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Who is the pharma customer?

When discussing ‘customer centricity’ in the pharmaceutical industry, a key question is who the pharma customer actually is.

Honestly spoken, depending on who you ask you might get a different answer. I have even watched colleagues working in the same company in related departments talking to each other about “the customer”, “customer value” and “doing things for the customer” … but each of them talking about someone else.

Who are the typical suspects for being the pharma customer

Actually, different functions in a pharma company might have different primary customers, what might also contribute to recurring internal confusion. The following are the typical suspects people might address …

  • for global layer: Country affiliates … where I really appreciate a clear understanding that most things we do in pharma need to create impact locally, there either succeeding or failing. But – beyond the mindset – calling ourselves our own customer is simply rubbish (as already described in another article).
  • for ‘Commercial’ & ‘Medical’: Physicians traditionally seen as the external customer. Traditionally, further top level segmented in key opinion leaders (KOLs), ‘referrers’ and ‘prescribers’, all three being in prio focus of the traditional pharma business model.
  • for ‘Development’: Clinical investigators … a special segment of physicians who are collaborating in the space of new product assessments. This in some disease areas also being a highly competitive space.
  • in general: Healthcare professionals (HCPs) … which includes physicians of any kind, but in addition also other healthcare system providers, like nurses in some countries, caregivers, pharmacists, etc.. Certainly, this broad cover comprises a variety of needs and expectations. Plus, there is a variety of diverging HCP communities depending on disease area and country.
  • for ‘Market Access’: Regulators, payers and governmental bodies … for those of you who are less familiar to healthcare systems, “regulators” are authorities like FDA or EMA, and “payers” are providers like health insurances.
  • for ‘Patient Advocacy’: Patient associations … the “patient officials”, advocating for and representing the needs of patients in their special disease (area).

Those traditional relations have already started to soften up. And for all functions, a new customer segment is continuously arising …

  • Patients … growing to be a much stronger stakeholder than we might be used to. Honestly spoken, for some people in the industry it is still quite difficult to call or see patients as customers. Those of you who know me are already used to that I am strongly and tenaciously advocating for seriously considering the patient as customer.

In summary, it gets quite obvious that the pharma customer is less an individual but an ecosystem of connected stakeholders surrounding the patient as the beneficiary in the center.


visual of the pharma external stakeholder ecosystem
©2020 Christian Velten

What all healthcare system ecosystem stakeholders have in common

Something all players have in common is the patient as a stakeholder. A complex ecosystem arranged around the patient. Or in other words, “patients are the customer … and all that surround them” (inspired by R Vermeulen).

As a consequence, by jointly seeing the patient as the real beneficiary whose needs all should focus on, there is an opportunity to work closer aligned with each other.

Why I am strongly advocating for seriously accepting the patient as the pharma customer
  1. patients actually are the real and true beneficiaries of what we all do and deliver
  2. patients are the shared audience and ambition of all ecosystem players
  3. patients expectations, voices and influence are rapidly growing, also more and more influencing treatment decisions

Today, the major challenge is that pharma does not have appropriate and mature patient-centric business models in place. We speak about patient centricity … but we continue the same old way of doing business being stuck to KOLs, ‘referrers’ and ‘prescribers’. Personally, I am deeply convinced that those enterprises who are bold and capable for a leap forward to innovative patient centric business models, will win the markets of the future.

But this might be a topic for another ‘inspiration’ in the future.

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