An interview by Frank Dolan, Founder and CEO of ARSENAL ADVISORS
2020 changed everything. Clearly, for everyone and every industry, but in biopharma, the pressure to reinvent many aspects of the commercial and medical models was epic.
Reflecting on the year’s lessons, countless executives have recognized their need to find additional ways to get closer to the patient, payer and provider. These needs stem from the need to maintain clear communication channels to exchange information on the availability of clinical trials and market products and ensure that the companies can uphold and deliver on their shared mission-to improve and extend patients’ lives.
Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of senior-level executives from biotech and pharma companies, big and small. I sought to understand their outlook on 2021 and what advice they would give their peers to navigate these changing times successfully.
Here are the highlights from one of my recent interviews with Andrew Komjathy, CCO of Catabasis Pharmaceuticals. Andrew wonderfully captures the spirit of our executive interviews about leadership advice for 2021.
Andrew Komjathy is the Chief Commercial Officer of Catabasis Pharmaceuticals, a publically traded rare disease company based in Boston. He has held leadership positions at Allergan, Biogen, Shire, Genzyme, Alkermes.
Frank: From your current perspective as a biotech veteran and Chief Commercial Officer, could you give us your unique perspective and industry outlook?
Andrew: COVID significantly impacted the sales and marketing model for pharma. I don’t think that’s unique to our industry. It accelerated some of the things that we as an industry had to think about but perhaps weren’t as aggressive at addressing. Specifically, the sales and marketing model was one that relied on face to face interactions. While there was an increasing amount of digital effort in the space, the pandemic forced a dramatic increase. I think it caught a lot of companies by surprise. Over time, hopefully, as we get back to normal, we are going to see an increase in those face-to-face interactions. But I believe that everybody in the industry knows that virtual interactions and the impact of digital marketing will be here to stay. Those who take advantage of that learn how to leverage it will be the winners.
Frank: You talk about digital marketing. How do you think sales and marketing leaders should consider investing in themselves and their skills so they can genuinely meet this new market with an element of success?
Andrew: Everyone has to be open to going digital. For those companies that are laggards, I think they’re going to pay the price, either near term or long term. Based on how innovative your product or portfolio is, there will be a competition for customer awareness and preferred marketing channels.
If you’re selling in a product space where there’s a high unmet need, you may be able to walk away from the share of voice models. In the larger markets, either primary care or larger specialty markets, my guess is that each company will keep a close eye on some of their competitors to see what they’re doing.
I don’t think companies will walk away from the traditional rep model, but I think they’re going to take a hard look at the numbers of reps that they need, the mix between live visits versus virtual visits. I also know that many companies are also thinking about a telesales effort. Those are all mechanisms that will be explored.
Frank: In closing, what advice would you give the industry to be successful this year?
Andrew: First of all, continue to invest and explore in a new media, start to think about and build on those successes that you had last year. Through those learnings, do a deep dive on why things did and did not work. Make a significant investment in training your sales and marketing folks to be effective with digital media. Also, companies that can figure out what role they can play within telemedicine could be big winners.
FLEXIBILITY, INNOVATION AND CULTURE
Andrew’s and others’ invaluable insights often fell into three themes: organizational flexibility, the courage to pilot new approaches and double down on culture.
Lessons from the marketplace during the pandemic highlighted the industry’s need to define ways to get cross-functional groups to rapidly share information, align on future deliverables, and execute in an unconventional environment. The easy example is salesforce and strategy. With healthcare providers’ offices shutting down access and moving to virtual communications, not all sales forces effectively disseminated the value proposition with customers. Some companies’ sales teams found themselves without email addresses or a variety of digital marketing assets. Other sales teams were left without an immediate solution to deliver video details that included the necessary visual aids and compliance mechanisms. Finally, demonstrating leadership and organizational flexibility is critical in providing and measuring objectives for the salesforce, as different states and countries opened and closed access frequently over the year. Without the certainty of when or if a version of normal will return, our executive peers were emphatic about flexible organizations in 2021 would have a competitive advantage.
Pilot new approaches
A key success factor to 2021 is to be open to new tools and techniques to deliver on job responsibilities while empowering management to be open-minded to new ways of measuring success. The lessons learned from marketing strategies and tactics are the foundation of this advice. Everyone observed marketing’s “flight to digital” in 2020, which yielded mixed results. Competition for search rankings and digital ad placements became fierce. But we are left with a question: is this working? Relying on old-fashioned statistics and metrics to measure success is not a reliable way to fail fast. While this great advice around piloting new approaches makes sense, the hard work is getting the organization to think about their challenges and quantify the incremental impact of multifactorial efforts on delivering that result. In such a complicated business, it is clear that our industry needs to become more comfortable in recognizing new wants in value intersect with new ways to approach the customer.
Double down on culture
As leaders, we are operating without many of our tools to motivate and inspire our teams. Something is compelling about seeing a colleague in the office and sharing 10 minutes of chatting on the company courtyard bench. We all look forward to the day, perhaps later in 2021, where we can safely hold a team or even national meeting. Our executive peers emphasized that this year must prioritize culture and engagement while everyone navigates this decentralized work-from-home environment. These executives honored their employees by recognizing that they are working longer and harder than ever before. In 2021, every leader must commit to two things:
1. Perform an in-depth inspection of the activities that their teams are involved in week-by-week.
2. Ensure that they are taking the appropriate steps to create a personalized environment where people feel valued and headed towards their desired career destination.
It’s no surprise that the sage advice around organizational flexibility and courage to try new things was underscored by their desire to deliver on culture. Like we’ve heard a thousand times before, this business is really about people.
About the author: Frank F. Dolan
Frank F. Dolan is a founding commercial leader at Takeda, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and Acadia Pharmaceuticals. Over his twenty-year career, he has worked at small and large biopharma, launched over 12 brands, and won numerous marketing awards. He has been recognized as one of the influential leaders in the biopharma industry. Mr. Dolan is the founder of ARSENAL ADVISORS and helps connect the people and ideas that will transform the biopharmaceutical industry. Learn more about him at arsenal-advisors.com