Engaging digital while retaining a human touch

The traditional commercial model of sales representatives working face-to-face with individual clients remains strong in pharma, despite well-established challenges from increasingly dominant payer power and promotional restrictions. However, the rise of digital technologies, enabling the growth of multichannel, is revolutionising the commercial model in ways other trends have not, because digital not only dramatically diversifies the channels of communication, but also sources of information. It is also fundamentally customer led.

This fundamental change – an expansion of the channels through which HCPs get information and with which pharmaceutical companies communicate, means that the commercially-facing pharmaceutical team must also change. There will inevitably be impacts for sales representatives and other customer-facing individuals, however, contrary to some fears, it will not necessarily mean the replacement of rep- or other personally-focused customer engagement activities, with digital. The most effective pharmaceutical companies will be those which thoughtfully ensure their new promotional model is one in which the customer-facing team fully integrates with digital activity to create a truly multichannel environment. As figure 1 shows, a best-in-class commercial model must have multichannel marketing maturity locked in; achieving this will mean the customer-facing team, whether sales rep, Medical Science Liaison (MSL), or others, must embrace new activities and skill sets to become fully digitally enabled.

The make-up of the customer-facing team will also change. The MSL role grows in importance as new launches for highly sophisticated, speciality products increase in number, requiring a high level of information and education for healthcare providers, and Nurse support providing patient education is becoming increasingly important as patients want more active involvement. This changes the make-up of the customerfacing team, giving new prominence to other roles alongside that of the traditional sales rep. The developed major markets – US, top 5 Europe and Japan – make up over 85% of the first five years of value sales of New Chemical Entities1, and are pharmaceutical companies’ promotional focus. Japan leads digital channel use to communicate with HCPs, and the US has followed with a strong rise in digital importance, and therefore multichannel diversity2. Europe, which is the second key region for New Chemical Entity sales, and therefore crucial for promotional investment, lags on digital share and multichannel diversity.

We found that HCP channel preference aligns to a reasonable extent with the actual channels pharmaceutical companies are using in only a minority of countries. There are more countries for which digital channels use is actually lower than HCPs want, and even two countries where digital channels are over-used, compared to HCP preference.

Can the industry achieve greater efficiencies by listening and responding to what doctors say they prefer? What might the benefits be for first movers adjusting channel mix to match customer need?

Accelerating multichannel maturity

Our research into the drivers of, and barriers to, multichannel maturity shows that time and again the customer-facing team can be either the best advocate for digital enablement or its most implacable foe. It is all about the way in which the customerfacing team is engaged on digital enablement and the motivations it is given to embrace change. One interviewee noted, “The hardest thing was to convince the sales team that by introducing digital we weren’t seeking to replace their jobs.” Companies need to ensure the sales team is on-side – which requires the sales team to change what it does.

One of these changes is the use of remote or virtual e-detailing. Our research3 shows that once HCPs have experienced this channel, they are receptive to it for a number of reasons. HCPs said e-detailing saved them time and provided flexibility for scheduling and location. However, while HCPs find remote e-detailing effective and convenient, they do not want it to replace face-to-face interaction. Instead, research showed that a healthy mix of channels is most effective, with HCPs expressing a desire to spend 50% of their time on e-detailing discussions and the other 50% on face-to-face contact. The challenge of today’s pharma commercial model is to successfully meet customer needs by connecting through a range of channels, and understanding how they can be complementary.

Pioneers of multichannel initiatives show how digital and face-to-face interactions can integrate, maintaining the human touch while successfully implementing digital to enhance the rep’s effectiveness and reach, without the concomitant substantial increase in costs. Crucially, digital can be used to extend the rep-doctor relationship, and even personalise it further, by collecting and responding to HCP feedback.

Integration is key; multichannel does not work if digital is treated separately from traditional approaches. In one striking example of how digital and face-to-face interactions can be integrated, the successful development of multichannel was driven by a truly multifunctional approach which combined different skill sets into a specially organised multichannel marketing (MCM) team, focused on empowering the salesforce. Sales reps were engaged from the early stages of planning and multichannel rep ‘ambassadors’ liaised with the MCM team while also supporting colleagues in regional teams. The key was to change the perception of digital from a threat into an opportunity to enhance the rep’s role with digital tools that he or she controls.

One simple way to integrate digital technologies with face-to-face interactions is through the use of digital supporting material presented on devices such as laptops and tablets. This allows reps to have easy and rapid access to a wider range of information during the detail to tailor the discussion to the doctor’s preference in real time. This enables reps to better engage the HCP, leading to more meaningful interactions. Our analysis shows that details utilising digital supporting materials are on average 72% longer than those using traditional supporting materials such as print (figure 2). This is a strong and credible argument for convincing reps of the value of integrating digital into their roles.

At the core of the successful initiative above was the content of the digital interactions. Deeper insight is needed into what HCPs want to help them in their day-to-day work, and digital provides a highly effective feedback loop on what content they value. Reps were further given the option to personalise digital content. By adding their name to content which is shared with the HCP, the reps can further their own relationships.

Supporting technologies are crucial to such multichannel projects, providing a 360 degree view on doctors’ interactions through the various channels. Data collected in this way provides vital insights, such as optimal time for message delivery, or preferred delivery model. Monitoring progress and impact across promotional campaigns will allow companies to build a body of knowledge about what works and where in the multichannel world.