You don’t want to focus on a Plan B

Pharmacies need to focus on having the best plan A and not hedging their bets on other options, say Bruce Annabel and Mal Scrymgeour

Recently we discussed a topic that was almost pointless, it ended up simply an affirmation of our existing thinking. The subject we chatted about was having a winning plan.

A lot of people like a plan, along with alteration options—just in case. As soon as there is an alternative plan, your effort is divided, time is split, resource is compromised and that means plan A doesn’t get the best chance of succeeding.

The best option is to have an extremely robust plan A that becomes your absolute focus. No other options. No safety-net. No plan B.

To illustrate a real-life example of no plan B, when some aircraft types fly from Australia to Antarctica, they don’t have enough fuel for the round trip. During the flight, they arrive at what is known as the Point of No Return (PNR). At this point, the aircraft doesn’t have enough fuel to return safely back to Australia.

Beyond this point they must make plan A work. There is no alternative, there is no plan B. Plan A becomes the total focus. A complete white out on the ice doesn’t change plan A. There are no options. It must work. Plan A gets all the focus, all the thought and all the effort.

You might think plan A is to land on the ice, but it’s not; it is to always land safely. Landing safely somewhere else is executing plan A perfectly.

Pharmacy’s plan A and plan B

Our view is that for community pharmacy’s plan A is to focus on providing the best patient health outcomes. Plan B, such as being a soft discounter or having an extensive gift offer is proven not to do those things and it delivers unsatisfactory financial results. We’ve written numerous articles, including one last month, explaining this.

COVID-19 might be the perfect reason, or excuse, to veer away from plan A. Make no mistake, COVID-19 is a disaster and it has required virtually every business to pivot and change. However, the best businesses are not changing from their plan A; what has changed is how plan A is delivered.

The disaster that is COVID-19 has meant rapid and dramatic change. Much of the change is structural and permanent. For example, online is suddenly critical, including, in some cases, online delivery which might be a new part of how you change how you deliver plan A. If your location isn’t working, then you might need to make a painful decision on how you deliver your plan. It’s worth noting that a great plan A means the objective itself does not change. Execution may. Those who remain steadfast in delivering and adapting in how they deliver plan A will succeed. Those that divert effort, energy, thinking time and effort into plan B imperil plan A’s success.

We know some pharmacists are upset at not being paid enough to do phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccinations. For the first time in living memory, if not ever, there is a federal government sponsored campaign to drive patients and potential patients into your pharmacy. It is the ultimate in marketing—a sampling campaign of your service, your offer and your ability to help patients that have never visited you before. It’s free. And you get paid to do it.

You can decide to regard COVID-19 for what it is, a truly world altering, global tragedy. Or you might decide that it presents a different way to deliver and showcase your plan A—providing the best patient health outcomes.

Plan A: the top 10

Here are our top 10 ways to deliver plan A:

1. Range—health outcome products and categories.

2. Price—don’t discount health products. You don’t need to.

3. Stock—being in stock is the new black particularly items sought during periods of patient panic.
These include, hopefully historically, ready supplies of masks, health solution products and, critically, vaccines—including flu and, shortly, the Astra Zeneca SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

4. Service—Rx at the front—if there is ever a time to do this, it is now, with this new ‘sampling campaign’.
These are very uncertain times and patients want every slither of reassurance that pharmacists can offer.

5. Standards—immaculate store presentation standards—clean, faced, priced, well-lit and well-merchandised, with staff presented to a high standard.

6. Layout—as we’ve mentioned previously, invest and change your pharmacy layout to focus on health. Use the tax write-off incentive.

7. Health Services—add on the ones that customers value in your trade area.

8. Consultancy Services—add consulting space.

9. Omni-channel—determine your online service and presence.

10. Communication—tell people what you do and how you do it

All about leadership

Delivering plan A all comes back to the leadership of the pharmacy owner and their managers along with the business model they are executing. What won’t work is a prescriptive rules-based approach that prevents pharmacists from offering a high standard of patient health solution service advice. A culture of allowing pharmacists to work flexibly and apply their knowledge in solving patient issues is what patients need and want.

Having a proactive, professional service approach clearly based on wanting to help and reassure patients delivers superior results—they are delivering plan A.

A winning plan A includes accentuating the opportunity to help and willingly engage with people. Where there is a small minority of customers who are often distressed about stock outs, this can be mitigated by over-stocking on the fast-moving essentials. Being in stock, with less focus on price as the value driver, is the new black.

A critical element we observe in the most successful plan A pharmacies is leadership committed, even to the point of obsession, to helping people. Important aspects of this leadership are:

  1. Being clear about the purpose of the pharmacy and the problems they want to solve.
  2. Getting the HR right—understand the issues impacting patients and how to go about solving them.
  3. Getting the day-to-day, patient-to-patient behaviours aligned.
  4. Instilling the knowledge required by pharmacists to solving the problems identified. This includes training, role plays, hand-holding in the pharmacy with patients and supported by online modules.
  5. Reviewing the data, principally non‑financial key behavioural indicators and then the financial outcomes. Begin by observing the input drivers (soft measures) of the outcomes rather than just slavishly looking at financial KPIs. Financial performance is the result of your actions and soft skills.

A winning plan

What we have defined as plan A is the most successful professional and financial model available to pharmacy. Plan B hasn’t worked and doesn’t work. With JobKeeper being removed, other than for targeted support, it is likely the economy will experience ongoing unemployment and business failures.

Pharmacy must be ready with plan A to support their patients and help them solve problems and reassure them as the vaccine rolls out.

If 2020 was the year of the lockdown(s), 2021 will be the year of uncertainty. Pharmacies and pharmacists adopting plan A will play an incredibly valuable role in helping people manage through these times. To make plan A your absolute focus and to make it successful, remember your starting point, that is to have no plan B.


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