The impact of new digital customer engagement on front-line pharma

The impact of new digital customer engagement on front-line pharma

Ian Robinson and Mark Jones explore how this new digital era will impact engagement for front-line employees in pharma and why now might be time for the entrepreneur to shine.

As organisations cast an anxious eye to the future, the million-dollar question many business leaders are asking is, “How can we rebuild and sustain meaningful and ongoing engagement with our customers?”. We know that the focus of the past fifteen months has been the development of specific skills that enable some degree of interaction to continue, however this was grounded in the need to maintain business continuity. Alongside this, the rush towards digital platforms and the increasing digital contact points for healthcare professionals (HCPs) has been front and centre in many minds.

Mindset and behaviour
As the focus moves to the future, there is a clear and increasing requirement to break away from the traditional selling skills-first approach and to also consider how this new digital era impacts all front-line employees. We know that digital technology will continue to evolve, hence most organisations will continue to look at building skills to keep pace with this evolution. Therefore, to gain a true competitive advantage, driving customer engagement through a new focus on mindset and behaviours will be the primary enabler of true customer excellence.

Of course, skills cannot be ignored and will remain part of the solution, whether that be the short-term focus required recently, or yet-to-be-identified medium to long-term skills. To be truly fit for the future though, a relentless focus on mindset and behaviours will be needed, and there are countless research articles that have been published in the past few months that seek to identify what these might be. Whilst no single published article has created the ‘definitive list’ for pharma or any other industry, what has become clear is that an entrepreneurial approach will be the key. Some of the typical attributes of an entrepreneur in the pharma world are:

• Incredible networker – the ability to build, sustain and call upon strong internal and external networks in a virtual world.
• A solution-oriented approach to customer needs – using experience and creativity to source ideas that maybe haven’t been considered and to stretch and reimagine futures.
• Clarity of purpose – a mission or goal that underpins everything that is done to help guide decisions and maintain a specific purpose in all elements of work.

So, we have talked about the entrepreneur, but what about the intrapreneur? An intrapreneur is an employee who acts like an entrepreneur within an organisation. Intrapreneurs are self-motivated, proactive, and action-oriented people who have leadership skills and think outside the box.

Ask yourself, “How much focus has my organisation placed on building intrapreneurial mindset and behaviours over the past year?”. “How much focus is there on creating an intrapreneurial culture within my organisation that helps to cultivate our front-line entrepreneurs?”.

There are other behaviours required, however the research recently published is highly consistent in calling out the need for consistent high quality deep, personalised customer insight, the importance of having a mindset to embrace and leverage technology and finally, to be an innovation champion both with internal and external customers. These behaviours will take customer facing teams into a bold future, helping to define and develop the ‘entrepreneurial orchestrators’ of customer excellence.

change vs continuous value


Let’s look at each of those three areas in a little more detail…

Demonstrating insight-led customer fascination
In this digital age, we have more information about our customers than we have ever had. Despite this, and partly due to the challenges of the past fifteen months, we may well have less insight. There is a huge difference between information and insight, and those employees who develop a thirst for understanding how their customers think, and what really does make them tick, will be in the ideal position to engage with insights that they can action and thus add that essential value. Entrepreneurs have a restless dissatisfaction and will leave no stone unturned when seeking competitive advantage through greater depth of customer insight.

Embracing technology as an enabler to their work
For many, the prospect of using technology more frequently is daunting. A lack of familiarity with virtual meeting platforms, the challenge of NHS firewalls and a whole plethora of potential barriers spring to mind. That said, technology in all its forms, from apps to platforms is here to stay. Hence, irrespective of the current individual level of confidence and capability in using it, the entrepreneurial mindset is to accept that it’s a critical tool enabling them to operate effectively.

Championing innovation through marginal gains
There is comfort in doing things in familiar ways, using tried and tested approaches, and settling for current good practice as best practice. Innovation in pharma is nothing new, something demonstrated by the various organisations who have developed and manufactured Covid vaccines in record times. As an individual employee, especially those that are in customer-facing roles, it can be difficult to understand what innovation actually means. Tight governance frameworks and compliance can inhibit creativity, often used as the rationale for the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. The behaviour of an entrepreneur is characterised by individuals consistently looking for small improvements in everything that they do, which in turn can multiply into significant overall gains. It isn’t about reinventing the wheel, more about reinventing yourself and constantly seeing opportunities to add more value through different approaches.

“Entrepreneurs have a restless dissatisfaction and will leave no stone unturned”

The future of customer engagement excellence is a challenge that individuals and their employers need to tackle now. In January 2021, a blog from Microsoft reported that Covid has pushed organisations towards digital technology to begin to solve business challenges for the new normal. That’s not unexpected, however, it’s a scary thought when you think about what we need to do as humans to keep pace with that. Technology alone won’t provide a competitive advantage for sales teams. That’s why developing an entrepreneurial mindset and behaviours is becoming even more critical as a focus for organisations when planning customer excellence capability strategies for the future.

Ian Robinson and Mark Jones are co-founders and Directors of FutureCX. Go to