Global pharma market dynamics are changing rapidly and so is the business model. Traditional method of sales is no longer the sole method of survival. Companies are looking for newer avenues of reaching out to the customers and new “type” of customers are being emerged. Key Opinion Leaders, Stakeholder management, key accounts, alternative trade channels – these are the buzz words in the market these days. In this context, one group of people (read customers) that is gaining focus is the chemist community in India.
Let us look at the normal process of how a medicine is sold. Sales rep details a product, the doctor prescribes it, the patient goes to the chemist shop, the chemist serves the medicine. Well, this scenario is true but not for all situations. Let’s look at situations where it may be different.
1. A very large percentage of Indian people go to the chemist shop first for treating their symptoms. Going to the doctor at the very first go for minor symptoms is still considered as an additional and unnecessary expense. How many people go to the doctor for common cold? Patients utilize the money which they would otherwise spend on doctor’s fees for buying the medicines. Here comes the role of a chemist. The patient does not go and tell him the name of the medicines, but tell him the symptoms instead. The chemist, based on his experience and knowledge, sell a strip of medicines to the patient. Now let’s assume that a chemist earns more profit by selling product A than product B and both are used for the same symptoms. Will he ever push Product B in this situation?
2. OTC drugs are anyway perfect examples where chemist plays an important role. I go to purchase Eno, the chemist says “Eno is not available these days, they have some poor supply, there is a new product that has been launched for the same purpose, it costs slightly less but even more powerful. What do I do? I go to another shop or I buy the alternative? In some cases, I will check in another outlet, but in majority of the cases, I buy the alternate product.
3. Patient – chemist relationship is an important factor for getting a medicine sold. Normally, people have the habit of purchasing from the same medicine shop everytime. This retailer loyalty costs thousands of rupees to one owner and earns thousands for the other. We trust the people from whom we purchase the medicines. If he says a product is not nice, we tend not to purchase it and if he says something is good, we tend to believe. Crores of Indians get a credit facility from the medicine shop they purchase from – scope of belief and dependency is obviously much more.
4. A doctor’s prescription does not always guarantee the same medicine sold. If the chemist says this product is not available and has a poor supply, we call the doctor for suggestion of an alternative. The doctor utters a name which majority of us don’t understand. What do we do? We don’t hand the mobile phone over to the chemist, we instead ask what will be the best alternative.
5. In rural India, the number of chemist shop itself is very limited. There may be just one shop for 5-6 villages. If that does not keep whisper or stayfree just because they are expensive and keep a local low cost alternative – will customers travel few miles to get a sanitary pad?
So, we see they are important. Pharma companies in India are yet to react on it. Since the chemists are not registered medical practitioners, sales rep cannot go and detail a product to the chemist. It will have legal implications and will face protest from the medical fraternity as well – understood! We don’t want the chemist to alter the doctor’s prescriptions. But what about the other situations?
· Sales force should spend more time with the chemists. The interaction should just not be limited on checking the availability of stocks or number of prescriptions received from the nearby doctors. We need to talk to them about the profit margin, the recent advertisement (if applicable), the company profile, the quality standards, the features and benefits. Chemist does not have a pen habit, but let your product be at the top of his mind. They are busy in the morning and evening – so utilize your lazy afternoon for meeting them.
· Occasional events can be organized with the chemist group. All pharma companies organize events but with the doctors and nurses only. Event with chemist does not get approval because of legal reasons and there is no readymade data to show the ROI. But a small event once in a quarter will serve the purpose – you don’t have to organize it in a five star hotel, just a small gathering with knowledge dissemination focus will do wonder. In my early career, I have seen a company doing this and I will not name it here.
Focus on distribution in rural India. Let the chemist keep your stock even if it is not frequently sold. Give him the credit and get the money only when it gets sold. That will increase your reach at least – we are fine with extending credit facility, but surely not fine with a customer looking for my product and buying an alternative just because mine is not available.
Well, this is what I think. Your comments are most welcome!