For many pharmacists, the process of launching a new patient service begins with the lightbulb moment when they conceive of a breakthrough idea. Very often, they are so passionate about the idea that they believe its merits will be self-evident to prospective customers and patients—that the innovation is so obviously superior it will sell itself.
By Gerry Spitzner
On the other hand, entrepreneurial thinking pharmacists who avoid that delusion may think of their initial sales as a chicken-and-egg problem…they realize that getting buy-in from potential customers is a top priority, but until they design and build the service (which often requires securing scarce resources such as funding, assembling a team, and many other operational and marketing tasks), how could they possibly launch the service?
Just because there is a need doesn’t mean there is a market
Both attitudes fail to recognize a simple fact: Far too many people run around spending time finding solutions to problems that don’t actually matter. What some entrepreneurial thinkers do is they will go and develop a cool product or idea. But just because it’s a cool product or service doesn’t mean it can be a good business. They’ll develop solutions that don’t necessarily have a market problem. And then they leap to the designing and doing of the service and hope it works. Creating a service, pushing it out the door and hoping it works is not a business strategy. You need a better compass than that.
Always establish a market first, then a product or service to match the market pain point
I remember the first time I read Stephen Covey and learned the power of Habit #2 of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”: always begin with the end in mind. Covey said, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”
In every planning endeavour…always begin with the end in mind…which means: work backwards through any business system (patient service) when starting to plan. Begin with your ideal customer/patient and work backwards from them; identify the outcomes and outputs they want, the applied benefits they seek. Then create your patient service to deliver it and the processes and the inputs in your business model needed to carry out your patient service.
Planning is important, but testing is essential
When creating a patient service, get the business model in front of customers and key stakeholders as quickly as possible and get them involved. There are a variety of sources in your organization that will provide you with the rich and robust customer information you require.
#1 “Why come to me?” Potential customers are already going somewhere else for their pharmacy needs, so you will need to answer: “Why are they going to come to me?” In answering this question and developing your plan, begin by talking with customers and stakeholders about what they want, and about what aspects of current pharmacies in the area frustrate them. Ask physicians what they are having problems doing or getting for their patients. A proven method that works well is to conduct a focus group or one to one informational interviews with key stakeholders. Ask questions like whether the proposed prices are reasonable, how customers would like to be reached, and then perhaps some personal information, such as likes and dislikes, that would help your pharmacy serve them better.
#2 Engage all of your customer contact employees. They have potential to collect amazing information about your customers every time they speak to one. A simple way to conduct this research is to be an active listener. Try this approach: first define each customer service interaction; then define the learning outcome you want from each; and finally the list of questions that will elicit the information you require. Your questions must be designed with the customer in mind. You don’t want to force questions on the customers; you want them to be a natural extension of the dialogue taking place. So, for example, when a customer complains or says they do not have enough of something. What information would typically be available through that interaction? What are the normal questions that could be asked?
#3 Use your website or social media channels to gather information about customers. With today’s technology it’s easy to get analytics at little to no cost. What kind of information are they seeking? Are customers researching product information? Do they want to buy something? Are they looking for a contact? Every message coming through your website Contact Us button can yield substantial results. The reply needs to get back as soon as possible. A quick reply will earn you the right to ask for more information from the customer. Establish the information you can reasonably obtain from this type of contact and give it a try every time.
One of the hardest parts about business development in professional services is finding the time to do the ground work. It’s too easy for immediate client needs or business management to get in the way. Unfortunately, marketing activities build on each other, so neglecting them will have compounding effects that you often don’t see until it’s too late.
If you get the customer involved in the development of your patient service, you’ll tend to have something that’s informed by customers’ needs and wants and attractive to potential new customers.
Gerry Spitzner is the founder and principal consultant of pharmacySOS.ca, a Vancouver-based business management consultancy providing strategic operations services focused on drugstores and pharmacies. For more information: http://pharmacysos.ca/