Marketing Your Pharmacy Technology Investment

Posted on January 7, 2016

By: Sean Sullivan, Director, Marketing & Inside Sales

So, you’ve made the investment in a pharmacy technology solution; you can’t wait to get it up and running so you can start realizing the return on your investment as quickly as possible. Will the accuracy of the solution be what you were told by the vendor? Will the reduction in labor work out the way you planned? Will you really be able to streamline newly automated processes and see a much better workflow in your pharmacy? All of these are good questions – hopefully with answers that meet or exceed your expectations.

Investing in a sophisticated technology is a big step for many long term care or retail pharmacies. You want to ensure that once you have made the decision, you are getting the most from your solution. It’s easy to get wrapped up in how the new technology will support your growth objectives. However, have you thought about how it will drive growth, rather than just support it? This is something that is often overlooked for a few common, but not necessarily logical reasons.

Having spent the last 20+ years in marketing, both on the agency and corporate sides of many different industries, one thing has always been a constant: everyone wants to be a marketer. People love to tap into their right brains and show off their creative talents. But, as I hope you know, marketing is far more involved than coming up with a new product name or corporate tagline. It’s more science than art, as experienced marketers will confirm, with a foundation in three key areas: objectives, strategies and tactics. More on that shortly, but let’s look at why many businesses miss the mark with their marketing efforts.

When it comes to prioritizing time and/or financial resources, marketing initiatives often get put on the shelf. This seems to be reasonable, as there is a perception that other initiatives carry a more “tangible” ROI. However, I would argue that no initiatives carry a more visible ROI than marketing, and specifically promotion. It’s actually quite simple. You start with a revenue objective, you execute on your strategies and when it’s all said and done, the numbers will tell if you hit your objectives. As my finance and accounting colleagues always tell me, the numbers never lie. For the sake of this post, let’s assume they are correct. When using revenue or performance as the key metric, you can see throughout the course of your execution if the efforts are working. This is important, as it enables you to change on the fly or pull the plug and try something new.

If so many people hadn’t already written books on this topic, I would (and could) go on and on, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is to help you avoid short-changing marketing as a critical component of optimizing the investment you have made in your pharmacy technology – and there are some simple, tried and true steps you can take to change your technology from a growth supporter into a growth driver.

Regardless of the business imperative which drove you to invest in technology, there are inherent benefits to your end users. For example, if you own a retail pharmacy and you just purchased vial-filling automation, like our FastFill™ 54, wouldn’t it make sense to tell your community that you have invested in something that speeds up the filling process (shorter wait times), helps ensure accurate fills and provides more time for you and your staff to do the important work of consulting with customers? It’s safe to say that these benefits would encourage more customers to fill their prescriptions in your store – which will likely lead to the added bonus of more non-pharmacy purchases as well – if those customers were aware of your new automation.

For long term care pharmacy providers, packaging technologies, like our FastPak™ Elite, help you manage high-volume dispensing and distribution activities required by your clients (nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.). Many pharmacies are using their technology solutions to acquire more business, and they do it by promoting the technology as a differentiator from their competitors. These pharmacies get it and this post is simply a reminder that they are on the right track. Sadly, many long term care pharmacies are not in the same boat – they have invested in technology, realized some labor and cost efficiencies, but they have not leveraged the technology to gain more business from a marketing perspective.

So how do you do it? I will tell you that while it is not overly complicated, it takes effort and commitment to see it through the process. It’s like anything else, if you go into it with a half-baked approach, you’ll get half-baked results.

Step 1 – Set obtainable objectives. What is it you want to accomplish by promoting your investment in pharmacy technology? Using the examples of retail and long term care pharmacies, it could be as simple as adding X number of incremental customers or bringing on Y number of facilities to your distribution network, respectively. The important point here is that you set obtainable objectives. If you set objectives that are out of reach, then you have failed before you have started.

Step 2 – Identify realistic strategies. Once you have established your objectives, come up with three to five realistic strategies that support each. (Note that the number of strategies may be dictated by the resources you have to support them. Be careful not to develop strategies you cannot employ.) For example, if you are operating a long term care pharmacy and your objective is to bring on two new facilities in the next 12-24 months, don’t try to boil the ocean! Develop a strategy that identifies and targets a subset of facilities within your geographical area that are most ripe for the picking. Taking a shotgun approach is costly and muddies the water when trying to measure performance throughout the process. You want to be laser focused on the targets that will deliver on your objectives, regardless of what they may be.

Step 3 – Build and execute your tactical plan. After establishing your strategies, build an executable action or “tactical” plan for each. This is where you identify the tactic, how much you will spend on it, when it will be executed, follow up plan, etc. Note that you can have multiple tactics supporting each strategy, much like you have a few strategies to support each objective.

So, if you have identified a group of facilities or customers to target, what are you going to do to reach them? What is the key message or the single most important thing you want them to think once they have been reached? What is the best way to reach them? How much will that cost and how often do you need to do it? Does it require advertising on local television or radio? Would a direct mail piece be better? Are there associations with which you can work to spread your message? There are many different tactics you can employ – you just need to find those that support your strategies (and budget).

Many pharmacy technology vendors offer “out of the box” materials to help you promote the solution you just purchased from them, and these are very helpful from a tactical perspective. However, remember no one knows your business goals and market better than you. To help ensure optimal results, it is important that you follow the process of building out your objectives and strategies before employing those tactics. If you truly want to build a marketing plan for success, skipping the first two steps is not an option.

Lastly, remember that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. I have seen many companies over the years come out of the marketing gates aggressive in effort, planning and investment. I have also seen as many companies lose interest or commitment, leading to marketing initiatives that are hard to track, impossible to measure, incapable of delivering on their objectives and ultimately wasted in terms of time and dollars. If you want to do it right, follow the steps, stay committed and don’t be afraid to change if you see it is not delivering as expected. I’m confident if you approach marketing your pharmacy technology in this way, you will take that investment from a growth supporter to a growth driver.

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