three, most companies have not proven that they understand and respect social media enough to let me open up to them. Let’s say I’m a huge fan of the movie “Miller’s Crossing” (and I am, actually. It’s the Coen Brothers’ best work for my money). Maybe I told Facebook that it’s my favorite movie. Why would I do that? Maybe to attract other fans or give people an excuse to start a conversation about it. What did I get? Two things: targeted marketing about mob movies I might like because I like Miller’s Crossing (I don’t like it because it’s a mob movie, I like it because it’s an excellently produced movie) and spam from Fox, the movie’s distributor. The movie is more than 20 years old. I don’t need to to be marketed to about it. So I removed it from my Facebook interests.

The same is true about bands I like, TV shows I watch, books I cherish, etc. I love these things, but companies just use them as a hook to try and sell me something. It’s like no one’s read The Cluetrain Manifesto. (Please, please PLEASE tell you have read it. No? Go Google it and read it online for free. You’ll be doing the world a favor, believe me.)

Most companies simply let me be social with the intent to push a “targeted” product at me. The fact that the targeting is juvenile is beside the point. They are using social media like most people used CRM in the beginning, to put “Dear Mr. Ellis” at the top of the form letter. What a waste. So much data about me and that’s as far as you go…

You know what I want? It’s what I imagine HCPs will respond to, as well? Taking all that data and using it to build relationships (hey, you know that the R in CRM stands for Relationship, right?) is what gets you in the door. Take what you know about me and use it to begin to understand me and my needs so that you can begin to slowly offer me ideas and products that make my life better (that’s not quite the same as trying to sell me something, btw).

Please note that Facebook, the most social of all social medias, is the worst at trying to build relationships. They just want to sell me off to the highest bidder. And that’s why I try and hide everything from Facebook while still using Facebook everyday.

But maybe there’s a solution here. So, if I’m not totally off base here, maybe I can suggest an incremental and achievable solution: reps. Reps solve all these issues very easily. They have met the HCPs, have talked to them, seen their offices and practices, can code the data into your CRM, are focused on the professional side without being blind to the personal side (Dr. ABC has a picture of fishing with his friends, so he must be into fishing. Maybe that can be useful later, like an honorarium he would be hard-pressed to refuse). And a good rep will have begun to form relationships with the HCPs, learning what they want and need to make their life and practice better.

So instead of trying to take a shortcut and “just leverage” social media (as if it’s that easy), maybe pharma should be looking to leverage it’s own internal social network.

____

This is a slightly expanded comment I made on the Center for Healthcare Innovation’s LinkedIn Group. But feel free to tell me I’m full of it on Twitter. I love that!

To best explain what kind of conference this was, I saw a lot of corporate Dell laptops and pretty much Apple products (except ipads and iphones). No geeks, not many marketers.

If you strip away the titles of all the presentations and all the underlying “oh my god! Pharma is changing!” rhetoric (please people, stop starting your slide shows with ten minutes of facts about how it’s all changing. I’ve been here three whole months and I know all this already, so I feel bad for the 20-year veterans trying hard not so shout out “Duh!”), there were some interesting trends.

Clearly, the watchword of this conference is “effective.” No one wants to spend any more money on interesting projects, they want things that do what they say they would do. Since a lot of the topics covered involve analytics, I maintain that people are sick of the twenty slides of pretty charts and graphs. When people pay for analytics, they don’t want the work, they want the insight to know what to do next. They want the slide at the end that says “If you you change this to that, you will increase scripts.” Everything else is prelude. (Consultants take note: how great do you look if instead of a one hour presentation of data, do a five minute overview, announce your findings, and then say “I’ll explain how I get to that conclusion if you like, or we can start talking about the best ways to make it happen now.”)

This came up against some internal politics discussions (no, I won’t say who) where some good analytics showed how a certain piece of information, when shown to HCPs, decidedly moved the needle. But when that data was shown to marketers, they chose to not adjust their plan accordingly. It still sticks in my craw as I can’t imagine any professional not taking numbers like that seriously. 

Something else that came up was that pharma wasn’t as different a case as we like to think. Financial services are also well regulated, and have made huge strides in being able to connect with customers because of savvy CRM strategy and planning (thanks to Craig DeLarge, who MC-ed the event for reminding me of this point). He put is succinctly this way: Can what Amex knows save (help) us?

Also, social media is still taking a good part of people’s mind space. 1) no one knows what to do about Facebook. 2) social media and the web in general are scary because the company can’t own the space. 3) no one has mastered the space in pharma and really it’s all about risk mitigation. No one could name a pharma company doing social in any way, shape or form. Then it was suggested that everyone read DoseOfDigital.com. I concur.

Mobile is also huge. When the presenter wasn’t talking about mobile (for the rep, for the HCP, for the consumer), it was the platform that all communications would output and input to. For all the non-Mac laptops in the room, it’s assumed that we are very close to having all reps toting around an iPad instead of a case.

Between meetings, another conversation that I heard more than once was about CRM vendors. I see too many vendors chasing too few companies, and none of the vendors do a great job differentiating themselves from the others in the pack. I saw a similar shift four years ago in the Content Management Systems world. I think it’s not going to be about the vendor, but that a solid CRM will soon just be good hygiene for all organizations and not brand specific.

The presentations on how to pick a CRM vendor, how to train your staff on new CRM use, and general database technical stuff kinda fell on deaf ears (mine, anyway). But conversations with people from Oracle, SAS, Merkle, Quintiles, Vanguard and ActiveCubes were very enlightening. Thanks for talking to the newbie marketer in the room, folks.

Questions? Want to pick a fight? Cool! I’m on the road, so comments aren’t the best way to get to me, but I love me some twitter. @digital_pharma