In 2020, the pandemic forced a dramatic switch to a 100 percent remote commercial model for the pharmaceutical industry virtually overnight. While many digital technologies had already been evaluated or implemented by pharmaceutical companies, this event accelerated a digital-first approach with many enterprises deploying and scaling new technologies in days; events that would previously have taken months or years.
Today, even individuals that were digital novices a year ago can navigate the myriad of technologies that help people connect, communicate and engage in all aspects of life. Health care professionals (HCPs) are consumers too and they also prefer new ways of engaging life science companies with similar customer experiences and levels of customer satisfaction.
In the traditional pharmaceutical model, to drive awareness, trial, and usage, sales representatives would push out information about treatment to all the HCPs in their territory to ensure that they were aware of the relevant details of the particular drug and the associated patient benefits for the appropriate patient type. Competing pharmaceutical representatives would set up meetings or provide unsolicited information about why an HCP should choose their product – like making a case for Coke over Pepsi. Much of this activity was based on the sales representatives’ knowledge and experience with the HCPs in the territory and driven by static target lists and goals.
Access to HCPs had already been decreasing before the pandemic and recent events have only exacerbated this challenge. Today, HCPs are burdened with increased responsibility to their patients and practices while trying to manage the flood of information they receive over the available digital channels that life science companies have turned to in place of personal interactions. It is not unreasonable to anticipate that HCPs will soon characterize the success of a relationship with a pharmaceutical representative not by the amount of information they provide but by the relevance, quality, and speed with which they can provide access to the information they need.
The good news is that the pharmaceutical model is changing. As companies look to innovators like Netflix for inspiration, new platforms are being launched to put the HCP in control. The model is shifting from “push to pull” and today, secure portals can warehouse libraries of information that are not only available whenever the HCP needs access but are also enabled with technology to make recommendations for new relevant content based on what has been viewed previously.
Today’s “Coke vs Pepsi” might be the Pfizer vaccine compared to the Moderna vaccine but without a patient “taste test.” As patients continue to become more involved in their own health care, HCPs may need to be ready to answer critical questions about available treatment options and pharmaceutical representatives will need to be armed to provide quick access to the best information and treatment plans.
The new opportunity for representatives will be to learn from the synthesis of inbound customer requests across websites, portals, and historical engagements to anticipate future HCP needs and channel preferences. Digital technology can analyze data and make recommendations for the “next best action” a sales representative can take based on HCP user profiles, practice details, unique preferences, and behaviors. It would be as if a novice chess player were instantly capable of expert moves and an experienced chess player immediately became a grandmaster. And while insight in the past may have been difficult to apply, today’s solutions embed intelligence right within the end-user workflow. By surfacing insight like content suggestions or recommending the best delivery channel, Sales Reps can optimize their HCP interactions with greater speed and efficiency right from within their existing application. Representatives can now break through the “digital noise” by providing personalized, contextualized content at the right time and place to encourage deeper HCP engagement.
As companies weigh the benefits of adopting new technologies, one of the most fundamental considerations will be how the technology helps create a richer customer experience while driving efficiencies for sales teams. In keeping with the growing “Netflix” experience desired by HCP customers, an effective solution should offer decision intelligence supported by insight that’s continuously learning, providing performance feedback to adjust as needed across commercial operations.
This feedback loop helps organizations understand, plan, implement and adjust their commercial activities on a continuous basis providing the optimal experience for HCPs and internal teams alike. The benefits reach beyond sales teams to include all customer-facing positions in an organization – marketing teams can tailor outreach with the most appropriate content and invite HCPs to the most relevant events. This may be followed by recommendations for other professionals like MSLs or KOLs to engage the HCP to reinforce scientific details to meet their needs, thereby creating a superior customer experience.
All these digital solutions will need to meet the specific demands of the life science industry by being secure and compliant to meet the specific requirements of the highly regulated healthcare and life science industries. At the same time, these solutions should be flexible enough to be used as the primary channel for HCP engagement when needed and easily scaled back as restrictions ease and in-person meetings find their way into the engagement mix.
In the past year, digital solutions have been implemented at warp speed and in the coming years, the new challenge will be how to optimize and scale available solutions to create superior customer engagement. The sales representative will continue to play a critical role in the overall relationship: with an effective strategy and the right tools to back it up, agile, data-driven partnerships between pharmaceutical representatives and HCPs can drive a more patient-centric engagement model well into the future.
About Andrew Ploszay, PhD
Dr. Andrew “AJ” Ploszay, leads the Digital Office at IQVIA, the leading provider of information technology services and contract research to the life sciences industry. AJ is responsible for creating the digital strategy and driving the digital transformation for IQVIA Technologies. Further, AJ sets the strategic direction for IQVIA Technologies’ Digital Office, responsible for the evolution of our technology portfolio, patient engagement strategy, customer experience (UX/UI), marketing, and go-to-market capabilities.