While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to in-person selling for pharma companies, it has a created a new opportunity for reps to rethink and adapt to new strategies.
It’s easier to close a browser than the door. Tens of thousands of pharmaceutical sales reps across the industry are locked out of access to physician offices. How do they continue to succeed without being able to make face-to-face contact?
COVID-19 has done a lot of bad things to our world, affecting everything from transport and entertainment to our national economy, and of course the devastating health impact. Despite these ongoing challenges, it has also revealed opportunities for efficiency and value in the healthcare chain, with virtual health being a prime example.
Looking through the lens of pharma/manufacturers, this seismic shift has, in a few months, collapsed something that took decades to develop: the in-person selling model. A change of this significance offers an opportunity to adapt, but through a strategic rethink, not just the addition of tactical solutions, such as video calls.
For many in pharma/manufacturing, these opportunities fall into the realm of a now overused term ‘experience.’ In other words, how can brands successfully adapt their customer engagement experience?
REVAMP (Remote Engagement through Value Added Marketing for Payers/Professionals/Patients):
An approach that advocates for a revised view of pharma marketing within a remote engagement framework. Here are some examples:
It’s important to make the distinction between the service itself and being able to access it in a seamless, on demand, ‘always on’ manner. For example, it’s great to have a brand-enabled at-home visit from a nurse for administration and monitoring, but it’s another for a chatbot to suggest it and schedule it in real time.
Platforms, different from one-off services, are data- and content-driven, where contributors and consumers create value through participation. These platforms are powered by data and value is created by enabling an exchange between creator and customer.
The systems at the core of a REVAMP effort require a transition to being ‘always on’ -- they use behavioral data, integrate cross-channel access, and engage dynamically to allow interdepartmental connections between sales and patient support.
The idea of an ‘always on’ platform operates on two levels -- access and value creation. To better understand pharma sales and marketing as a platform, I’d like to compare it to an app store. Except, instead of offering apps to be selected by the customer, the pharma store would include all customer interactions. The key enhancement for such a ‘store’ is that the apps would share data and allow real time remote access to features across the ‘apps’ or touchpoints. These touchpoints would include salesforce details, personalized emails, virtual booths, speaker meetings, sample orders, bill and buy tracking, reimbursement support, and other functional goal-oriented interactions. All these interactions are digital, trackable, and support a shared master data set about the customer.
The relationship-based sell is a function that has outlived its usefulness. Of course, relationships are important. But creating real world value will always win over small talk, especially at a time of crisis. Clinical relevance and depth is what customers value. Pharma reps are being forced to take a hard stare at how to deliver on this, especially with high-decile prescribers who might already be familiar with the data and talking points on the product profile. What’s wanted now is real world evidence, best practices on practicing telemedicine, innovative and effective ways of providing remote care and monitoring, and of course, outcomes. Pharma must rebalance the rep to medical science liaison staffing ratios and adapt marketing plans to be content-centric rather than message-centric.
In other words, clinical content needs to go beyond topline messages and data which can be gleaned from a cursory read of the product profile. Now that face to face social interactions don’t translate to remote engagement, it’s more imperative that real world opinions, evidence, and patient experience come alive in a way that is clinically relevant and meaningful to a treater. The shift from selling to listening, sharing, and supporting is not an easy one, but that is what the customer demands in the post COVID world.
“Patients first” is a mantra that is etched on the walls of big pharma, just as it is in the hearts of every conscientious doctor. The most profound shifts in engagement will take place if only we truly embrace that idea. First out of the gate would be for pharma NOT to engage with physicians during work hours. There are too few doctors, too many patients, and too little time to sufficiently care for them. With the always-on world of remote engagement, unfettered by geographical and physical constraints, reps must now engage before or after hours and connect with physicians when they’re involved in research, CME or other non-clinic times, such as lunch hour.
With the pressure of an increasingly unsustainable patient load on most physicians, it’s both a matter of pragmatism and high principle that pharma plays a supportive role to the professional’s daily schedule rather than a disruptive one. And I suspect the steadily declining call times might even tick upwards by doing so.
I stay hopeful that the ills brought upon us by this pandemic will continue to inspire innovation, but there are several essential steps that pharma can take now. The new focus must be upon laying a new foundation that will provide better and more efficient care, while driving improved outcomes. Remote engagement can lead to value-added marketing if it’s approached with a new mindset. By using a REVAMP approach, a decades-old system can emerge improved and more effective for both the reps and their customers.
Prodeep Bose, Growth and Innovation lead at The Bloc