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Issue of April 2006 

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Customer management at Pfizer’s

A customised approach to keeping contact with doctors can help pharma companies stand out. Deepali Gupta and Sneha Khanna take a look at Pfizer’s home-grown CRM system that has successfully accomplished this

Vijay Bhaskar Dixit

Competition is forcing pharmaceutical companies to look at marketing as a key differentiator. Pharmas are working at maintaining an active field force that targets doctors one at a time as the most economical means for creating awareness.

While most companies have a scientific approach to this activity, some who have automated it to a large extent have found that their IT systems have brought substantial returns to them. Pfizer is one of the few pharmas to adopt a home-grown Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solution to catalogue all data pertaining to its sales force.

.Net Platform

In 2001, the Indian wing of Pfizer perceived that the deployment of a sales reporting system would ensure structured documentation of information collected by its representatives. It will also help in cases of attrition where if a sales representative quit another could take over easily with the help of the information available online.

Each representative has about 200 doctors on his list. The doctors are classified by priority. However, being an A-class doctor does not mean that the representative will make 10 calls to him every day.

The nine-member IT team at Pfizer designed Optima to fulfil this need. Over the past four years, the system has been overhauled considerably, and today it is a full-scale CRM solution coded on the Microsoft .NET platform. The CRM application runs on Windows 2003 and SQL Server that is primarily accessed over the Internet and is hosted at a third-party IDC.


The first step to any CRM implementation is collection of extensive and clean data. At Pfizer that is taken care of because all data input is checked as per predefined business rules before it is entered into the system.

Basic information captured in the Pfizer CRM includes doctors’ and chemists’ profiles. “Optima has become a one-stop-shop for our field colleagues who are spread across the country,” says Vijay Bhaskar Dixit, Senior Manager, Business Services, Business Technology, Pfizer.

In the case of doctors, based on the data entered into the system, the sales team can determine what kind of prescriptions the doctor generates, the profiles of the patients that he treats, whether or not he is price-sensitive, and how quickly he prescribes new drugs. In addition to that the system captures data with regard to the associations or societies the doctor is a part of, and the events he attends. If the doctor participates in public forums the Pfizer CRM captures whether or not the doctor is an opinion leader. The information in the system is reviewed on a regular basis to check for new entrants as well as pattern changes in different areas.

Similarly for the chemists. The CRM captures the profile and buying power of a chemist’s customers. The system has two advantages.

Since it is based on the combined information on the doctors and chemists in a particular locality, it is easy to identify markets that will have good returns.

The second benefit is that the CRM helps predict the stock requirement pattern. The company can therefore manufacture, stock and transfer the right amount of drugs to the market just-in-time so as to minimise storage space and lessen the chances of wastage from damaged or expired products. “Improved response to customer queries is another advantage that we derived from Optima,” notes Dixit.

Different people have different requirements from the system, so the information the CRM returns is based on need. If a representative works in North-east Mumbai, he has to know which doctors can be targeted. The system generates a list of doctors in the area with ratings and the expected frequency of visits.

The CRM system also helps provide market intelligence on competitors. For example, if a Pfizer representative pays a visit to the doctor, while waiting he may meet his counterpart from another company and can feed in the information he collects. Or if sales personnel come across schemes being run by Pfizer’s competition, the information is keyed into the system. The product management team can then start using the information to provide business intelligence. “Planning and reporting the key Sales Force Automation features have improved our analysis capabilities with regard to field force activities,” states Dixit.

Regular Updation

As part of technology upgradation, the system is updated every five to six months with a clear business objective. Perhaps that is why Pfizer has not invested in a system that allows input on the fly.

The information gathered needs to be consolidated and analysed for business decisions. Hence, whether the sales force feeds in information at the end of the day or every few days does not make any difference. According to the company, the system is yielding good returns in the present format, but may not be feasible for mobile devices.

Pfizer has reserved its CRM for the sales force. One section on the Pfizer India Web site has been enabled for doctors to log in and post queries and concerns. Even so, the company has noticed that instances of Indian doctors approaching the company via the Internet is limited. In most cases it is the company representative who has to be on his toes and deliver to the expectations of the doctors.

For adverse reports, Pfizer has manned telephone numbers on which doctors can call. The call operators or representatives who gather the adverse report feed it into the system and the problem is highlighted till it is resolved. The entire process is documented in the CRM.

The company has a cold DR set-up for Optima. “We replicate the servers with our HO DR servers on a daily basis; this can be used in case of a disaster. We have a separate DR site at Thane (near Mumbai) as well,” reveals Dixit.

In a nutshell
  • The need

To provide Pfizer’s sales force with anytime-anywhere access to structured information that includes data collected by medical representatives.

  • The solution

    Optima, Pfizer’s home-grown CRM solution to catalogue all sales representative-related data.

  • The benefits

    Optima enables Pfizer to identify high-return areas, predict stock requirements, minimise storage space, and reduce chances of wastage from damaged or expired products. It also provides market intelligence on competitors.

User Buy-In

To ensure that there is business and user buy-in, Pfizer works on a model wherein the department that requires IT bud gets for it. For example, the marketing department pays for CRM, and HR buys software to automate salary calculations

At Pfizer, the IT budgeting has provisions only for the infrastructure. To ensure that there is business and user buy-in, the company works on a model wherein the department that requires IT budgets for it. For example, the marketing department pays for CRM and HR buys software to automate salary calculations. Even the maintenance budgets for IT are taken care of by the respective departments. This ensures that the systems installed are used to the maximum.

To ensure that every solution caters to a specific business need, Pfizer maintains a small IT team comprising mainly project managers (with experience in the pharma business) and technology specialists. The in-house team that architects the solutions is limited to nine people. A large part of the technical work is outsourced.

Looking For More

Most problems with regard to the CRM deployment were technical in nature and could be resolved easily. However, the company wants to maintain the users’ faith in the system; it believes in conducting training, and communicating via e-mail. Champions in the technology are identified, and asked to pass their skill-sets to their colleagues. People continually expect improvements in the system and want their suggestions to be incorporated. Thus, managing expectations is a continuous challenge.

The first version of Optima, exclusively meant for reporting, took 10 to 15 minutes to complete a task. Now employees want the system to do much more—but within the same time-frame.

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