Analytics and Influence – The Importance of Why

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As a management consultant, I was taught to use the technique of the “Five Whys” to get to the root cause of my client’s issue. Oftentimes, what people first say doesn’t exactly get to the heart of the matter. The idea behind the practice is to get to the root of what the issue truly is by asking “why” a number of times.

As a Pharma analytics professional for over a decade, I’ve applied this practice to my internal customers as well. How often is it that we receive a phone call from the Field saying that a metric is just plain wrong (usually negatively against the caller)? Or, what about the call from the VP of Sales saying he is convinced something isn’t working right, like the call plan? I’ve often found that it is much better to ask “why” a number of times before sending my team into a flurry of data pulling and analysis to validate a superficial and expansive concern.

In the latter example – with the VP of Sales – politely asking why may have revealed that he felt sales were not meeting his expectations. Okay, so that may be true. Why else might he think there is a problem? Well, he heard from the reps that top decile doctors were not seeing them as frequently. Why is that? Well, he has concerns over the messaging that is being delivered during the call. Ok, good to know. Does he have any other concerns? Yes, he learned of isolated instances of our drug not being approved by the payer. . . And so the questioning continues until I can get to the root cause(s) of his concern.

So as you can see, we went from a very generic concern to specific issues that could be further investigated. In this case, I can hone the analysis down to a variety of angles. I would look at sales of top docs called on vs. not called on. I’d partner with my market research colleagues to ascertain what they are learning from messaging effectiveness. And, I would obtain payer approval data from my SPs to see if my drug was being rejected at some SPs more than others.

What might result from this cross-functional analysis is the following: reps are calling on mid-tier docs at the expense of top tier. Those top-tier docs called on are still writing. Market research reveals that doctors have the incorrect impression that the competitor drug is safer than ours. And, analysis of the SP payer data tells us that the staff at certain SPs is not trained properly on the prior authorization process to get our drug approved.

So with the analysis end done, having all this data across multiple spreadsheets may provide the answers, but it’s not the way to influence the stakeholders. I’ve sat in meetings where analysts (clearly proud of their hard work) displayed tab after tab of workbooks that made perfect sense to them, but overwhelmed the audience. I’ve found the better way is by telling the story via PowerPoint, with select, impactful charts and graphs to underline the major points.

So in our example, start with a synapsis of the concerns. Show the VP of Sales how prescriptions are changing. Break it down by called on vs. non-called on doctors. Weave in the market research results. Display a scorecard of average payer approval rates by SP. Make it simple and easy to understand – with back-up slides of the detailed data.

Then, end with a clear list of action items. Get the Field to call on those top docs. Provide them with safety data in their messaging. Train the SP’s and regularly measure their performance on prior authorizations approvals.

In the end, a few minutes spent up front can reveal a bevy of information that can inform and direct the analysis. It shows that you’ve become more than the analytics “order taker” and have the curiosity and vigor to get beneath the covers to find the true source of concern – and then provide the means to clearly explain it, provide recommendations, and impact the business in a very positive, yet efficient, manner.

It all starts with asking “why.”