Look for Flexibility In Your CRM or SFA System

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - April 2010

Business, regulatory and technological conditions are constantly changing. Will your CRM/SFA system be flexible enough to keep up?

“Know thyself,” the ancient Greek aphorism, was good advice 2500 years ago and still is today. Particularly if you’re a life sciences company looking to increase sales, marketing capabilities and promotional competitiveness via a new or revamped customer-relationship management/sales force automation (CRM/SFA) system. But it would be equally good advice to stretch that gem of wisdom a bit to include “Know thy vendor’s product,” “Know thy vendor’s capabilities” and “Know thy vendor’s deployment options.”

Seems like basic stuff. But done right, it’s actually a pretty exhaustive and exhausting process that includes investigating every CRM/SFA decision-maker’s big three: total cost of ownership (TCO), technology (functional, data, security, tools, etc.) and service (technical and non-technical support).

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume you want to change. Although, in all fairness to your current CRM-vendor relationship, this does not necessarily mean taking up with a new vendor. The key focus here should be on defining your organization’s current and future needs and on what CRM/SFA capabilities you need to meet them.

Know thyself: Flexibility is paramount

Knowing your company begins by detailing your short-, middle- and longterm goals, coupled with an honest appraisal of your immediate and potential resources to meet these goals. And since your company does not operate in a vacuum, knowing where it fits into the competitive landscape is essential.

You already know, for example that the pharmaceutical industry’s commercial model has and is undergoing changes. The traditional large primary-care field force model — detailing primary care prescribers on a pre-scheduled basis — has proved unsustainable because of the high cost and the dropping receptivity of doctors to sales rep visits. The new business model, which is focused on building, developing and maintaining relationships to achieve a share of mind, above all requires a system that is flexible in every conceivable way — delivery (SaaS vs. on-premises), deployment (global, regional or local), functionality (tools, offline/online) and support (dedicated or outsourced)— in order to accommodate complex current and changing business needs.

Total cost of ownership

For a new CRM/SFA system, TCO requires consideration of all short, medium and long-term costs. For example, will potential changes in your approach to the market — e.g., new product launches — warrant a different delivery model? What about changes to infrastructure — reorientation of IT resources, changes in sales force size, structure and target audience. Your company’s financial position — balance sheet, income statement and cash flow — will determine whether you go with a perpetual or rental license. How will the proposed change impact costs for system and data integration? What if you decide to switch again? Consider, too, your current mobile hardware, obviously a key piece of any solution. And finally, is your current vendor flexible enough to handle all the variables of a new system?

Your technology needs

Given that the purpose of CRM/SFA software is to facilitate the sales and marketing process, ask yourself: Can the proposed system satisfy all of the unique current needs of my home office and field users in an easy-to-use, secure system with minimal disruption? What if customer type or geographical locale dictates different users’ needs? As my business increases or decreases focus on specific stakeholders, how quickly can my vendor make the changes that I need?

Your service requirements

Everyone says they have great service, which in practice is seldom the case. So clearly you’ll want to challenge the claims of potential vendors. How well-defined are their service level agreements (SLAs)? Even more importantly, what about accountability? If the vendor’s solution includes dependence on outside partners (bolt-ons, mash-ups, implementation, help desk, system validation and so on), challenge their partners. Is their online and offline functionality identical? Are users as happy with system functionality and support down the road as they were immediately after implementation?

Know thy vendor’s product

In examining life sciences CRM solutions, it is critical to determine where the vendor ranks on all important criteria related to flexibility.

As Fig. 1 illustrates, only a fully integrated and flexible CRM architecture can support the new business model. Ensure that in the new CRM system you select, each CRM user has specialized application requirements and business rules. Every customer type is represented with specialized data and application capabilities. The system should also provide the flexibility to change capabilities and rules based on industry evolution. And since globalization is also key, the CRM system needs to allow capabilities and rules to vary when applied to different regions and countries from one global core. In short, it is imperative for the platform to be dynamic and flexible, capable of supporting the multiple contact and customer-type conditions from a single global platform.

Architecture flexible enough for tomorrow’s needs

This CRM must also be a Web browser-based, rich Internet platform built on a service-oriented architecture. The platform’s open and extensible metadata-driven design needs to enable the CRM application to dynamically adapt based on the combination of user type, customer type and market. To simplify configuration management involving different users, customers and markets, it must also offer sophisticated hierarchical configuration tools.

Keep in mind, too, that the application functionality of CRM needs to be internationalized with the global business requirements for the life sciences industry. In other words, this CRM should be an industry-specific application and as such have none of the limitations of CRM solutions that are essentially multi-industry templates.

The optimal CRM system’s architecture must satisfy the flexibility requirements of a modern CRM platform. The metadata repository (Fig. 2) needs to include a centralized data dictionary, which defines multi-language screen prompts, field input length, field edit mask, visibility rules, security settings (read-only, updatable, etc.), valid codes for drop-down fields and enabled targeting options. It should include a centralized parameter dictionary with hundreds of configurable parameters for application business rules. This is the flexibility that you require to adequately meet your needs.

Know thy vendor’s capabilities

Due to the unique relationship-building process for life sciences teams, the online and offline functionality and user-interface of your CRM should be identical. This is critical given that most commercial teams work offline. Device flexibility must be maximized, too. Laptops, tablets, NetBook, desktops, BlackBerry smartphones, iPhone and Windows Mobile smart phones and PDAs — should all enjoy online or offline support.

Data synchronization for offline users should be completely automated with your CRM system and shouldn’t require any user interaction. Thus, when a user connects to the Internet, regardless of connection type, data is automatically updated and synchronized across the team. But even here options exist. Clients should be able to choose user initiated communications when required.

The application should build each screen dynamically at runtime based on the configuration for the current user. When the user clicks on a specific application link or menu item, the user interface needs to verify that particular user’s security rights. The interface definition for the destination page and data dictionary information should then be retrieved. The security subsystem is then modified, allowable user data is assembled, the string store translates the appropriate text, and business rule parameters are updated. The final screen is then delivered to the Web browser. All of this should be seamless and transparent to the user.

Flexibility within the system is vital since it must be continuously adjusted to changing business needs. Before you leap, make sure you know to what degree you’ll be able to configure and customize a system. And how long system changes will take. Missed opportunities due to an inability to adapt to unforeseen events could be fatal to any commercial initiative.

Global and regional life sciences companies would be wise to opt for a system with a robust hierarchical data-model configuration. This will permit global, regional or country adaptations from a single core system. At the same time, it will eliminate the need to create duplicate configurations that vary by region or country, a task that would involve countless resources and environments.

Configuration management

Life Sciences companies often want enterprise-configuration management options for deploying global or regional CRM solutions, which until now meant one configuration per region and virtually no country-specific configuration. Your CRM should offer a totally new paradigm. Its hierarchical configuration management capabilities need to allow clients to perform configuration management at the enterprise level while still allowing regional, country and business unit level configuration. The benefits include reduced TCO for regional and global deployments, better regional and global business alignment, plus a stable common platform for regional/global reporting and analytics.

Your CRM should be built on a sophisticated metadata driven architecture, which allows configuration to be performed by all business users with easy-to-use, point-and-click tools. Among other elements, users can configure:

  • Management capabilities
  • Screen configuration capabilities
  • Data dictionary capabilities
  • Parameterization

Enterprise data integration

Enterprise-level data integration is an IT system function that allows information to be gathered, analyzed and resolved in near-real time. (Fig. 2.) An enterprise service bus provides this level of comprehensive integration, which allows sophisticated real-time interaction between disparate systems to meet business needs.

Deployment options

Systems today are available as on-premises and hosted, each through a perpetual (one-time purchase) or rental (subscription, lease, etc.) license structure (Fig. 3). A hosted system in combination with a rental license is known as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). SaaS can be either a multi-tenant or dedicated environment. Security issues, marketing goals and cost are generally the determining factors for system preference. Your CRM system should be fully functional regardless of the deployment option you select. Which means you can easily switch between options as business needs change. Again, it’s all about flexibility.

So how flexible do you need to be?

The life sciences business model is rapidly evolving, driven by extreme competitive pressures as well as economic and political trends. The optimal CRM should have been engineered from the ground up to respond quickly to this environment. The flexibility of its architecture and functionality needs to give clients the ability to efficiently and effectively modify tactical and strategic solutions when needs arise. The only question you have to ask yourself now is, how flexible do we need to be? PC


Lindsay Duncan is VP, Technology and Development Strategy at Cegedim Dendrite (Bedminster, NJ). He was a founding employee of Dendrite International, which was acquired by Cegedim Group in 2007. The resulting organization, Cegedim Dendrite, is the world’s leading provider of pharmaceutical CRM solutions, with a 35% market share. Today Mr. Duncan is responsible for developing a technology roadmap for Mobile Intelligence. Mr. Duncan received a certificate in Electrical Engineering from North Sydney Technical College and a degree in Computer Science from Macquarie University.

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