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Commercial Strategy under COVID-19


Grünenthal's Florent Edouard and Veeva's Jan van den Burg talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way the industry reaches and engages with its customers.

Pharm Exec speaks to Florent Edouard, SVP and global head of commercial excellence at the Grünenthal group, and Jan van den Burg, vice president for commercial strategy at Veeva in Europe, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way the industry reaches and engages with its customers.

Pharm Exec: How is Grünenthal communicating and engaging with HCPs and patients in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis? Was the company prepared for this disruptive impact?

Florent Edouard

Florent Edouard: We started our digital transformation project about 15 months ago. The focus in 2019 was really on connecting the systems. It was like digital plumbing: connecting the systems, creating the components, and setting up Veeva Vault so that we can have one repository of business components that we can reuse across the various channels and all that. We knew which direction we were going in.

With COVID-19, suddenly everyone was stuck at home, and people said to us, “Can you activate what you have been doing for the last 12 months?” At that point, we identified that the key thing we needed was the remote detailing capability, so we turned to Veeva and said, can you fast-track the implementation of that, what does it take to do it. Our teams went to work together and we were live with Veeva Engage in one month.

I think, technically, for us the crisis caused disruption and it has changed a lot of things. The older teams that are in the field, for instance, were used to working one way - they have now had to learn a new way of working, a new way of interacting. Right now, what's important is that we just don't try to push any message or any marketing or anything to the healthcare professionals. The only thing we push to them is, “If you need help, if you need support, if we can do anything, we are there for you.”

We are also preparing for the future, like building capability deeper so that in the post COVID-19 world, we can go back to the healthcare professionals with something that makes sense for them, and that is based on their interest and their remit.

Jan van den Burg

Jan van den Burg: I think there have been two categories of companies. Most companies have been preparing for the digital journey for quite some time. These companies have really accelerated what they do with regard to online meetings. But there’s a small group that hadn’t really progressed that far on the digital journey, and you can see that they’re really getting caught out on, for instance, having all content already gathered. 

Luckily, the vast majority is accelerating the overall journey they’re on. And we’ve seen that, of course, in the uptake of Veeva Engage Meeting. The number of licenses for Veeva Engage Meeting has increased by 10 times. And of course, the number of online meetings that we see started has increased phenomenally about just under 800%. Importantly, as the industry is increasingly engaging on digital and using these solutions, we don't see a drop off in the effectiveness of these solutions.

How has the crisis affected Veeva and the way it is dealing with clients?

Jan: The current situation has changed what we do; it has accelerated what we do. With the increase uptake of Veeva Engage Meeting, we’re getting greater demand around enhancements as more people are finding more opportunities to improve the product and that's what we're busy doing. An example is continuing the sampling process. We’re releasing remote signature capture for sampling. There are many other features that are being requested by our customers, so we're accelerating that process. In fact, we’re doing some interim releases to our software so deviating from our standard three times a year release process to make those functionalities available sooner to our customers. So that really has changed.

There’s also, of course, acceleration in the thinking around beyond doing remote meetings, beyond doing approved email - what other channels or what other ways of digitally engaging should we be focusing on? And so, that whole debate with the industry is accelerating.

There’s a lot of talk about the crisis creating a “new normal” in terms of how companies engage with HCPs.

Jan: I think it will be. I’ve seen some early research that is indicating how physicians may want to go back to the situation as it was before in terms of their engagement with pharma, versus others who are looking at a different way. In Germany, Across Health published data showing that just under 70% I think of physicians wanted to go back to the old situation after the crisis is over. But in other markets we see many more physicians wanting to continue as things are and not go back to the old ways of doing things.

What I’ve really noticed is that the industry is really beginning to rethink its engagement strategy and about what is driving value to the physician. That’s always been important in communication; now it’s becoming blatantly clear how important driving value is in those engagements between pharma and physicians. So, I think it will have a long-term positive effect.

Florent: I would say that the pandemic has made everyone understand that we now live in a digital world, and that collaborating with strong external partners who operate technology that is cloud-based means you don’t need to worry about having that two-year phase of building and buying. We can rent, test, learn, change – that’s the way you need to work around digital.


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