Digital selling: The value of data and analytics

Julian Tompkins on the introduction of digital selling

The pharma industry is increasingly expected to offer flexibility in the way it engages healthcare providers while meeting an increased demand for demonstrable value of drug products. What challenges do pharma sales teams face in the post-blockbuster age of digital selling?

Pharma’s ‘new’ challenge

Advances in diagnostics and the efficacy of treatments means people are living longer and better than ever. Growing expectations and dependency on medication and the fact that fewer people are funding healthcare is causing funding issues. Pricing, reimbursement and market access therefore remain the pharma industry’s core challenges.

In recent years, blockbuster products have been the foundation of big pharma business. The success of such products means they have dictated a simple, catch-all approach to commercial models. This is being challenged in two fundamental ways.

“It may take a few years for the switch to digital-led HCP engagement to fully take hold – but it will happen, subtly and then all at once”

Firstly, the blockbusters of tomorrow will look different to those of yesterday. The market opportunity for drug makers is in immunology, oncology, rare diseases and orphan indication, with much of R&D spend happening in the specialist space.

Invariably these treatments come with substantial price tags, creating an inherent conflict between the need for these drugs and the burden on healthcare economies around the world when it comes to managing the affordability of the treatments. The pressure on pricing and margins is growing.

Secondly, some blockbuster drugs are facing real competition for the first time from biosimilar developers.

The challenge for pharma businesses is to manage these conflicts and sell in the emerging space. Traditional commercial models are no longer as fit for purpose and drug companies now need to demonstrate the real impact of their products in new ways to a range of stakeholders with unique wants, preferences and regulatory constraints.

A tailored approach

The holy grail for pharma sales teams is to comprehensively understand the multichannel engagement mix for each individual customer and create tailored approaches that maximise return on investment (ROI). The more customised a sales journey is, the greater the profitability it will offer. It is this desire that is fuelling the focus on digital selling as it inherently offers more and better data, more quickly.

With drug makers migrating into the same highly competitive space, they will be competing for marginal gains across new product portfolios. In this increasingly competitive environment, the differentiator for pharma businesses will be in the marketing and supporting services they offer.

This requires a move away from a simple commercial model that focuses on brand awareness. The sales representative backed with adverts and promotional materials that communicate a product’s value proposition is gradually being replaced with multi-channel, often digitally enabled models.

Integrated models

Many companies have started to adopt this multichannel approach and incorporate more digital activity including the use of social media, online, mobile apps and email into sales activity. However, few are integrating their efforts and fewer still are using data effectively to inform their campaigns and encourage digital selling.

Commercial models rely on a multitude of roles, and they all need to function collaboratively to be at their most effective. Everyone from primary care representatives and patient service teams to contact centre operators and trainers need to be similarly specialised.

Commercial teams need to be more astute at acquiring, interpreting and circulating data to inform a more nuanced approach and understand what is working, and in which markets – ultimately this information will influence budgetary decisions and the approach that a sales team takes.

Flexibility and scalability are pillars on which every commercial model will need to be built. To make best use of marketing assets, pharma businesses need to be able to develop and respond to insights on products and market performance. This means that the ability to significantly scale back or ramp up specific activity is essential.

Future of commercial models

Businesses that are slow to adapt may not have any immediate problems; it may take a few years for the switch to digital-led HCP engagement to fully take hold – but it will happen, subtly and then all at once.

At that point, the traditional one-size-fits-all approach will lead to reduced uptake of new products and a rapid marginalisation of legacy products.

While some larger companies have the resources to trial different models, specialist commercial service providers are positioning themselves as strategic partners that can accelerate experimentation with digital selling models and identify ROI more quickly by integrating campaigns and providing analytical tools.

Outsourced partners can be more responsive, often operate in more countries with greater market access and have more people in the right roles. Together, this means that in many cases they can provide a more cost-effective and efficient route to engaging HCPs with the optimal multichannel model.


Digital selling: The value of data and analytics. Julian Tompkins is President of Ashfield Commercial and Patient Solutions.

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