Pharma CRM: The Good and the Bad

When deploying or upgrading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, pharmaceutical companies have experienced varying degrees of success. At its most basic level, the primary function of a CRM system is to make your sales force successful in developing and maintaining strong relationships with customers. In today’s dynamic environment, where the focus is on a customer centric business approach, Pharma companies should have a solid understanding of what their CRM systems can and cannot deliver.

Achieving the unified customer view is essential to enabling your sales force and ultimately product success - but thinking it can be done with CRM alone is wishful thinking. It is worth exploring the good and bad virtues of CRM and the opportunities it could provide as the life science industry continues to evolve.


Low success rate: The success rate for CRM implementations is horribly low. Studies by Gartner have shown that less than 50% of CRM initiatives meet their intended goals. This is a statistic that has not changed since 2001 when enterprise and mid-market companies were asked if there CRM efforts had met expectations. The primary force at play here is the lack of a clear strategy and understanding of how to calculate true ROI for CRM. Traditional CRM deployments have generally been led by the IT function (can you get any further from the customer?) further disconnecting the objectives from the corporate and functional strategy the system was meant for. The key take-away here is to go into your CRM initiative with your eyes wide open and a clearly articulated strategy that aligns to business objectives (not your vendor’s spec sheet).

Good data gone bad: Historically the data housed in a Pharma CRM system has not been of the highest quality. This can often be the case for systems that rely heavily on user entered data. Incorrect data involves misspelled names, bad addresses, and at its worse – fabricated data. There are also cases when data becomes outdated or misaligned and is no longer an accurate reflection of the relationship you have with your customer. Poor data quality leads to poor analytics and ultimately poor execution and decisions. 

Don’t let the name fool you: Today’s CRM systems are missing the primary component – the customer. Yes, they house and track customer information and activity but they lack any substantive collaboration tools to engage your customer. The term “customer” often has different meanings and definitions to various departments creating a distorted or overly simple view of the customer. Traditional CRM is very much based on data collection all of which is used to better target various customers. This leads to one-way communication between a brand and the customer. Reps will continue to maintain the relationships (e.g. trust and rapport) with physicians and ultimately drive engagement. CRM is a support mechanism for this activity - not a replacement.


Critical piece to the puzzle: CRM systems are a critical part of the commercial solution ecosystem and provide a number of high valued functions. When deployed correctly they can maintain your customer master of accounts. They provide home-office with critical real-time information and activity from the field allowing your company to be more responsive to your customers. CRM can result in deeper relationships with your key customers, increased sales, more effective and targeted marketing, and better determination of sales force ROI.

Enriching CRM data: Enriched multi-dimensional customer data is the most important tool you can provide your field when enabling value-added interactions with your customers. The data stored in your CRM system plays a large part in understanding your customer influences, local and personal prescribing characteristics, and overall relationship strength with your customer. By integrating your CRM data with information across an increasing number of channels – including IMS®, Verispan®, Wolters Kluwer®, closed loop marketing systems, managed markets, contracting, and incentive compensation – Sales Operations teams can create timely, accurate, and targeted insights tailored to your sales force and home office users.

Social CRM model: Customer relationship management is evolving. The current trends in Pharma put a premium on physician access and rely on a change in rep to physician engagement focused on value creation. We also live in a more social environment, which enables more collaboration, transparency and engagement. Advocacy and experience are crucial components of maintaining a relationship, which all revolve around the customer. In the social CRM model, the customer is the focal point of how an organization operates. Instead of marketing or pushing messages to customers, brands now talk to and collaborate with customers to solve problems, empower customers to shape their own experiences and build relationships with your company, with the goal of turning them into customer advocates.

The point here is, while there is certainly huge value to your CRM system, it is not meant to be an end point. It is a critical functional asset to the sales process and an entry point to engaging your customers. Your CRM data is invaluable and by enriching it you create a better understanding of your customer, leading to more compelling, local and personalized interactions.