How are companies adapting to engage their customers?

Technology topic: companies adapting to engage

Clive Scragg, Director of Commercial Development at Evolve, identifies how the NHS and access to medicines renders the ‘one size fits all’ approach irrelevant, how are companies adapting to engage their customers?

Over the last decade the pharmaceutical industry has seen many of its blockbuster products come off patent in therapy areas such as cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory. These products were predominantly promoted within primary care and supported by large sales teams. This has resulted in a marked reduction in the numbers of sales representatives required to support those brands, which were traditionally supplemented with either syndicated or dedicated teams on contract.

These additional support teams have also shrunk and therefore the offering to the industry by means of a contracted field force has needed to adapt and evolve. Whilst this might not be true across the board, there has been a definite shift to the footprint of sales teams right across the industry in both shape and size. This trend will continue as more established products come off patent.

“Companies need to be increasingly nimble and creative in how they interact with their customers”

What else has effected this change?

As I commented in a Pf article earlier this year, the landscape of the NHS and access to medicines has changed and become increasingly difficult; whether that be launching a product or increasing access to an established brand. Consequently, the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach is far less relevant in today’s market and companies need to be increasingly nimble and creative in how they interact with their customers. Patent expiry, cost pressures, guidelines and reduced access to key influential customers are all examples of how the environment has changed. This has made it more relevant than ever for us to be able to adapt our CSO offering, in terms of both skills and experience.

What’s changing in the NHS and how can industry react?

The NHS Long Term Plan has seen the emergence of Primary Care Networks (PCNs) across the UK. A great example of an emerging customer group is in regard to clinical pharmacists. From July 2019, each PCN received recurrent funding to hire a clinical pharmacist. They will be working in partnership with existing healthcare professionals (HCPs) to drive up the standard of care and better support colleagues around medicines use. From a pharmaceutical company perspective, it will be important to engage with this emerging customer group, as they may have a direct influence on how a product may be accessed.

How has Evolve adapted?

As this is a new NHS initiative and the concept is not proven, a flexible contract model is likely to be the best approach to engage these customers. At Evolve we have a skilled bank of qualified pharmacists, who are able to have a peer-to-peer interaction with these influential HCPs, complementing the existing field-based sales teams. Evolve are able to partner with pharmaceutical companies to tailor an offering to work with these customers in an educational, promotional or advisory capacity, depending on the need of a particular brand.

How has your CSO offering changed?

I believe that the best approach is now to look at working in partnership with our clients during the early stages of any outsourcing project. At Evolve, we regard ourselves as a ‘Commercial Solutions Organisation’ rather than a ‘Contract Sales Organisation’. Our priority lies in establishing a strong working partnership and understanding with our clients.

At the start of any project we sit down to discuss their brand specific needs in order to forge the correct solution for them, rather than simply providing the headcount at the end. By engaging early with the client to discuss what their project’s objectives, goals and scope are, we can help to design, build and develop a much more rounded solution, where shared outcomes and KPIs are understood and agreed from the outset. This type of approach results in less confusion and misunderstanding and ultimately creates a solution that provides the required return on investment.

How will the CSO offering change as products go off patent?

The type of products being launched, coupled with the changes to the environment in which we launch into, means that the need to look at different ways of supporting sales; market access or medical science liaison (MSL) teams will need to adapt. Looking at the roles of the MSL for example; as the industry launches products into more specialist disease areas, such as oncology, immunology and rare diseases, the ability to have a contracted field-based medical team to support the commercial function and appropriately support off-label and unlicensed indications will also be relevant. The need for these teams will vary over time as indications may or may not become approved and to have them as a flexible resource could become more appropriate from a commercial viewpoint.

Will the way we interact with HCPs change?

I think this has already started to happen, both within the industry and with companies supporting the industry. Individuals working within the NHS, as in life, are constantly looking to digest their information in different ways. As such, we need to offer the capability to interact with those customers in the most effective and appropriate way for them, and not have a one-dimensional view. Not everyone is looking for a traditional face-to-face sales interaction and some individuals would prefer to discuss things on a digital basis. Customers often prefer that interactions take place remotely, where they may share the information online or over the telephone. I think it’s important to offer an alternative to our clients where the technology and ability to interact like this is available, by offering skilled hybrid teams that can evolve with the changing marketplace.

Do you think a CSO offering is still relevant in today’s market?

Absolutely, in fact I think it’s probably even more relevant than ever. The fact that the market is more complex and new challenges are always upon us, means that our ability as a company to offer solutions that are ever more creative and flexible becomes increasingly important. I believe the future for CSO is bright, as long as the industry is in the mindset to adapt to change!

Clive Scragg is Director of Commercial Development, Evolve. Go to