Social media sales lesson from Pharma

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image courtesy of shutterstock

image courtesy of shutterstock

In the past few days I have been discussing social media with a pharmaceutical company.

The pharma industry is necessarily highly-regulated and risk-averse. It caters very well with the ‘traditional’ use of the internet, i.e. when corporate messages are broadcast from a main website.

These traditional corporate websites issue strictly controlled and watertight messages that have been approved by internal managers and legal experts, such that there is absolutely no possibility of brand damage or, heaven forbid, any litigious patients taking action.

And yet, patients and health care professionals (i.e. the pharmaceutical industry’s customers) are increasingly seeking answers to their health care questions online.

One recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of American adults — and 83 percent of internet users — look for their health information online.

Therefore if the traditional corporate pharma website don’t provide the answers, customers can (and do) go elsewhere. e.g. WebMD and NHS Choices

Meanwhile, and rather belatedly, this week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hosts a public hearing to discuss the use of the internet and social media tools — including blogs, podcasts, and social networks — to share information about the FDA-regulated products, including prescription medicines and medical devices.

Pharma is moving in the right direction. But progress is painstakingly slow, and meanwhile the client’s customer has many other (new) outlets for online information. 

The social media  sales lesson here is… know the customer’s customer. 

When I talk with my pharma client (as with all my clients), it is with their customer in mind.  In the long run it is their customer that calls the shots. So I ensure that I can speak to the stakeholder with some authority about their customer – bringing new insight into their customers as often as possible. Given that customers use of social media is rocketing, this inevitably places social media on the company’s agenda.

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2 Responses
  • Dec 11, 2009

    Excellent post!

    What the pharmas are missing here I think is the huge opportunity for social networking between their sales reps and their doctor/pharmacist/nurse customers.

    While doctors feel that pharmas are biased, they relationship with their sales rep is a personal one – where the rep provides a service to the doctor (info, samples, invites to conferences, perks….)

    Danny Lieberman

    Danny Lieberman Dec 11, 2009
  • Tim Fowler
    Dec 16, 2009

    Thanks for the comments Danny. You are right in theory about the relationship but in fact nowadays I sense that there are many restrictions on what reps can give to doctors due to wanting to avoid the image of pharma ‘bribing ‘ doctors to use their drugs. Social media removes many barriers, as long as the pharma is not seen to be endorsing the ‘real world’ inputs and comments from their customers and clients.

    Tim Fowler Dec 16, 2009

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