What are the biggest mistakes brand teams can make during pre launch activities and how can they be avoided?

team-work-raftingCollaboration within the brand team and across the relevant departments is the single most critical focus that will contribute to the successful launch of a brand.

In today’s pharma environment, the trajectory of the launch is more critical then ever before to a brand’s success. To set up a pattern for long-term sales and profits, brands must have a healthy uptake curve. Making this happen is a process that can be filled with uncertainty, confusion and frustration. Mistakes and missteps can undo years of efforts and cost millions of dollars in expenses or lost revenues. Understanding the biggest mistakes brand teams can make during a launch can help a brand leader establish a collaborative foundation and plot a clear path toward success.

Potential Brand Team Mistake Collaborative Strategies to Avoid Mistake
1. Focusing on product, forgetting all else, patients/stakeholders Identify relevant patients/stakeholders early in the process and create a clear understanding of their needs and expectations
2. Working in departmental Silos Establish a pre-launch cross-functional team plan including R&D, commercial, medical affairs and others from the beginning to ensure the critical collaboration points are handled well with check-points and potential problem/solution discussions
3. Focusing on technical collaboration tools/not collaborative behaviors It is the safe and passionate discussion that utilizes everyone’s intellectual capital that creates the best outcomes. Behaviors such as intellectual arrogance, defensiveness and personal agendas need to addressed
4. Not factoring in cross-functional collaboration in business strategy Getting different functions to work together towards a common goal is crucial like Regulatory and Commercial or R&D and Medical Affairs. Out front strategies to address these functions help to handle any personality or turf issues that get in the way
5. Simply tolerating collaboration, not committing time and energy to the building of the capability to collaborate Everyone is very busy and concerned with his or her own deliverables however if the launch is to be successful there needs to be input from other functions in a timely fashion. Even when stressed out find a way to make time for collaborative conversations where cross-pollination of ideas can occur. It needs to be a priority.
6. Ignoring personal resistance to collaboration and learning The leadership needs to reinforces the importance of collaboration and to address any behaviors that don’t support the shared goal and safe passionate dialogue – like personal agendas and stubbornness
  1. Focusing on the product, forgetting all else, stakeholders/patients

A big part of launching a drug revolves around developing the physical product, the actual drug. This process includes developing the chemical composition, submitting the drug for approval, ensuring formulary positioning and much more.

Remembering the ultimate Shared Goal is: an effective and satisfying patient outcome. It is critical to involve all the relevant stakeholders in order to produce productive patients outcomes within the current healthcare landscape.

Long before a product is completed and ready for launch, the team needs a deep understanding of each customer group. For the patient, this means the experience of the disease, how it impacts their lives and the difficulty or ease they have in taking the drug. The other stakeholder groups, such as payers, physicians and office staff have their own unique needs that need to be addressed as well. This means understanding the patients’ challenges of compliance, the staff that works with them and the system within which fills the prescription. Understanding these complex systems shifts the marketing approach and the messaging to all stakeholders.

  1. Working in departmental silos

For effective pre-launch planning, company departments must work together. Why is cross-functional work necessary for successful launches? Consider product Research and Development, which can often take place in a vacuum. With a cross-functional team, R&D can learn the concerns and needs of Medical Affairs and Marketing, incorporating new research points that can be instrumental in setting the medical strategy, designing trial protocols and later positioning and sales.

Of course, collaboration on this level can be a daunting prospect for pharma companies, long organized by silos and strict division of tasks. Cross-functional collaboration (not just communication) is the pinnacle of a brand team’s hopes, but what often happens in implementation of the launch plan is a lack of communication of delays or competitive actions, miscommunication of intentions and commitments resulting in a less than optimum launch. Breaking the plan down into tactical steps with feedback loops and sign offs however, can ease the process from the very beginning.

  1. Establish and gather the pre-launch cross-functional teams, including R&D, medical, commercial, regulatory affairs and other functions of importance. For this team of leaders from these departments, the need to commit to owning the shared goal of differentiation and maximizing patient outcomes, must be explicitly agreed upon. The role of each function needs to be clear as to how it impacts these outcomes.
  2. Establish clear objectives for the team, as well as clearly assigned responsibilities. Everyone must understand his or her role, as well as everyone else’s role, in developing and capturing the product value so it can be communicated in a meaningful way to each customer group.
  3. As key activities take place, the communication of progress and challenges to all key stakeholders is imperative as well as the regular use of feedback loops so that the kinks can get worked out in how the team works together.
  1. Focusing on technical collaboration tools and not collaborative behaviors

To derive value from collaborative investments, collaboration must be viewed as more than just technology deployment. New technology may increase communication but doesn’t necessarily increase collaboration. Collaboration is about behavior, work habits, culture, leadership, management and business goals and values. Not every executive has the capability of collaborating with others. When one lead of a function is not able to collaborate at a high level the entire launch can suffer. Recently I witnessed a launch where sales were terribly lower than forecast only to find out that the Market Access team were behind in their tasks of getting the brand on formulary. So as a result the sales uptake curve was slower and lower giving a window of opportunity to their competitor to take market share. The brand may never recover from this situation. Technological tools will not help these kinds of situations.

Holding meetings with cross-functional representation doesn’t mean that everyone will collaborate. Some executives are territorial, or intellectually arrogant and therefore are unable to collaborate. The leader needs to be able to process executives through personal issues like intimidating communication styles or insecurities that prompt an executive to withdraw from a passionate discussion.

  1. Not factoring in cross-functional collaboration in the business strategy

Collaboration is a business strategy, not a strategy for the implementation of technology, for technology alone does not change behavior. Collaboration strategies are now shifting the focus from tools to the integration of collaboration into the business processes to improve performance. Medical Affairs are getting involved earlier with R&D so that asset transitions can be smoother and publication planning and preparation can be done more effectively. Improving work practices within business processes requires collaboration “in the context” of every day practices. Getting Regulatory involved earlier in the development of Marketing pieces saves everybody skin in the game and jointly they decide how far they can push the message safely, not war against one another.

  1. Simply tolerating collaboration, not committing time and energy to it

Although all pharmaceutical companies practice collaboration in theory, the actual quality of their collaborative skill level in many cases is poor and leaves significant room for improvement. This is because companies have had to manage a new and more complex global environment in which regulation of clinical trials and marketing have become more stringent. In the past R&D and commercial teams have had different objectives at times where R&D wants to get the drug through the trials and commercial wants only drugs with certain patient populations. By definition some functions can sandpaper each other like Regulatory and Marketing. One function’s objective is to keep the company safe while the other is pushing the limits to maximize revenues. These are the points where it is difficult to achieve the “multiplier effect – 1+1=3” of true collaboration, instead they simply tolerate each other making sure their function is doing their job. This produces againstness between executives and costs the company time, energy and synergy. It is more like working on a committee than it is a team. What’s painfully coming to light is the awareness that by simply putting a diverse group of intelligent people to work in a cross-functional team does not necessarily result in a highly productive team. In one case 5 PhD’s from different partners in an alliance were assigned the task of setting a pricing strategy for a forthcoming launch. After 5 months with no consensus on a strategy senior management took over the task and set the price. It’s not more intelligence that is needed for success; it is more ability to collaborate. The quality of the business result depends on how effectively members from different functional areas integrate information, experience and perspectives demonstrating high levels of collaborative skills towards specific outcomes. In reality this means the migration from a parochial view of the world, moving from “my function, my values and my goals are paramount” – to a broader view that embraces “we are all in this together and are committed to the shared goal.” 

  1. Ignoring personal resistance to collaboration and learning

The biggest challenge to get employees to work together collaboratively is not a technological problem, it is a cultural and personal problem based upon sets of unproductive beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that don’t support collaboration. A belief may be something like “my job comes first” or “feedback means I’m not doing my job right” so I need to deflect it. The environment must explicitly support collaborative behaviors and encourage self-reflection by all functional leaders to investigate any of their own unproductive beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that would be a barrier to implementing a collaborative work environment. It all starts at the top! Executive insecurities produce unproductive dynamics like: territorialism, silos, work-a-rounds, intellectual arrogance and entitlement. Collaborative leadership needs to come from executives who take responsibility for the whole and ask questions, give feedback and process others through personal issues so that successful outcomes can occur.