Top 10 Reasons to Engage an Independent Pharma Executive

February 6, 2019 Regina Shanklin

charts and stethoscope - independent pharma exec

Life science marketing is complicated, thanks to stringent regulations—and a key customer base of patients, providers, and payers who have different needs and often divergent priorities. Pharma marketing teams are also facing large talent gaps as they work to find strategies that will address all their constituents. Fortunately, there’s a growing pool of experienced, independent life science consultants and executives who can help with these shortages. When organizations need to solve specific challenges or just fill skill/knowledge gaps, these independent executives can bring the right experience and objectivity to the project.

Health and life science companies typically engage consultants when a business problem is especially complex or an important deadline is looming—or whenever an objective perspective is needed to achieve a business goal.

There are four main types of consultants:

  1. Specialist: Specialists offer best-in-class capabilities in niches like branding or patient engagement.
  2. Expert: Experts command a premium, offering not just expertise but widely recognized thought leadership for high-visibility projects like health reform.
  3. Vendor: These service providers can assist clients with specific skills and capabilities, from advertising to business analytics.
  4. Total Solutions Provider: Big consulting firms like McKinsey and PwC can tackle everything from strategy to implementation. Of course, that assistance also comes with a premium price tag—and they may not be able to supply expertise in niche domains like preparing for FDA committee meetings or meeting international GCP standards.

Independent consultants deliver instant expertise, acting as a catalyst to accelerate growth in both specialist and expert capacities. Often highly accomplished self-starters, independents require little to no supervision. Their strength lies not just in their experience, however, but in their versatility. Independents can play roles that range from advisors to doers, and many other things:

  • Counselor or advisor: Independents often have broad experience with a variety of different companies and situations. This makes them well-poised to give advice about a specific topic like patient centricity—or act as a sounding board while you’re assembling your own plans.
  • Objective review: Freelancers aren’t caught up in internal politics or received wisdom about the way things should be done at your company. So they’re well-equipped to deliver a neutral, well-reasoned perspective on business processes and strategies.
  • Change agent: Whether you’re switching from paper to interactive vis-aids or preparing for a big transformation, independents can embed themselves into your organization to guide and accelerate change.
  • Project manager/implementer: Independent project managers come not just with project management expertise but experience with specific therapeutic areas and domains like market access and product launch.
  • Deadline support: If you’ve fallen behind on an important deadline, independents can help your team meet their commitments.
  • Teacher or coach: Independents are often accustomed to working across functions. This makes them especially well-suited to helping teams learn to do something new—for instance, training research scientists to think like marketers to streamline the product launch process.
  • Facilitator: When you need to solve problems in new or unconventional ways like workshops or ideation sessions, independents can help you establish effective guidelines and structure.

There are essentially two types of independent consultants: ex-consultants from consulting firms and ex-industry executives. There is great value in both types. However, former pharma marketing executives turned independent consultants have these ten advantages:

  1. They have had successful careers at senior levels.
  2. They have had to live with their business decisions and understand the consequences.
  3. They have done the job and know what the client is up against.
  4. They know what good looks like—they understand the corporate environment and have even employed consultants to help them deliver business results.
  5. They understand the job in a practical way and can bring real-world examples.
  6. They apply learnings from actual prior experience.
  7. They have deep therapeutic area knowledge and know what works for that therapeutic class.
  8. They bring best practices from other companies they’ve worked with and from related therapeutic areas.
  9. Depending on their background, they can take learnings from other industries and apply them to life sciences.
  10. They will be objective and bring a broader perspective to solving problems.

Independent consultants can be the key to maximizing business performance by bringing in needed expertise and an outside perspective. Here are a few key areas they can help you address:

  • Identifying problem areas when you’re trying to turn around a business: I once helped a pharma client rewrite their educational materials to a 6th grade reading level so that their addiction treatment could win adoption by US prison facilities.
  • Identifying innovative ideas to accelerate business growth or get to the next level: I helped a healthcare nonprofit accelerate growth by adding an assessment service to facilitate the adoption of their core product line.
  • Filling in knowledge gaps for an expertise that the organization does not have: Because I’m an expert in patient centricity, I’m often called upon to offer that perspective during workshops and other engagements.

When you work with independents, it’s easy to get the help you need, whether it’s individuals or teams, on-site or remote, U.S. based or global. So whether you’re trying to improve brand performance or launch a new product, accelerate your results by engaging an independent life science consultant with deep industry and therapeutic area expertise.

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About the Author

Regina Shanklin

RD Shanklin & Associates is a healthcare & life sciences marketing strategy consultancy focused on driving profitable growth through enhancing customer insights, strategic & tactical planning, marketing and commercial strategy. Regina Shanklin is the founder and principal consultant for the organization. She is a marketing executive with over 20 years of delivering business results while generating strong return-on-investment (ROI). Regina has a diverse marketing background and has driven results in the Healthcare, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) and Advertising industries.

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