Group Managing Director Pang Tse-Ming and his team at EP Plus Group have mastered the art and science of marketing pharmaceutical products. Smart strategies and innovative ideas come into play.
In the RM6 billion Malaysian pharmaceutical industry, only a handful of companies specialise solely in sales and marketing. With thousands of prescription and over-the-counter products, competition is very tough. But one home-grown company, EP Plus Group, has tasted sweet success selling millions of doses of various products. Turnover has grown from RM10 million in 2005 to RM20m in 2009 and expected to reach RM60m in 2015. What is the secret recipe? Founder and Group Managing Director, Pang Tse-Ming (VCE-16 member) is not telling all, but says that strategic marketing, unwavering focus and a huge dose of innovation are the ingredients.
Established in 1997, the EP Plus Group is a marketeer specialising in selling pharmaceutical products from Europe in Southeast Asia. The group consists of two companies, i.e. EP Plus which focuses on pharmaceuticals and Parvus which focuses on aesthetics medicine. Among its principals are Ipsen from France, Vitrolife from Sweden and Alfa Wassermann from Italy. For pharmaceuticals, the company focuses in only five therapeutic areas – neuro, diabetic, respiratory, gastro and women’s health – so as to derive synergy in cross-selling. Within its portfolio are brands such as Fluimucil for strengthening lungs, Tanakan for memory improvement and Smecta anti-diarrhoea for children. To concentrate only on sales and marketing, EP Plus outsources warehousing and distribution of what they sell to another company.
“From zero to millions (in sales)” – that is the sales pitch that EP Plus pushes to brand owners, and the company has proven track records to show success. The company’s expertise starts with getting the pharmaceutical products registered with the regulatory authorities and approved for sale. Then it develops strategic marketing plans to build the brand by creating demand and carving a niche. Pang says the company uses “neuro marketing” strategies and unique customer value propositions to sell to medical specialists, general practitioners, pharmacists and hospitals. Pang elaborates that strategy is not enough. What is required is “flawless execution of strategy and aligning of the whole company to achieve objectives”. He stresses that patience and flexibility are needed for success, “If you don’t see results, don’t change the goal post, change the way you execute and align.”
The company’s marketing activities involve a lot of innovative ideas and challenges to the status quo in. For instance, instead of staid brochures with charts and men in white coats, it employs “visual dramatization” in product detailing that are attractive in colour, design and messages. To engage medical practitioners, the company creates what is called “medical edutainment”, meaning fun and educational events to educate and entertain. Instead of just serious scientific talks and seminars, the company spices up events with performances and lifestyle activities. On allegations that pharmaceutical companies use lavish gifts and all-expenses paid holidays to entice doctors, Pang steadfastly declares that EP Plus does not resort to bribes to get a product approved or sold. He points out that integrity is one of the company’s core values and everyone abides by a pledge which outlines the do’s and don’ts to avoid corruption.
What have been the major challenges to the company’s growth? Pang singles out recruiting and retaining talent. “When we first started, we could not be choosy. Now that we are no longer a SME and have developed a brand, it is a bit easier. We want to attract people with entrepreneurial spirit, innovative and believe in the company’s core values,” he explains. With offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Indonesia, the company has staff strength of close to 100. To keep staff motivated, Pang states that EP Plus follows a four-point “Employer Brand Promise” to its employees. Besides remuneration, this includes adding value to the staff’s lives, giving training opportunities and providing a conducive workplace to learn and grow. This has worked well, leading the company to the Star Business Awards (SOBA) Employer of the Year Award in 2012.
Being a Vistage member for 10 years has helped Pang to grow the business. He has learnt valuable lessons from his Vistage Chair, Richard Wong. “The most significant thing that Richard told me is not to focus just on growing the business, but focus on the people in the organisation… the people who look after the customers, then the customers will bring in the business”, he recalls. Pang adds that he has become a better leader, one that is more confident and effective, plus pays more attention to “work-life balance”.
Peer pressure also played a positive part. He reveals that he felt ‘small’ when he first joined because many of the members were CEOs from big, listed companies. But his Vistage group members constantly challenge and mentor each other to transform their businesses. This extra motivation has pushed him to grow his company by leaps and bounds.
Looking ahead, the self-driven Pang wants to reach greater heights. He is a strong believer in setting high targets because it excites him and spurs innovation. “I don’t have all the answers, but I announce it first and the answers will come,” he says.
Up next is the target to double the company’s turnover to RM120 million in three years’ time. He is not alone in this quest as he works with a six-member key leadership team to chart growth strategies. By 2020, Pang wants EP Plus to be the most desired and innovative pharmaceutical marketeer in Southeast Asia.