Seas of Darkness; Rays of Hope

Volume 10 Letter 4

In 2003 Genentech launched their star product, Xolair, which had proved to be effective in preventing Asthma attacks. Since Asthma is a pretty wide spread medical condition they were expecting stellar results. The trouble was that after six months there was about 90 degrees of separation between sales projections and actual sales. The next miracle drug was flat lining…well almost.

A flicker of hope broke through in Texas where two reps were selling approximately twenty times more Xolair than the rest of their peer sales reps. On deeper investigation, the company discovered that the dynamic duo was selling the product very differently than their peers. The company had coached all the reps on selling the efficacious benefits of the new drug, something the doctors fully understood. The problem was that the doctors were reluctant to administer the drug. Xolair wasn’t a pill or an inhaler – it was administered via an intravenous drip. If you haven’t poked a needle into someone’s vein since residency it can be a little tricky (my wife is a former nurse and says “believe me”!). So the two Texas reps focused their efforts on helping the allergists and pediatricians with their intravenous technique. The doctors appreciated the effort and market share was growing to… well… Texas size*.

Of course, realizing their mistake, Genentech had all their sales reps copy the reps from Texas. They taught all the doctors how to start an intravenous drip and as all fairy tales go the market share headed straight North and all the share holders lived happily ever after – right?….Uh… Wrong. Genentech seemed to have a problem with good results and viewed the reps in Texas with suspicion. Maybe their territory was rigged or they were cheating or perhaps they were giving the doctors some unauthorized or unethical incentives. Incredibly the first reaction to a single ray of hope was to assume it was bad news!

Often when business is tough and markets are down it can be tempting to be jealous or suspicious of success. Instead we should be examining these rays of hope to see if we can glean any lessons that we can apply to the broader market. For those of you who are working hard to hold your market share as we come out of this tough market…

  1. Look for what’s working. Sometimes what’s working can be found in one small corner of your market. In our story it was two reps in Texas.
  2. Ask yourself if this is an anomaly or if it can be replicated. Market anomalies do happen and often can’t be replicated. However in our example this was no anomaly and teaching the docs to do intravenous drips was an awesome idea.
  3. Test the market. Do a limited roll out to see if other areas of the market will also accept what is working in that localized bright spot.

When a product launch isn’t going well we too often look back to R&D to fix the product where the fix needed isn’t the product it’s in how it’s being introduced to the market (marketing). As market strategists we keep looking for some magic bullet that will crack poor market results. Stop looking at the darkness; instead seek out the rays of hope!

*For the full story see “Switch; How to Change Things when Change is Hard” C Heath & D Heath

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