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The unpredictable, yet exciting and transformative world of market research

The path from market access to market research may not seem obvious to the casual observer, but for Sarah Jones, head of projects at Gatehouse ICS, the overlap has been clear. The way professionals in both fields approach the research, the kinds of conversations they have and the objectives of those conversations are all very aligned.

Sarah’s market access roles in industry meant defining a value proposition, sharing it with payers, gathering their thoughts and opinions on where the product might sit in a patient pathway, and defining what processes would need to be covered to create access for patients. Similarly, the true value from market research involves understanding optimal access for a company’s product. In market research, this is achieved by exploring the perspective of respondents and relating that to the objectives of the sponsor company.

Market research, Sarah says, is about being inquisitive and understanding the scope of the questions needing to be asked in order to gather as many insights from key stakeholders as possible. Having a market access background gives the researcher an understanding of the healthcare system and the processes so they can ask for further details when it is appropriate and therefore provide a well-rounded set of insights for the sponsoring company to work from to make their decisions.

Misperception, value and expertise: Mitigating challenges

Market research is key to informing decision-making about a product, but there are hurdles that must be overcome. The first is perception. For many people market research conjures images of someone with a clipboard stopping you in the street, or being sent a random survey to complete via email. My colleagues and I address this by helping participants understand what is involved, the value that their insights bring, that they will be reimbursed for their time and that all guidelines are being adhered to, including ensuring interactions are ethical and are anonymous wherever possible. Within the life sciences sector, many participants are aligned with the need to support innovation and hopefully they feel empowered that by providing their insights and sharing their knowledge and experience they can contribute to appropriately shaping those innovations being developed for the market.

One issue we sometimes see from sponsor companies is having a predetermined idea of what the insights will tell them. It’s not unusual to find that the insights gleaned do not tell them what they anticipated, which might mean considering the need to change their plans to ensure optimal access for their product or taking a different direction with their clinical trials. Those types of changes can present a big hurdle for companies.

The fair market value rates (FMV) can be a challenge because there isn’t always a category that succinctly captures the activity of market research, nor is there a widely accepted standard or methodology to determine FMV for market research. Unfortunately, incentive rates are not often set out with consideration for market research, so there's sometimes a grey area that has to be discussed to help people understand the value of the market research insights.

Finding the right expertise to inform decisions can also be a challenge. Sponsor companies often have quite a siloed view of which roles are needed to inform the insights and overlook roles that would have a valid point of view. The next challenge is finding the people who would offer valuable insights and persuading them to participate. Those people also need to be able to clearly articulate these so the market research captures succinct, clear information.

Finally, there is the challenge of finding moderators who understand and are familiar with the markets and the different healthcare systems, as well as, potentially, the therapy areas. Having this level of expertise involved in moderating ensures the right questions are asked, that the topic is covered deeply enough to gather sufficient insights and that any details that need to be clarified are followed up on.

Expect the worst, hope for the best: Preparing a market research interview

You would always hope that the first interview conducted is a perfect one, flows well, uncovers exactly the sort of details that were aimed for and allows reassurance to the sponsor that their investment in the market research is going to be a valuable one. A great outcome is an interview that throws a few curveballs or unexpected insights, since this is where the true value of market research lies, uncovering details and considerations that were not anticipated or considered.

Another issue is language barriers, which can be expensive in market research if translations of questions, any pre-read and stimulus materials are required into local language, with the translation of responses back to the English language afterwards. Screening people for comfort and ability to conduct the interview in English is a solution, although not always a perfect one if discussing a highly technical therapy area where the challenge of communicating in a second language can increase. Here it is important for moderators to be patient and know when to pause and let the person being interviewed find the right terminology, rather than rush them through the interview.

While market researchers need to adapt to language barriers, they also need to consider different personality types. An analytical person might want to get straight to the point, while a more ideas-oriented person might use lots of examples, with descriptive language. A good market researcher learns to adjust their moderating style accordingly and bring out the value of the participant’s experience no matter their style.

One other issue to overcome that is specific to the life sciences industry is mistrust, particularly if clinicians or payers have had negative experiences in the past. In this situation, it’s important to offer assurance that the guidelines are being strictly adhered to and to follow gold standard practices in every market you are working in. Another important consideration is screening criteria. If these are too burdensome and narrowly defined, it can be off-putting.

Market research can be hugely rewarding. It provides insights and connections to many different people to uncover a wide range of topics. At the end of each conversation, you come away with a greater understanding of and insight into their world. It’s those insights and that knowledge that can make all the difference to decision-making.