Commercialization: A Mindset, Not a Function

by Marnie Hoolahan, September 2021

In April of this year, our e-conversation, titled “The ‘First Hire Puzzle’ of Commercialization,” examined the topic of which commercialization support role is best, depending on an organization’s phase and size. That post generated much discussion and inspired me to dig a little deeper, specifically on New Product Planning (NPP).  

In short, I discovered that, especially in early-stage companies with nascent revenue-producing product experience (e.g., oncology, rare disease), the NPP role as traditionally defined is no longer adequate. As Sue likes to say, it is the first leg of a much longer relay — a relay that requires a broader perspective, greater experience, and deeper understanding of what we refer to as “early commercialization planning.”

A Changing Landscape

Way back in 1996, I was hired as NPP Manager for a small company called Geltex. The job description was both broad (the “commercial lens” was to be applied in a holistic, strategic manner) and narrow (my focus was on a pipeline of assets in early development, not the later-stage asset). 

Back then, NPP was a well-established role, one that offered a “commercial” perspective on business development opportunities; provided insights with the program team to drive development of a target product profile (typically acquired from qualitative discussions with physicians, payers, and patients); assessed competition; and leveraged an understanding of what makes a product commercially viable as it transitioned from assets coming out of Research and moving into Development.

Fast-forward 25 years (gosh, when did that happen?), and the people in NPP today are still primarily in it for the “traditional” 1996 aspects of the job, all previously described. The reality, however, is that it’s a different world now; external trends are impacting the way we work (with the rapid evolution of digital, changing business models, and increasing talent acquisition challenges).

Those managing or hiring for the role have a very different expectation of the responsibilities required, leading to the potential for frustration for both the company and those asked to do the job.

Consider these recent perspectives from conversations with current NPP professionals:

“What the company is asking me to do is something that an experienced inline marketing person would have done in a prior job. That is not my skill set nor training, and although I have a seat at the table, I am not confident in delivering an opinion when I have no experience to fall back on.” 

“They hired me to support the early pipeline of assets, but now we have regulatory opportunity to advance a late-stage asset in a highly competitive oncology indication, and I am asked to drive the brand strategy and planning. My skill sets are different… I am not confident being the brand planning person three years out.”

Those discussions, our rapidly evolving business environment, and other considerations made me wonder if there is a need to establish an additional or nuanced role in our industry — one focused on Early Commercialization Planning that addresses some evolving models.

A Different Profile

At The NemetzGroup, we define commercialization as follows: 

An orientation and ethos that pervades all aspects of development and preparation towards bringing a product to market and, ultimately, optimizing its value for patients and the company.

In other words, it is not a “point in time” but a mindset or way of thinking and prioritizing.

Historically, it seemed the passion and interest that motivates the person in the “traditional” NPP role was focused on broadly applying corporate strategy in the context of multiple assets and supporting commercially-informed R&D decisions.

These may not be the same individuals inspired by creating the single asset brand strategy, aligned across multiple stakeholders, inclusive of early and late tactical execution — nor do these individuals generally have the broad commercialization exposure required to support an accelerated cross-functional launch plan. Further, and because individuals in these roles are often situated within organizations that don’t have much, if any, commercialization experience, they are left as the only commercial-thinking person in the company. 

In the areas of oncology and rare disease, in particular, where the speed of development is faster, the involvement of other stakeholders is greater (e.g., physicians, patients, market access), and the presence of a single asset/first time to market company is more likely — it is essential that the role is considered one of early commercialization planning.

We see this role as leveraging a spectrum of cross-functional experience and managing the process across the entire drug development continuum while ensuring that the asset will be commercially viable (i.e., prescribed, used, and advocated for). 

As my colleague Jim Whalen likes to say, every asset requires “activation energy!” Only then can the asset achieve its objectives and the organization reach its vision.

Final Thoughts

The traditional NPP approach has served our industry well and, in many situations, it still does.

But we believe that the time has come to define a different, multi-dimensional role for those fast-moving or pre-commercial companies that require it. 


Posted in All Categories, Organizational Development and Culture, Strategy and Planning