Nudge in Pharma with Sumeet ChandnaIn Conversation with Sumeet Chandna, Head of Digital Transformation at Cipla India. Sumeet is a Commercial and Strategy Leader with over 18 years of experience driving growth and change in international, multi-business corporations.  In this chat with Anant Sood, Sumeet explores the world of Behavior Science, possible applications and using the nudge to drive sales productivity and change. 

Using the Nudge in Pharma

A: For a while now, businesses have been using behavior science to drive consumer behavior. Can you elaborate on what applications there could be where behavior science can create an ideal win-win situation for all parties concerned – the doctor, the rep, the patient, and the business?

S: Let me share an example. During Covid, we started with digital counseling for asthmatics on how they should use an inhaler. We realized that it was very difficult to get patients to commit to a schedule for video interaction with the counselor and then adhere to it. We were racking our brains on how to improve the conversion of patients who are interested in counseling but aren’t able to come for it.

So, we started with something very small. Whenever a patient missed an appointment, we sent out a message, and we worked hard on getting the message right. The messages were based on the FOMO (fear of missing out) technique to encourage him to adhere to the counseling schedule. It would be something like “how X percentage of patients benefited when they did the right technique through this counseling”.

Some of these very small things helped us understand that it actually works at scale; and today it’s one of the largest programs in the country.

Other applications

I think public health and the ecosystem needs to nudge consumers before they become patients, and it needs to be done in a very different way. There is a larger need to bring awareness and simple choice architectures. However, it is very difficult to do so unless there’s intention and willingness of different stakeholders to come together. Pharma is only one part of this ecosystem.

There is a larger need to bring awareness and simple choice architectures.

Crude example -If you look at what Ronaldo did at the Euro match press conference, he shifted the Coke bottle away. But the coke bottle was there in the first place serving as a choice architecture. Ronaldo shifted the choice architecture, making a big statement. Similarly, I think there’s a role for the government, the celebrities, the hospitals, the pharma companies, and different stakeholders to be played.

For instance, labels are a space where pharma companies can provide choice architecture. We use it to inform the patient about the medication, the duration it should be taken, the need to go back to the doctor after a certain time. That is clearly in our domain, which we work on. But I think boundaries are breaking. COVID has taught us that we have to reinvent from within otherwise there’d be somebody from outside who will force us to.

The role of behavioral science has huge potential. The needs of both doctors and patients are not being fulfilled by traditional mechanisms. What we need is the emergence and adoption of a lot more sophisticated yet easy-to-use tools that can help in these times.

Chief Behavior Officer

A: Do you see Behavior science becoming more central in the way teams are managed? Do you see the emergence of a chief behavioral officer in the Pharma Sector in the coming years?

S: That’s a good thought. However, I think the understanding of how behavior science has to be applied has a way to go. There is a role of tech here. Presently, many leaders would believe that they are applying enough of behavior science. In the absence of patterns and data, it becomes a cognitive bias, which even the leader is not aware of.

In the absence of patterns and data, it becomes a cognitive bias, which even the leader is not aware of.

Data would help tech platforms to provide solutions at scale and implement behavior science in different spheres. From learning to sales productivity to helping your customers to make the right choice, or timing the content to reach a doctor will make a difference to the number of doctors who would read the content.

There are so many aspects to behavior science, I don’t think it’s well understood as a subject yet.

A Chief behavior officer is one of the futures.  But then why have only one person own it? Why not have every professional study how to apply behavior science in their sphere?

Nudge and Sales Productivity

A: Are there any technologies that you are experimenting with right now?

S: I think the fundamental shift that we brought in was nudging the field force. We’re working with worxogo and we’ve had a great experience. It was the need of the hour.

Coincidentally, we had done a pilot pre-Covid. When COVID hit, we found that it was the right time to take it to all the teams. The ability to remotely nudge a rep based on what motivates him is very empowering. It takes away a lot of challenges that we earlier faced in terms of the biases of a manager or the availability of a manager to review a rep or go through all the metrics.

This whole platform helped to provide real-time personalized coaching to the reps. I think it’s a fundamental change on the capability side the organization is going through and worxogo has a hand to play in it. So thank you for that!

Nudge: A subtle art

A: What are a couple of one or two pointers you’d like to give to other business leaders, who are on the fence of thinking whether behavior science is worth giving a shot or not?

S: One is to understand what they’re getting into because behavior science is a subtle art. It may not show results in a quick time. Get into it only if there is enough maturity in the ecosystem to absorb the change.

Define the use cases, don’t go in for the short-haul, have change agents to drive the transformation, and then embrace the change.

Secondly, there is no magic wand. It takes a great deal of effort to drive behavior change using any of the available tools. Eventually, it’s about change management. So, if you don’t have enough change agents, then it’s not the right time to get into it. Define the use cases, don’t go in for the short-haul, have change agents to drive the transformation, and then embrace the change. We were very happy to dispel some of our notions when we began this journey. We had underestimated the power of it. Only with time, we understood that the more we embrace it, the more we could make use of it for the longer term.

A: Could you quote one example of a first-hand experience where your notions were proven or disproven?

S: For us, a big question was whether my rep would be able to stand the ground in front of a doctor when he’s facing the hard questions. We never thought a tool like this could help us there. But when we started using the quizzes on the platform, we found a lot of good traction there. It gave us a lot of insights into who could understand what was being taught to them. That was great feedback to improve the quality of what the rep learned. Small thing but we were surprised that it could be that powerful.

Future of Work

A: Highlight some of the significant disruptions you foresee in the future of work – over the next four or five years – tech and non-tech.

S:  Current times are showing us that we can be productive while working remotely. The traditional structures of teams are already breaking and evolving. In a full day at work, I am no longer constrained to spending 8-9 hours in the office. I have the flexibility to collaborate with more people when I am working remotely. I can form a lot more project-specific set of teams, which are very fungible. They come together for a purpose and disband quickly. I think we’ll see that culture a lot more and that fungibility has to be exploited a lot more.

There is a need for agility. My guess is you’ll need to have quarterly goals and ensure you can achieve those 8-10 projects in that quarter. And then revisit your goals for the next quarter. The scope of what we’re doing is changing and a lot of times it’s the first time we’re doing something. When you don’t depend on others and collaborate effectively, you won’t be able to deliver.

When you don’t depend on others and collaborate effectively, you won’t be able to deliver.

My sense is the life of a goal sheet will crash and the number of people we work with in a quarter will increase multifold. The tech is already enabling us. A lot more structure around that will evolve and that will help us to accomplish a lot more.

Resilience: A sum of new behaviors

A: Do you see the definition of resilience for individuals or teams changing?

S: I think we’ve all realized what we can do (personally and professionally) when we are pushed to adopt new behaviors. In terms of resilience, these times have taught us to accept the new that’s happening around us.

these times have taught us to accept the new that’s happening around us.

For a team leader – adopt all the new patterns that are emerging, keep executive powers to the minimum, build leaders in different spheres, learn from their team members and respect differences – these are things that are the need of the hour.

For a resilient person or an organization, these are critical sets of behaviors that need to be imbibed a lot more. I think we should reflect on being able to live them, which is not easy because we are unlearning what experience has taught us. These are times when we have to consciously work on adopting the new.

Image Credit: Photo by am JD on Unsplash