Best Practices for Improving Customer Data to Support Digital Transformation


In the face of a global health crisis, the life sciences industry is accelerating the adoption of digital engagement channels at unprecedented speeds. Customer reference data plays a crucial role in this transformation but many teams are unsure of how and where to start.

Last year, I talked with Tarun Kumar, former Head of US Enterprise Data Management at a major pharma company about his experience transforming the customer reference data strategy at one of the largest life sciences companies in the world. Here are some of the best practices he shared that can help facilitate a similar shift within your organization.

Start with a clear vision for commercial data

Whether your digital initiative is being driven by immediate COVID-19 related concerns or a longer-term strategy, it is essential that your organization has a clear vision.

Aligning the goals of the transformation with the overarching goals of the company helps to build consensus, maintain focus, and secure the resources necessary to affect change. A clear vision statement can also be useful when prioritizing options and triaging challenges that may arise.

Kumar’s organization set out with a clear vision:

“The vision for our commercial data is essentially to identify the performance indicators that will then provide the business with insights so that we can measure how much of a difference we are making in the life of the patient.”
-Tarun Kumar

Take stock of your current situation

Many of the issues Kumar’s company faced were a result of having 21 disparate data sources that often provided conflicting data that needed to be reconciled across systems.

“To get the best of the best, we had to rely on multiple reference data for the commercial means for the transparency reporting, for state license validation for sample ability, for email addresses, for the medical CRM and things like that.

We were kind of drowning in the quality of our own data. Lacking that good industry reference data was hitting us bad and – had we had it – we could have delivered more accurate information.”
-Tarun Kumar

This frank assessment helped them define three key pillars which they used to evaluate potential solutions. They wanted:

  1. Comprehensive customer reference data that would provide a complete view of the entire marketplace to support strategic planning
  2. Strong data stewardship practices that would keep pace with the fluid nature of data
  3. Integration tools that would eliminate data silos and support a rapid, self-service data-sharing model

Get insight into the relationships between HCPs and HCOs

It is absolutely essential in today’s world to understand how healthcare professionals (HCPs) are affiliated with healthcare organizations (HCOs) in order to create account plans, territory assignments, and more. Kumar articulated the vital importance of this data with three specific examples:

  1. If your organization wants to move from a physician-based to account-based model, you need strong affiliation data to elevate your footprint.
  2. If you have a contract model which relies on membership, you need strong industry hierarchy data to see which important customers might be missing.
  3. From a targeting perspective, if you know whether a given healthcare system is making decisions centrally or locally, you can direct your account managers to target the C-suite or aim at the grassroots level as appropriate.

“If I look at the pharma industry today, having access to strong affiliation and hierarchy data is not a luxury anymore. I think understanding the science of influence can only work only when we understand how the relations between the entities work.”
– Tarun Kumar

Balance speed with control

In situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, there is considerable need for rapid development and change. However, Kumar cautions against an over-emphasis on speed without a strong governance mechanism.

“We found a balance between value from speed versus the appetite for speed. If you are in control, [speed] can do wonders for you, but if you are not in control, it can be dangerous.”
-Tarun Kumar

Kumar’s organization was able to aggregate data and launch products faster by increasing the accessibility of information. However, they also added checks and balances to ensure the data they provided was accurate. This was important for building sales team confidence in the data and driving adoption. Rather than creating and submitting unverified data, reps could download verified profiles, which improved efficiency and drove measurable value.

Invest in change management

Driving behavioral changes in people is frequently a bigger challenge than overhauling technical systems. Kumar provided a few key insights with regards to his company’s governance approach to change management:

  1. Focus on collective pain points and how these issues are hindering the processes and affecting the overall business. This will help minimize defensive reactions to change.
  2. Create awareness and gain sponsorship from executive leadership. You need funds to execute change, so be ready to show a plan and demonstrate the ROI of the initiative.
  3. Most importantly, establish a single team that has the full authority to make decisions around the three pillars of industry reference data, the integration solutions, and mastering stewardship services.

Kumar also reminds companies to remember that change is difficult and that customer reference data touches a lot of different points in the business so it’s important to be mindful about the impact on downstream systems. Focus on strategy and getting your stakeholders excited about the change. Include sales reps and power users to push the initiative forward and sell the possibilities once the change is complete.

“When any organization is looking for a change, I think it comes down to the three main things: the skill set, the toolset, and the mindset. So while the skill set and the toolset is something that we can manage, it is the data-driven mindset that can be very difficult to cultivate.”
-Tarun Kumar

Data will gain importance in a digital future

As the pharma industry continues to shift to digital channels at an unprecedented rate, accurate customer reference data will become even more important. Learn more about what Tarun Kumar has to say about using customer reference data in support of digital transformation.

2020 OpenData Survey Report

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