The rules of engagement
As pharma adapts to an ever-evolving landscape, the traditional role of the pharma salesperson is changing rapidly and the usual channels of engagement are shifting as healthcare professionals’ (HCPs) needs evolve. What is pharma doing to keep up with the swiftly developing needs of the modern HCP?
Transparency and trust are vital components of the relationship between pharma and HCPs, however, equally important is ease of access to engaging and relevant information. The way that we all, HCPs included, consume information is evolving at lightning speed.
HCPs are often true ‘digital natives’, who increasingly prefer digital modes of interaction, and pharmaceutical firms need to be aware of this and adapt their methods to create a mutually beneficial relationship.
According to Lawrie Jones, Managing Director of marketing agency 42group, pharma companies understand that the way their customers consume information has changed. “As an audience, healthcare professionals – like the rest of the population – are more demanding now,” he explains.
Catarina Serrano, Associate Director, Multichannel Strategy, QuintilesIMS, says that the traditional models of engagement are now being challenged: “Digital natives expect better, quicker, cheaper and more personalised access to content, crucial to easing the funding and time constraints they face. The rise of digital channels has transformed the way we seek information and interact. In addition, direct access to HCPs is becoming more difficult, resulting in fewer minutes of rep engagement,” she explains. “Such an environment challenges the traditional model (promotional push, face-to-face) into a customer-led interaction (pull approach, digital), which requires pharma to integrate digital channels, evolve, and tailor its contents.”
A whitepaper from PricewaterhouseCoopers, ‘Pharma 2020: Marketing the future – Which path will you take?’ predicted that ‘By 2020, the role of the traditional sales representative will be largely obsolete’. The HCP traditionally needs information from pharma that is reliable, timely, relevant and consistent, while the pharma rep’s objectives are engagement, growth and retention. Channels of interaction with HCPs have traditionally included email, pharma company websites, social media, telephone contact, direct mail, and walk-in. While these are recognised by pharma as effective ways for them to reach HCPs, the triumvirate of the internet, social media and mobile devices has radically altered the traditional interactions between the two. The way that HCPs become engaged is changing fast and pharma needs to catch up to avoid becoming a dinosaur lumbering behind the chase.
“Pharma has been slow to embrace digital but companies are investing and looking for ways to better reach and serve HCPs through tools such as email, online detailing and streaming video. Still, an effective multichannel strategy remains a challenge,” adds Catarina.
Mixing it up
Karl Wilson, Business Operations Manager, Roche Products Limited, says that a mix of both traditional and digital methods of engagement enables pharma to adapt to the evolving needs of the modern healthcare professional.
“We are committed to collaborating with the NHS and third parties to deliver appropriate solutions and/or added value services via appropriate channels,” he explains. “A crucial element in this drive is the development of an integrated, consistent and coordinated approach to external communication, utilising a range of traditional and digital capabilities.”
An anonymous GP says that in the last six years they have seen a marked shift in practice policy for GP surgeries whereby they will not see any pharmaceutical reps at all. “GPs are so time-pressured now – it is so difficult to recruit new GPs to share the workload.”
The pressures that HCPs find themselves under has driven the shift to more ‘virtual’ forms of engagement, however, this engagement needs to be appropriate to the individual. It’s horses for courses, and an integrated approach allows pharma to be flexible in their strategies. “I personally prefer face-to-face engagement with drug reps, but I know that I am an extrovert and prefer auditory learning compared to visual or kinaesthetic,” says the GP. “Most GPs are introverts so may not enjoy face-to-face meetings and may prefer to engage online if they have time.”
Catarina agrees that it is the mix which is crucial to success: “Despite the need for digital presence, to fully engage with HCPs, the rep remains the most recognised channel in pharma. Digital, which has been described as a threat to the traditional field model, is in fact an opportunity to enhance the rep’s role.”
Content to be different
The growing trend for mobile browsing means that the ways HCPs consume information is changing, and other new and engaging content forms, also beginning to be used by pharma to engage with their customers, include films, animations and infographics. “It’s all about creating compelling content that’s shareable, creating a discussion around an issue,” says Lawrie.
Content-based strategies also allow pharma companies to improve recognition and reputation amongst HCPs. “Resources can build over time, providing a useful database of information for healthcare professionals. It won’t replace face-to-face meetings and communication, but it builds trust and faith in a brand that’s important,” says Lawrie.
“In the future, the use of content-based approaches will increase. New technologies can help push this trend, with the potential for AI (artificial intelligence) and possibly even VR (virtual reality) offering amazing ways pharma companies can engage directly with healthcare professionals. It’s a really exciting time to be working in the field.”