shutterstock_585030418.jpgSimon Stirrup co-wrote this blog post with Didier Chicheportiche

This blog post is the final in a three-part series on why pharmaceutical companies should develop and implement an international customer segmentation and targeting strategy, what it takes to get started, and how one company has found success in overcoming common pitfalls.

In the first post in this series, we looked at the challenges inherent in translating a philosophy of customer engagement into a practical segmentation and targeting approach that works at the global level. In the second post in this series, we shared best practices for building and implementing an international strategy that enables the right activities to be delivered to the right customers at the right time. In this installment, we’ll look at how one company successfully harmonized its tools and processes to enable a consistent—but also flexible—sales management strategy across global markets.

The overarching objective of building an international segmentation and targeting capability is to develop lasting customer value through a tailored customer experience. To overcome the complex challenges that accompany such an endeavor, organizations need to design and follow a systematic process. With the right plan in place, it’s entirely possible to guide customer engagement and touch points in a way that’s consistent with the desired customer experience. 

Pharmaceutical firms are recognizing that customers’ different needs, preferences and behaviors require different levels of engagement. At a high level, all customers want to improve patient outcomes, but on a micro level individual needs can vary. For example, one customer may want to gain a better understanding of the best solutions to meet patient outcomes and another customer may be most interested in ways to work more efficiently with his patients. But an organization’s many global locations can stand in the way of establishing a consistent way of identifying and recognizing similar customer needs. The key is a harmonized approach to segmentation: establishing a common set of processes and tools—with a built-in capability to customize by local market as needed—across different geographical areas.

In addition to failing to deliver the right experience for customers, inconsistent segmentation efforts are time-consuming, inefficient and expensive. Harmonization allows more widespread company access to comprehensive customer data and needs; reduces the barriers to innovation by enabling a broad set of people to test ideas; lowers the cost of innovation-sharing development costs; and grants access to all countries. Last, but not least, it enables users to scale innovation in order to quickly share best practices and impactful ideas across markets.

To illustrate what can be achieved, we’ll talk about how a global pharmaceutical organization leveraged an international segmentation approach to achieve the following benefits:

  • Organization-wide access to the right data and processes to enhance the knowledge of customer needs, attitude and affinity
  • Achieve the benefits of an international solution while accounting for country-specific nuances
  • Extend its focus from the question of “where to play” to “how to win,” helping the organization understand how to build a superior customer experience based on the right mix of actions and preferences 

In transforming its global segmentation process, the company took four key steps:

  1. Defined its top priorities: Organization leaders identified two top initiatives: improving customer knowledge and setting up a harmonized segmentation process. To be successful, these priorities required leaders across countries to endorse the vision and commit to its implementation. Moreover, the company needed to establish a strong global mandate to run the program as well as a harmonization mandate to ensure ongoing compliance.
  1. Established a starting point: The company identified the need for a harmonized customer database to corral fragmented data sets and align internal processes to set the basis for customer innovation.
  1. Instituted a systematic, multistep process: The best way to establish a common set of processes and tools that can be adjusted to the various needs of international markets is to implement a stepwise approach with occasional waypoints to ensure that all components are in sync. The pharma firm followed multiple phases, including:
  • Develop profiling questionnaires (specific to therapy area) to capture customer behaviors and attitudes and establish potential
  • Create a mechanism to capture the field’s direct refinement of segmentation and activity targets
  • Establish standardized business rules (per therapy area) to translate profiling information into segment membership
  • Illustrate recommended customer engagement strategy and target experience per segment
  • Build a limited/discrete set of options providing flexibility to each country
  1. Rolled out new—but flexible—capabilities: Depending on the maturity of the market, each location has the flexibility to choose a pure data-driven process or involve customer-facing teams. Each market has further flexibility to determine what data they’d like included in the operating process: rep-driven, external data or data from a local data source. The overall segmentation framework is centralized but is structured in a way that allows multiple ways to reach the same objective. For example, each market can opt in or opt out of field refinement tasks but also has the autonomy to institute its own approach, such as pulling through the starting-point segmentation approach when there’s been no significant change from the previous cycle.

The final output—a consistent customer database and segmentation capability tied to a global strategy—ensures that the leaders in each market are confident in the quality of data driving sales management decisions. With dependable customer data across all markets, the time needed to develop and refresh customer segmentation has been dramatically reduced, and smaller markets have access to more complex tools. 

Implementing a successful customer segmentation and targeting strategy is critical for companies looking to both remain competitive in today’s healthcare ecosystem and continue to deliver the best customer experience possible. Although reflecting the nuances of international markets can complicate matters, the pharmaceutical company’s success story shows that it’s possible to implement a strategy that’s both consistent and flexible. When an organization gets it right, the global sales management team will have the tools to create innovative ways to reach new customers while continuing to provide a positive experience for those it has already captured.


BLOG POST: International Customer Segmentation and Targeting: How to Establish the Right Process for Your Organization

BLOG POST: International Customer Segmentation and Targeting: Opportunities and Challenges


Topics: customer engagement, Sales Force, Pharma, Customer Segmentation, customer data, international customer segmentation and targeting, global markets, customer targeting, harmonization