Creating Connections: AstraZeneca's Digital Transition

February 8, 2021
Julian Upton

Julian Upton is Pharmaceutical Executive's Online and European Editor. He can be reached at jupton@mjhlifesciences.com

Melissa Fellner of AstraZeneca and Leonie Goddard of Veeva, talk to Pharm Exec about how AZ’s mission to transform its digital strategies to better connect with customers.

Melissa Fellner, global marketing director, respiratory & immunology at AstraZeneca, and Leonie Goddard, senior business consultant at Veeva, talk to Pharm Exec about how AZ’s mission to transform its digital strategies to better connect with customers.

PharmExec: Can you outline how your digital transition efforts changed during the pandemic? What strategies have been prioritized and expedited?

Melissa Fellner:
From a prioritization perspective, what was really important was pivoting to digital, which is a common theme across pharma this past year. Our typical face-to-face engagement, which was one of the most impactful ways to connect with healthcare professionals (HCP), had to go virtual. We needed a lot of training, we needed to leverage technology in new ways, and to work with new platforms. We had to teach people how to sell virtually, which is very different from selling face-to-face. One of the interesting outcomes the industry has seen was that salespeople had more time with their HCPs. For us this created an opportunity to check in with HCPs as people and get to know them better and build trust . With the extra time we also found that field team members could have a deeper and highly relevant conversations with customers to better meet their needs.

Presumably the sales shift to a digital approach was also underway before the pandemic?

Melissa: There was definitely movement towards it, but the adoption was low. Some of the digital tools were available and there was some training available, but because people didn't believe in it as a methodology and it was perceived to be less impactful, they weren’t as willing to use it until they had to. There has been a hesitancy among reps, for example, to send lots of emails to doctors because they feel like it's burdening and overwhelming the doctor. And reps are very aware, especially in larger pharma companies, that there may be multiple team members talking to doctors from different brands.

We found that virtual sales can be just as impactful. It can bring value and it can “connect the story” more; it can help customers overcome barriers and help them provide better care and appropriate treatments for their patients. In the future, as we’ll see across the industry, a hybrid approach will prevail. Virtual selling could be a wholesale replacement for face-to-face for some stakeholders; for others, it can enhance and supplement face-to-face selling.

How does pharma go about changing that a rep mindset? Is that something that necessarily takes a longer time than technology training?

Melissa: It doesn't have to take a long time. We took the idea of a customer-centric approach and brought sales team members into the development of that approach, in collaboration with a cross-functional team. This gave everyone a voice and brought necessary diversity to determine the best tools to use and how these would help facilitate a more personalized discussion with customers. That was a big part of the process, as well as other aspects of change management, such as having the right training.

What would you say AZ — and pharma broadly — still needs to achieve to truly improve the customer experience?

Melissa: There are internal and external customers. With internal customers, one of the things that we've talked about with the Veeva team is how to create technology that is really easy, almost passive, to use in order to better understand and serve our customers, so that the internal teams don't feel the extra burden of trying to drive that. With our external customers, the more that we can understand about them and their needs, the better we can tailor our communications through the right channels at the right time with the right content. The customer experience is not just face-to-face or based in a physical location anymore; a lot of it’s happening online. This creates opportunities to tell a brand story over time through multiple connected channels to ensure that what is shared with customers throughout their journey is adding value and impactful.

Just to add Veeva to the conversation, how did you work with AZ to implement these changes?

Leonie Goddard: The role that we played with AZ was concerned more with “What does it really mean to deliver a digital omnichannel experience and how can it be delivered effectively through Veeva tools?” It was really about helping the customer to understand not only what they have and what it can do, but also its full potential of this, and to share the best-in-class industry insights we've garnered from working across the industry. It was about providing tangible ways to help AZ teams on the ground to get more out of their Veeva suite to engage HCPs in a more effective way.

The COVID pandemic has been an accelerator with regard to digital transition. How else has it changed your role? How different is your role from a year ago?

What we’re now asking is how do we create a whole connected experience for patients, for doctors and for other stakeholders, such as pharmacists and nurses and office administrators. The need to support patients in different ways and with additional services has allowed pharma to engage more healthcare team members to create solutions for patient needs.

Putting that question to Veeva as well, how has the pandemic changed Veeva’s position?

Leonie: COVID has been an accelerator of technology, but it’s also accelerated Veeva’s positioning in terms of partnering with customers, particularly customers such as AZ. With our new consulting arm, we’ve become more of a strategic partner to help customers get value out from their tools and solutions. For example, we have been working with customers in optimizing digital channels through the pandemic. Typically, we start by helping customers understand physically how to use the new channel. Then we help them optimize and deliver effectively through that channel. And we have been working with companies to build the organizational structure to use that channel effectively at scale. I’d say that, over the last year, we have been able to accelerate and transform the support we give to our customers.