Customer centricity in a changed world

Pharma’s marketeers are having to rapidly change their approach to customers, field force roles and digital in the midst of the pandemic


Few or no reps on the road, patients confined en masse to their homes and a healthcare and economic emergency of which we can still only guess the scale and duration. 


It is a situation that pharma’s marketing folk never expected, never planned for and one which our panel discuss in depth on day one of eyeforpharma’s Philadelphia Virtual conference in the panel session on customer centricity.


Marketing departments face a daunting challenge. More used to planning for slowly emerging trends, they are being forced by the pandemic situation to react in real time to increase their digital engagement capabilities, says Soma Gupta, Chief Commercial Officer, G1 Therapeutics.


“It [the pandemic] has absolutely accelerated things. There were things we were not comfortable moving on so quickly, we had hesitancy letting go of some things and there were risks we were not wiling to take. This has pushed everything forward.”


And marketeers are having to make decisions here with multiple possible outcomes in mind in a highly uncertain situation. The big question is the extent to which current responses in the midst of the crisis become permanent or not. 


Changing preferences

Imagining how things will work in post-pandemic is anyone’s guess, says John Young, IT Sales & Marketing Enablement Technologies Leader, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. “We are accelerating our use of non-personal promotion and virtual meetings but will it stick? 


“I wonder what six to 12 months after COVID what the world will look like digitally. What happens if the customer prefers the non personal and decides ‘this thing is easier on me and my practice. Maybe they will like this better in the end.”


Such uncertainty requires different plans for different outcomes, says Gupta, such as planning for a world in which it may be necessary to launch a product without reps. “I’m not saying that is what is coming but I think you have to plan for that. You can’t assume things will go back to normal.”


Customer habits and preferences could well be changed for good, says Roni Chase, VP Marketing, Eli Lilly. “They say it takes 14 days to create a new habit and we are past that already. Preferences are changing now and they will continue to evolve. We will have to understand these new circumstances, habits and preferences.”


A tailored approach

But despite the uncertainties and the prospects of far reaching disruption to existing customer relationship models, there is also undeniably great opportunity.


With digital channels pushed so much to the fore now, the opportunities to focus deeply on improving customer segmentation and a more tailored communications approach are clear. There is a great opportunity to serve those with a need for useful, current information on streams of new products, such as oncologists, for example.


“The opportunity is around segmentation,” says Gupta. “Does it give you a better opportunity to segment and tailor depending on what doctors are interested in hearing or what their prescribing practices are? You can tailor better in a virtual setting.”


A prerequisite to effective segmentation is listening and there is a growing imperative to be enhance social listening, says Chase. “We need to be need to be mindful of what different customers want. Adding value at the customer level means taking time to listen.


“The needs of frontline HCPs dealing with COVID will be different to physicians who may not be in specialty area. So listening right now is the most important thing we can do now and some of that will be though social.”


Repurposing the rep

The crisis may well accelerate a decline in the scale and scope of direct rep visits but despite this, it is unlikely to hasten the decline of the rep, says Gupta. “The rep will always have a role. The question is what they they be doing.


“There is no substitute for personal interaction but could you do it virtually so you don’t have to drive across state to see one customer? Can we make people’s lives more efficient because everyone is getting used to it in this current experiment?”


One recent finding from IQVIA discussed by the panel suggesting physicians demand for video interactions had gone from around 7% to 30%, which suggests they value some measure of personal connection when it comes to communications. “People want the interface but do they need to be sitting in the physician’s office? That could change fundamentally,” says Gupta. 


The current situation also offers an opportunity to repurpose the rep as an important part of a truly omni channel approach, says Igor Rudychev, Head, US Data & Innovations, Oncology Business Unit, AstraZeneca.


“I see additional synergy between digital and old promotions, between digital and field force. We’ve been talking about digital transformation for years and the current situation is helping us, navigating us to start a new digital transformation.


“We can’t digitise everything but we can build true omni channel where there is a strong interaction between old traditional promotional channels and the digital channels, where rep interactions become more digital.”


Reps can help focus and personalise omni-channel approaches, says Rudychev. “We currently send omni-channel communications more or less generically. We send communications to the whole segment. Reps should be able to make creative inputs, make recommendations to each individual physician because who knows HCPs better than that reps? They spend so much time with them.”


Now is a golden opportunity for individual reps to start working on the skills that will be needed in this context, says Gupta. “If I was a rep I would get better at figuring out how to use data better. If I was sitting at home right now, that is what I would be getting better at. That is going to be a fundamental part of how we segment and where to find the fish in the future.”


Enhancing data capabilities

And it’s not just pharma’s relationships with HCPs that could be enhanced. Given the redoubled emphasis on digital, there is a chance to focus anew on better understanding how pharma can help understand the patient journey and so be of more use to them along the way.


Understand the patient journey, it just one part of the puzzle when it comes to improving segmentation and tailoring, however. Overlaid on this is how it interacts with their HCP’s own knowledge journey. 


It is possible to shape a more precise approach in which pharma can work out where and when these journeys intersect, delivering information to HCPs, caregivers and support staff at the right moment, says Young.


There’s a data challenge here, he says. “The key is data coming into one place, and being able to analyse it, understand it and schedule it at the right time and place.”


To achieve such precise interactions, marketing folk also need to get more comfortable working with data in real- or near-real time, for example from claims data that may be less than a week old, says Rudychev. “There is a need for real time data in the patient journey if claims data comes in once weekly. Each week we can send new patient journey.


“The ball is in our court to create initiatives to share this information and be the analytical rep – true patient level data to the filed. We have so many of those claims data sources. They are amazing data sources. It is important to bring real time into the patient journey.”


Nurturing closer and more direct engagement with patients is also a concept pharma still needs to get comfortable with, adds Young. “We are a little but shy of asking the patient what’s going on with them. There is a bit of a barrier. We want to keep our distance from the patient. There has to be a way we can go about gathering that information. After all we want to help the patient. We are here to help.”






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