The healthcare industry finds itself at the center of the coronavirus crisis, especially in terms of how patient care is managed and delivered. Meanwhile, most other companies are fathoming the reality of operating in the current uncertain and virtual world. Teladoc, a telehealth provider app in the US, reported 100,000 visits in seven days in March and a 24% increase in respiratory diagnosis compared to a year ago.1 Visits to doctors' offices have gone virtual. The latest data reflects continued growth in total retail prescriptions relative to 2019. Patients aged 65-plus show both sharp increases in prescription demand and continued therapy rates in recent weeks,1 driven by the need to stock-up on their prescriptions.
The life sciences industry is at the center of finding healthcare solutions and must reckon with the new reality of generating resolutions on two fronts:
- Developing new vaccines that prevent future outbreaks.
- Creating life-saving treatments for the associated medical complications.
Pharmaceutical company boardrooms are required to make tough tradeoff decisions between research and development (R&D) and commercial investments. Meanwhile, most commercial organizations have woken up to the new reality of the reduced effectiveness of their largest promotional investment – the 70,000+ sales reps in the US.2 The current environment mandates pharmaceutical sales and marketing teams to join forces and work toward meeting their customer needs, i.e., for both patients and prescribers.
Many US cities have imposed 'shelter-in-place' orders for non-essential workers, and most pharmaceutical companies have asked their sales forces to stay at home for an indefinite period, or at least until the outbreak is brought under control. Sales reps cannot access physician offices during this pandemic. A study suggests that remote promotion has increased by 18% in all virtual engagement types in the US through mid-March as sales rep access has declined.1
We anticipate that pharma companies will avoid sending sales reps to physician offices for additional time, even after state and local administrations lift emergency orders. A rep may become an inadvertent carrier of the virus, and in turn, expose any patients, especially those that are immuno-compromised, to the virus. Sales leaders are also wrestling with the idea of sending their teams into harm's way as the situation has the potential to blow up and expose the company to legal issues.
Since the outbreak intensified, many pharmaceutical commercial leaders have asked us what innovative methods they can employ to stay connected with critical customers. Even before the outbreak, the notion of "omnichannel customer engagement" intrigued many industry leaders. Since the outbreak, the intrigue has become a mandate for most companies. Pharmaceutical brand leaders value staying connected with their core customers now more than ever.
Many industries have evolved into an omnichannel customer engagement model to stay competitive in the new digital world. However, the pharmaceutical industry reliance on personal promotion has been a hurdle in its ability to adopt a true omnichannel strategy.
The sales rep channel is still considered the most effective channel to engage with prescribers. But with unprecedented marketplace changes from COVID-19, pharma companies have realized the importance of having an interconnected omnichannel strategy to engage with prescribers. They also recognize the importance of expanding their capability to engage directly with their patients in a compliant way.
Pharma brands also face the challenges of implementing the necessary strategies as they evolve to enable omnichannel marketing. There are many challenges with data, people, technology, and processes that pharma companies cannot address unless they deploy the right organizational structure to support their omnichannel customer engagement strategy.
Ways to Break Down Sales and Marketing Silos to Achieve Customer-Centricity
Pharma commercial organizations still operate in conventional sales and marketing silos. The sales teams are at the frontline to engage with prescribers while the marketing teams are responsible for executing non-personal/digital programs that are ancillary to sales team efforts.
A seamless omnichannel engagement strategy requires 'customer obsession' across all teams. Sales and marketing teams need to join forces to engage with individual customers based on their preferred channel, content, and timing. We see a strong need in the market to create enriching experiences across the customer journey. We believe pharmaceutical companies must find ways to un-silo their sales and marketing organizations to achieve true customer-centricity:3
Aligning Customer Objectives Across Teams
Commercial organizations have disproportionately focused on driving prescriptions in physician offices at the expense of meeting their crucial customer needs (i.e., the patients). We recommend focusing equally on prescribers and patients as both customer groups are equally important in the life sciences value-creation process. Pharmaceutical commercial leaders need to integrate overall patient satisfaction and outcomes in their commercial plans for both sales and marketing teams.
Sales teams cannot directly engage with the patients. However, they need to understand the key drivers of patient outcomes and convey to prescribers the right messages. Similarly, for prescribers, both sales and marketing teams need to come to the table to align on the right objectives, which in many cases, will go beyond the current goal of generating more prescriptions.
Integrating Marketing and Sales Software Platforms
The ongoing development of tools and technology in the business world allows organizations to manage processes and operations more efficiently. Just as technology has transformed marketing, digital engagement is redefining the customer and sales relationships. Both marketing and sales have access to a vast number of tools to optimize their efforts.
Marketing and sales team software platforms must be accessible to each other for successful alignment. There is a strong need to integrate automation systems for sales (i.e., CRM) and marketing (i.e., marketing automation). This way, the systems can help build journeys that seamlessly connect the customer from personal to non-personal channels.
Engaging Sales in the Content Creation Process
Marketing teams are responsible for creating content for the sales team to use to influence prescribers during calls in the pharmaceutical industry. Marketers must implement tools to get the "voice of the customer" right during the content planning process. Further, they must leverage their better understanding of the customer adoption journey to optimize content while mapping the content at specific points along the route. This allows the sales teams to serve the right type of material at the right stage based on customer adoption.
The marketing teams must identify and create compelling, effective content that helps the sales team influence prescribers. This content must serve customer needs, and there is no one better to share insights than the sales teams as they directly communicate with prospects and existing customers.
Taking Everyone's Perspectives Into Consideration
The chief sales and marketing officers need to regularly hold meetings to discuss what is working and what is not, and how their efforts are affecting revenue. The C-level leaders also need to encourage brand and sales managers to take part in the dialogue. Those who are on the marketing and sales team front lines should actively take part in discussing the strategy and how each side is contributing to the revenue growth.
With key players actively breaking down the barriers between marketing and sales teams, the organization receives insightful perspectives from those who work directly with the customers.
The COVID-19 outbreak is unfortunate and has forced life sciences companies to explore innovative ways to stay connected with their core customers amidst uncertainty. There is a strong need to create enriching customer experiences during these times when customers are distracted with everything else happening around them.
Pharmaceutical sales and marketing organizations need to shatter their silos and work toward meeting customers' common needs to achieve true customer-centricity. The outbreak will soon be gone – hopefully, sooner than later! But, pharma company sales and marketing organizations will need to stay vigilant and nimble to adapt to future challenges resulting from the outbreak. The lessons the life sciences industry can learn in these times will remain relevant long after the outbreak has passed.
- Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 on the Pharmaceutical Market, published online 6 April 2020, available at https://www.iqvia.com/library/white-papers/monitoring-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-the-pharmaceutical-market.
- BIOPHARMA DIVE. Infographic: Pharma sales force by the numbers; by Branch, Jordan and LaMotta, Lisa; published online 18 September 2017, available at https://www.biopharmadive.com/news/infographic-pharma-sales-force-by-the-numbers/504023/.
- BUSINESS 2 COMMUNITY. 6 Effective Ways CMOs Can Break Down the Silos Between Marketing and Sales; by Rossum, Bob V.; published online 7 March 2018, available at https://www.business2community.com/marketing/6-effective-ways-cmos-can-break-silos-marketing-sales-02022939.