Pharma sales models for HCP engagement: From digitally naive to native

Pharma sales models for HCP engagement are changing quickly and indefinitely, and for businesses in the sector, Mick O’Leary of Ashfield says it’s a case of evolve or suffer.

Over the past 20 years, numerous factors have changed the way that the pharmaceutical sector has communicated about, positioned and sold its products.

Notably, pharma’s access to healthcare professionals (HCPs) has declined and many patients now look to the internet to self-educate. How are sales representatives changing the way they approach and engage with HCPs? What are the pharma sales models for hcp engagement?

“What businesses must do is start their journey”

A changing sector

Commercialisation is now more complex, and the industry needs to offer increased flexibility, allowing HCPs to choose how and when to engage. Heavy investment in digital marketing and analytics is needed to provide a comprehensive understanding of how and when prescribers and other decision-makers like to receive information.

This new dynamic environment has created a need for digitally enabled sales representatives that can deliver a diverse range of activities including traditional detailing, e-detailing and customer service both face-to-face and remotely. It’s also essential that activity is scheduled, captured, recorded and analysed on a single integrated platform that tracks all omnichannel communications to give representatives a live picture of all interactions with a given HCP.


Risk v reward

HCPs and customers are now much more digitally native and willing to engage with new channels. The new reality is that relying on traditional sales approaches where representatives spend their time travelling between practices, waiting for small windows of opportunity to speak to HCPs, is neither sustainable nor advantageous to either party.

Yet the reality is that a significant portion of the industry has yet to embark on the journey towards a digitally enabled representative.

The pharma industry is arguably conservative in nature and invariably no one company wants to be the first to move to a new model as this is perceived as too high risk. At the same time, they also don’t want to be last, as they don’t want to be viewed as outdated and lacking innovation.

Businesses cannot afford to wait until everything is perfect, as they do with many other technologies or platforms in the pharma market. The process of switching to a digital sales environment is iterative, dynamic and will constantly evolve.

What businesses must do is start their journey. Once on the path towards digitalisation, they can learn as they go, improve their systems and their engagements and work towards an ideal model over time as opposed to expecting that outcome immediately.

Digital content is king

Experience tells us that having the right content produced in an engaging and interesting way greatly enhances the effectiveness of digital interaction.

Sales representatives traditionally take hard copies of study reports or presentations into meetings. Transferring that information to an e-detail aid isn’t enough. Now the challenge is that representatives are engaging with people in a new way, across different channels and the content they’re using must be more ‘alive’, animated, integrated and exciting. This is what patients and HCPs are experiencing whenever they use social media or visit a website in most sectors outside of pharma, and it’s what they will soon expect from pharma.

Pharma companies that can align digitally enabled representatives with best-in-class content will have a real competitive advantage.


Perception is reality

There is also a less tangible value to adopting more digital approaches. The primary goal of a digitally enabled sales representative is to have more positive, more regular, more meaningful and more time appropriate engagements with HCPs. Simultaneously, whichever companies take the lead in terms of using new technologies will attract and retain the right kind of talent as people like to work for adventurous and innovative employers.


Final thought

There are companies which are leading the way with digital approaches, as they have the commitment to invest in people and technology, and the will to change ingrained within their DNA. The approach of these sales representatives will evolve to include new digital channels and more interactive, engaging content in line with this. More conservative organisations will root themselves in face-to-face sales practices that have been successful in the past. Both will need to access and leverage the expertise offered by progressive commercialisation partners like Ashfield, with the skills and scale to support digital-led change.


Mick O’ Leary is Regional President – Commercial & Patient Solutions, North Europe, at Ashfield. Go to  


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