Module 1 – BECOME THE BRAND ADVOCATE: THE FIRST 90 DAYS
Every new product manager enters the position facing a challenging range of tasks to be performed and knowledge to be acquired. This module outlines the most important steps the product manager can take to quickly become effective in the role. With a roadmap to navigate the potentially overwhelming first 90 days, the product manager can begin to embrace the role as champion of the brand.
Upon completion of this module, you will be able to discuss:
- How the external and internal environment impacts the product management role
- The key functional teams and how their responsibilities intersect with the product manager
- What key steps can be taken to get off to a good start with a short-term plan
BECOME THE BRAND ADVOCATE: THE FIRST 90 DAYS
A product manager begins a new role with a broad range of responsibilities that require immediate attention. There will be sales goals to be achieved, senior leaders to engage, stakeholders to lead and influence, and numbers of other departments that need to be managed. Some product managers might be entering the role at a very crucial point – perhaps replacing another product manager just after a launch. Others may inherit a brand that needs a revitalized marketing strategy. Others may be coming into an organization that is undergoing a change in leadership and possibly a change in strategic direction.
While there may be some tasks that must be addressed immediately, it is worthwhile to take the first 90 days to look at the big picture before making decisions about the brand that will have a long-term impact. This process begins with ensuring a deep understanding of the internal and external environment, getting to know all stakeholders, reviewing brand plans and identifying priorities. At the end of this process, the product manager will be well-equipped with a short-term plan to confidently go forward as the brand advocate.
Understand the Industry Landscape
The pharmaceutical industry has undergone a fundamental shift – increased regulatory controls, pricing pressures, increased generic competition, less access to physicians, and early loss of market exclusivity are just some of new industry realities. A product manager must be keenly aware of the issues affecting the industry to effectively mitigate these challenges.
Pricing, Payers and Market Access
Ongoing pricing pressures dominate the market access component of the industry. Regulatory bodies such as the Patented Medicines Prices Review Board (PMPRB) have a mandate to limit prices of patented products. Payers (regional drug plans and private insurers) are increasingly budget conscious and are negotiating confidential listing agreements with brand manufacturers while imposing price cuts on generic drugs. Reviews of clinical and pharmacoeconomic evidence undertaken by the Common Drug Review, Quebec’s Conseil du Medicament, and the Joint Oncology Drug Review are now important considerations of the market access process for new, brand name drugs.
Given these factors, it is critical for drug manufacturers to demonstrate cost-effectiveness and respond to payers’ cost sharing expectations. Vital to the success of any product is a favourable reimbursement profile that will meet profitability targets and gain access to targeted payers. This profile is paramount to the long-term commercialization potential of a drug. If government or third-party payers refuse to reimburse a drug, the lack of private and public formulary reimbursements may, depending on the target market, result in little customer interest. For most new products to succeed, it is imperative to gain formulary listing support from key stakeholders.
Price restrictions, including reference pricing, profit limitations, and price reductions have created a global market with increasing constraints. Pricing decisions in one country may have immediate ramifications in others. In this increasingly complex global marketplace, companies must use segmentation analysis, clinical and health outcomes research, parallel trade evaluation, political, economic, social and technological (PEST) analysis, and demand analysis to create a coordinated global pricing strategy that will anticipate regulatory challenges. While extremely difficult to create, an effective, comprehensive global launch strategy more than justifies the costs.
Increased Generic Competition
Brand drug patents have a relatively short life-span. The increasingly lengthy and complex process around clinical trials, reviews and approvals by regulatory bodies leaves a short window of opportunity to commercialize a product before generics compete for the same customers. The impending loss of market exclusivity due to generics is therefore a significant factor that a product manager must consider when planning both short and long-term strategies for a brand.
Less Access to Physicians
Years ago, members of a sales team could expect to see their key physicians’ multiple times a year with ample time at each meeting to discuss key brands. Today, time constraints on specialists and GPs alike increasingly prohibit regular one-on-one meetings. The reality of less access to physicians has created a need for the product manager to consider non-traditional value-added tactics that go beyond sales calls. One such example is the emergence of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) strategies; by using technology to reach physicians with relevant and timely information, innovative tactics can present new opportunities when traditional tactics fall short.
For more information on EMR strategies, please visit emreach.ca
Understand the Organizational Culture
When new to the role and the organization, a product manager should acquire a deep understanding of the internal environment. Like most organizations today, pharmaceutical companies are in a constant state of flux, with changes in leadership, team structures, processes, technology and overall organizational changes in strategic direction. Changes can sometimes create uncertainty or heightened sensitivity for certain functional areas or employees. Getting a sense of organizational values, potential key issues and protocols for engaging with colleagues and leadership are essential to understanding the culture of the company.
From external vendors and regulatory bodies, to internal cross-functional teams and senior leadership, a product manager’s ability to effectively manage multiple stakeholder relationships is critical to success. Almost every aspect of the product manager’s role – from managing the most minute details such as fine type on a product carton, to executing multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns – involves the input of one or multiple functional areas or external stakeholders. Reaching out to these groups as soon as possible when starting in the role is strongly recommended.
The senior leadership team of the company can play a very big role in a brand’s success. This team determines strategic direction for the organization and has direct input on major brands that are cornerstones of the company’s financial performance. Senior leadership also sets the tone for the culture of the company, and may even impact how functional teams interact and collaborate. It is therefore essential for the product manager to engage with this team at every opportunity, understand the priorities and vision to ensure all decisions contribute to the overall organizational strategy.
The product manager must rely on the work effort of many individuals (across several functional teams), who, while having a stake in the success of the product – are not direct reports. Effective leadership and appropriate influence is required to ensure all parties are aligned towards the common goal of realizing the product’s commercialization potential. The successful product manager understands the mandate of each functional team and responsibilities of individual team members, collaborates and influences them as groups and individuals, and leverages their expertise to achieve overall brand success.
External Consultants and Vendors
Meeting with external consultants or agencies within the first 90 days of entering the position is also strongly recommended. Face-to-face meetings will help to ensure all third parties are aligned on priorities and outcomes. It cannot be taken for granted that vendors are aware or diligent about upcoming timelines and milestones. While most agencies are professional in this regard, a turn-over in the product manager position can cause deadlines and tasks to be de-prioritized or overlooked. In addition, if a project being managed by a third-party vendor is of particularly high priority, it is important to become very familiar with the project status and what is required of the product manager in terms of feedback and approval to plan appropriately.
Author’s Insight: Managing Face-to-Face Time with Stakeholders
An open-door policy can be a great way to establish rapport with stakeholders and team members, but if constant interruptions and impromptu meetings become habitual, establishing parameters around “free” time may be necessary. At one organization, I held a daily “scrum” with my marketing team for 30 minutes, three times per week. This allowed us to share feedback and address any non-urgent issues on a regular basis. By setting aside time each day to return calls and respond to emails, I opened time in my schedule to work on specific projects. I let my key vendors become familiar with my schedule, so they knew my preferred times for project meetings.
Product Manager Core Accountabilities
In addition to the responsibilities listed above, the product manager must excel in multiple areas particular to the specific role that is being filled. While every position will vary across organizations, the following are some common tasks and areas of expertise that are required:
Product Manager Core Accountabilities include:
- Conducts a thorough annual business review of the market
- Leads a robust strategic planning process, seeking input from external sources and internal cross-functional teams and stakeholders
- Effectively communicates brand strategy and vision to company executives, sales force and external partners
- Develops measurable, targeted commercial and tactical plans to support strategic imperatives
- Consistently tracks and measures tactical plan performance and makes corrections as needed
- Establishes and refines KOL relationships
- Represents organization as product subject-matter-expert
- Articulates the brand characteristics, vision and outlook for all stakeholders, internal and external, in a way that promotes and encourages awareness and esteem for the brand
- Liaises with global marketing counterparts to ensure alignment of strategies where required
- Ensures adherence to all to all regulatory/compliance/legal policies and guidelines
- May consult with and employ external vendors for various aspects of the strategic and tactical brand plans
Author’s Insight: Cross-functional Team Meetings
In the fast-paced and deadline intensive world of pharmaceuticals, respecting everyone’s time constraints is essential. When scheduling meetings, whether recurring or one-off, make sure the meetings have specific objectives, that agenda items are communicated in advance, and that action items are assigned and followed-up on within agreed-upon timeframes. If meetings stop being productive, ask yourself if the meeting merely checks a box or actually provides a valuable exchange of information. If the meeting is necessary but doesn’t work in its current format, re-evaluate the objectives and have a discussion with key stakeholders on how to move forward. Meetings work best when all participants are engaged.
With the possible exception of completely new drugs that are not yet launched, most product managers will inherit a set of brand plans – strategic and tactical, from past and recent managers in the role. In the best-case scenario, the plans will include documentation of all of the research, insights and decision making that drives the key messaging, positioning and tactics for the brand. (A discussion on documenting the strategic plan appropriately is presented in Module 3).
One of the first orders of business as a product manager is to review all plans in detail to understand where the brand is against the stated objectives, from a perspective of sales targets, timelines, budgets and both short-term and long-term milestones.
One obvious step is to set-up meetings with groups of, or individual leads from various functional teams. This will be valuable in getting a true picture of any gaps or opportunities that may exist from that team’s perspective. The product manager may also have a team of direct reports who are engaged in preparing or executing current projects from the plans.
Stakeholders can be asked to share their input on these questions:
- What are the current brand projects you (your functional team) are working on?
- What are your top priorities for the brand over the next six months?
- What resources are allocated to each project? (Hours per week/days per month, and number of team members).
- How do you currently address goals, objectives and issues?
- Are there any time-sensitive concerns or issues around these projects? (Note that this question is very open ended and could lead to a myriad of issues, including personnel issues, etc. The objective is to get high-level concerns that require immediate attention, and not a laundry-list of complaints or blue-sky objectives!).
This is a starting point for further discussions, and once the engagement begins, some common challenges and gaps may start to arise. It is possible that there may be different concerns from different groups, since stakeholders are of course all focused on their particular aspect of the product success. The product manager must therefore assess all feedback and based on the short-term priorities of the brand, address the fewest areas that will have the most impact.
Develop a Short-Term Plan
The short-term plan is a document for personal use, and not for distribution to stakeholders. It establishes a roadmap to help navigate the many tasks and priorities over the next several months. This plan should capture any issues, gaps, challenges and priorities that are identified through brand plan reviews, team meetings and other stakeholder engagement. When a new challenge, issue or gap arises, the roadmap can act as a guide to categorize the item and allocate the appropriate level of attention it requires.
The First 90 Days: Checklist
The following list summarizes the recommended activities for the first 90 days in the product management role:
- Meet with Senior Leadership Team
- Become familiar with organizational processes and protocols
- Conduct one-on one sessions with internal team leads (or other team representatives)
- Identify key projects and goals
- Learn about potential issues, concerns, gaps
- Review strategic and tactical plans
- Understand the brand positioning and key strategic imperatives
- Identify status of high priority projects
- Identify gaps and potential issues
- Reach out to global counterparts in marketing
- Review competitive information and positioning
- Meet with key vendors and consultants regarding current or upcoming projects
The first 90 days in a product management role has the potential to be overwhelming. By gaining an understanding of the internal and external culture, engaging with stakeholders, reviewing brand plans, identifying high priorities, and finally, making a short-term plan, the product manager can feel confident in embracing the role of brand advocate with a solid foundation on which to build future skills and expertise.
MODULE 1 PROGRESS CHECK
Q1. Which of the following are challenges affecting the pharmaceutical industry today?
a) Regional drug plans and private insurers are looking for cost-savings on patented drugs while placing price cuts on generic drugs
b) Drug manufacturers are no longer permitted to provide any input to regulatory bodies to help influence the determined drug price
c) Global launch strategies are no longer feasible given overwhelming number of global pressures
d) B & C
Q2. The product manager typically has several direct reports across many functional areas who all have a stake in the brand’s success.
Q3. Loss of market exclusivity in the pharmaceutical industry is due primarily to:
a) Emergence of digital marketing tactics
b) Less one-on-one time with physicians
c) Lack of consumer awareness of innovative new drugs
d) Patent expiry
Q4. Which of the following is not a primary responsibility of the product manager?
a) Reviews all budget reports related to the brand
b) Develops training materials for the sales force
c) Oversees the relationship with payers to achieve maximum profitability for the brand
d) Provides marketing input for press releases and all other communications for public consumption
MODULE 1 ANSWERS