Interview with Istem Akkan, General Manager, Cegedim Turkey

Cegedim has become a very strong partner for pharmaceutical companies worldwide, including Turkey. Nevertheless, with respect to healthcare, there are probably as many systems as countries. How does Cegedim adapt to the Turkish reality, and how different are your services compared to those in developed markets?

Cegedim is a flexible and very dynamic company. As the business environment changes, so do we and our service offerings. More specifically, since our establishment in Turkey in 1998, we have been offering data and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) services to our clients. However, considering today’s dynamics in the Turkish pharmaceuticals market, our service offerings have expanded to include a range of consultancy services. At the core of our consultancy services is our data solutions and services from which we provide market research, targeting and segmentation, promotion via call centre, Hybrid Rep which is Contracted Sales Force (CSF) services, digital marketing as well as compliance solutions. Field force sizing, optimization and alignment, another service we offer to pharmaceutical companies, has grown in importance and relevance due to the changes in the market environment, including price regulations and restrictions in visitations.

As General Manager of Cegedim’s Turkish operations since January 2008, you have witnessed an industry facing increasingly tough government measures coupled with a difficult economic environment. To what extent was this a challenge or an opportunity for Cegedim?

In short, the developments you mentioned have had a positive impact on our business. This is because we have discovered new areas in which we can contribute to helping pharmaceutical companies adapt to the challenges and achieve their goals. We have listened carefully to our potential and existing customers, and were therefore able to enter new business areas that are already offered by Cegedim in other countries.

Cegedim considers Turkey an emerging market, so they are willing to invest the resources and support necessary to establish our presence here. However, I do believe that we possess the necessary human resources locally to build new services and offerings. For instance, field force optimization is certainly an important growth area in the Turkish pharmaceutical market, given the large geographic area and the resultant difficulty in correctly aligning sales forces and targeting the appropriate physicians. Therefore, we have made significant investments in physician databases through studies like key opinion leader mapping. In return, we can assist the pharmaceutical companies in effectively sizing and placing their representatives in different geographical areas, identifying which physicians to target, and helping them decide how they should promote their products through various channels. Given that face-to-face visits have become very expensive and difficult, it is paramount to have new commercial models and market access strategies.

In 2005, we interviewed Yetka Alper, the head of Cegedim Turkey at the time. He said Cegedim’s first contracts in Turkey were with MNCs, and then the company slowly gained market share with the increasing presence of local players, starting with Bilim. What is the split between local and international clients today, and how is this evolving?

I would say that we have a healthy mixture of both local and international clients that Cegedim is catering to. However, I would add that although we cater to both these segments, we do not offer them a standardized set of solutions and services. Therefore, since having diversified our portfolio of customers, we have also diversified our portfolio of services, since we are well aware that there is no one-size-fits all solution.

How focused is Cegedim on developing the emerging markets; namely, Turkey?

As you may know, the mature pharmaceutical markets across the world have plateaued and growth is minimal. Therefore, Cegedim places great importance to the emerging markets, including Turkey, which translates to greater relative resource and budget allocations when compared to mature markets. Although the Turkish pharmaceutical market has recently run into regulatory and pricing difficulties, decreasing the market’s appeal, we believe that these issues will not persist and Turkey will continue to grow in the near future. That is why we continue to view the Turkish market with optimism and potential.

As a global leader in market research, how can Cegedim find a space within this picture, and what strategies does it employ to get ahead of the pack?

Although there do exist companies in the Turkish market that provide some of the same services that we do, there are no companies that can truly provide the complete range of marketing and sales effectiveness solutions that Cegedim offers to clients. Therefore, I would say that we are, fortunately, not faced with a significant degree of competition. Of course, we aim to stay ahead of the pack by providing a comprehensive list of data and marketing and sales services that is rivalled by none.

Turkey is a country which undergoes constant adjustments in its legal framework. Considering that inaccurate sales information leads to companies losing money, how do you convince companies of the accuracy of your systems?

Owing to the solid reputation that Cegedim has built in Turkey, it is now not too difficult for us to convince companies of our system’s accuracy. Of course, we have the statistics and customer references from over 35 satisfied pharmaceutical companies that can substantiate the reported accuracy of our performance. These companies also contribute to the accuracy and freshness of our databases. Moreover, we have largest large organization validating and updating our databases, and this is complemented by some of the other services that we provide, such as market research and sales activities.

Of course, building a reputation and developing a quality database requires time – and it is something that we have been actively doing for about fourteen years. We take great pride in this.

Mr. Sözeri of Biofarma explained that, in his opinion, companies will soon have to split their sales force resources to – on the one hand target GP’s and specialists – and on the other hand, pharmacists. Do you agree with his analysis, and how is Cegedim preparing for this?

I cannot comment on whether or not companies in general will need to fragment their sales forces to target these individuals in order to increase their effectiveness. However, we can advise on this on an individual company basis. After all, this is our area of expertise.

Cegedim in Turkey offers a hybrid model designed to address the issue of sales force effectiveness. That is, we offer a contract sales force that is able to utilize and focus on any or all of the existing channels in the market, i.e. telephone calls, physical visits, emails, direct mail, etc. Naturally, the underlying objective here is to optimize our clients’ commercial activities and streamline their operations. Indeed, some companies have opted to completely outsource these activities to us, while others have made the choice to partially do so.

The three year agreement on pricing which has hit the pharmaceutical industry will end this year. The industry is confident that it will recover strong growth figures and have a new start. How do you get ahead of the curve in order to advise your clients in light of these new reforms and market conditions?

Clearly, the good days are over for now. In the past, it was considerably easier to reach physicians, for instance, as it was easier to employ a large ‘military’ sales force that would target clients. However, what we have learned is that companies have to be more focused in order to be effective and efficient and cope with the current market climate. They also have to engage with their customers, implement solid market access strategies and apply new commercial models. Finally, companies are also required to maintain the correct sales organization which relates to factors such as size, frequency of visitations and a precise target audience.

Over the years, MNC’s have slowly taken a leadership position in the Turkish market, overtaking local players, where there remain only 2 local companies in the top ten. How do you explain this trend and, in your interpretation, will MNC’s reinforce their positions there?

Of course the pharmaceutical environment is evolving in Turkey. We have seen increased acquisition activity of local generics manufacturers by foreign firms. I think that MNC’s are motivated to do this because they want to increase their presence in the local market so that they can tap into the potential of the Turkish pharmaceuticals market. I expect this trend to continue and believe we will observe further acquisitions by MNC’s. Another attractive aspect of this relates to the fact that it is more advantageous for pharmaceutical companies to have a generics portfolio in the Turkish market, in light of the recent regulatory and price developments.

Considering the range of services you offer today, what would you say are the most interesting or valuable for Cegedim and its clients?

Turkish pharmacos are very excited about our latest call centre services – or ‘tele-rep’ facilities – and our new digital platform, Docnet. Another solution that we – and our customers – are enthusiastic about is Cegedim’s pharma-specific CRM solution, Mobile Intelligence, for the iPad. We call it MI Touch. This solution allows sales representatives to carry out e-detailing or other call activities during physical visits, with instant integration with the CRM system. This provides for a two-directional flow of real time information, and makes it easier to collect feedback from the physicians. Also, the solution allows the user to build a visual representation of the information collected, making it easier to analyse and interpret. I believe this is an advantage for us since we are the first company to bring an iPad based pharma CRM and e-detailing solution to the market, and we expect to increase our application of such projects in the coming years.

In this competitive industry, talent attraction and retention is key. How is Cegedim able to attract and retain the brightest minds into the organisation?

Indeed, this is not an easy task, but I can say that in Cegedim’s case, loyalty probably plays a significant role in retaining talent. Cegedim provides a great learning environment for our employees, and is also a multinational company with an established reputation in the pharmaceuticals market.

Ms. Akkan, any final messages to our readers about Cegedim – Turkey?

Cegedim has evolved from strictly a CRM provider, to more of a partner to pharmaceutical companies. We are increasingly being viewed as a vehicle for transmitting messages to targeted audiences, rather than just data providers – and that is how we differentiate ourselves from other companies in the market.


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