|By Wall, J K|
No, it's not a new blockbuster drug - although Lilly will most likely have several new products hit the market this year and next.
Rather, it's an unorthodox, softer approach put into play by its U.S. sales force.
Lilly's executives say the new approach has proven so successful in recent years that it can help Lilly recoup an estimated
And Lilly executives think the new approach - which reduces the number of sales reps flooding physician offices - can save money, too, allowing. Lilly to grow its profits even faster than sales.
"It's a bet we're making," said
Lilly has dropped the traditional "hard sell" model, in which it sent armies of the most charming people it could find into physician offices to hammer the details of Lilly's drugs into doctors' heads - with generous luncheon spreads to help the medicine go down.
"Why don't you make your next five prescriptions a Lilly product?" was a common refrain from drug reps.
Now Lilly instructs its more than 2,000 U.S. sales reps to ask physicians what issues their patients are having and then to act as "brokers" for all the ways in which Lilly's massive organization can solve those problems. Sometimes, that even means helping them find a competitor's
medicine that would work better for a patient.
The idea is to make the experience for doctors markedly better than they experience with other drug companies - much like
"The better experience your customer has, the more likely they are to recommend your drug to the patient," Azar said.
Physicians deny such a link, and many outside Lilly doubt the new approach will result in significantly better sales.
"Most companies are taking this approach," wrote
But Lilly claims it has already seen the new approach pay off. Since Lilly started experimenting with the softer approach four years ago, its U.S. sales of older products such as Cymbalta, Cialis and Evista have shown marked improvement, Lilly executives contend.
Lilly provided internal data based on three of its drugs (whose identities it did not disclose) that showed doctors who rated their experience with Lilly as significantly better than with other companies wrote about 13 percent more prescriptions than those who rated Lilly just slightly better than other companies. The doctors who rated Lilly as significantly better prescribed 30 percent more than doctors who rated Lilly as significantly worse than other companies.
That's why Lilly is making "customer experience" a linchpin of its business strategy, even using its new approach as a kind of litmus test last year for deciding which sales professionals to retain and promote.
"Not every pharma company is making it with the vigor that we are," Azar said.
Fresh approach, fewer people
Pharmaceutical companies have been forced to try new sales techniques in recent years.
Fewer physicians will see drug reps anymore - only about 75 percent of all office-based physicians. On top of that, the Sunshine Act of 2010 now requires physicians to disclose all "transfers of value" - such as lunches - which most do not want to do. On top of that, patient choices are determined more than ever by increasingly restrictive health insurance formulas as well as by purchasing committees in health systems.