From dinosaur to digital
Tyrannosaurus rep faces extinction. It’s time to evolve, argues Nick de Cent.
2014 represents a tipping point for the traditionally conservative healthcare sector: from now on, the majority of healthcare professionals (HCPs) will be digital natives. At the same time, technology has dramatically empowered stakeholders –physicians, patients and payers – by delivering access to multiple sources of information, compelling pharma companies to rethink the way they connect with these groups.
Of course, digital also radically changes the environment in which pharma companies operate and has profound implications for its customer-facing organizations. In eyeforpharma’s new white paper, From Dinosaur to Digital: How Smart Technology is Transforming Pharma Sales, we explore how digital is reshaping pharma sales organizations.
Today’s commercial landscape is all about engagement across the customer spectrum and creating genuine value, as opposed to simply supplying a product. Accordingly, pharma strategists recognize that the old-school approach of pushing information at stakeholders is no longer effective; the days of giant sales organizations slugging it out to achieve revenue, reach and frequency seem positively prehistoric. Pharma has woken up to find itself in the digital age.
Naturally, technology has the potential to empower pharma itself. A recent study by consultants Arthur D. Little indicates that executives understand that digital health will have transformed pharma’s business model by 2020: 84% of study participants considered it crucial to have a digital health strategy in 2020, compared with just 13% who believed it was already crucial today.
Digital is already making a big impact everywhere in pharma, from new product concepts to clinical trials and on into the commercial stages of the brand cycle: it’s starting to shape pharma’s customer-facing organizations including the sales force, although many companies are still at the stage of coming to terms with the implications. Interviews with pharma executives conducted during research foreyeforpharma’sthe new white paperconfirm that the digital revolution is not only influencing the size of sales organizations in terms of absolute numbers but also shaping the roles that salespeople perform, the techniques and channels they use to engage,and the skills they require.
Like almost everything in pharma, digital innovation has been relatively slow to make inroads. Nevertheless, because of the changes it heralds, digital requires people to make adjustments; inevitably, technology is seen as a threat by those who prefer the status quo.
Enlightened pharma executives argue that digital per se is not the threat; indeed, it’s an enabler for those in the sales organization who choose to embrace it. Technology helps the best salespeople do what they have always done, only better – bring value to customers through effective communication. The real threat lies in failing to respond to the changes in the commercial landscape that technology is ushering in.
Evolution of the rep
In response, new and updated skills will be needed, not only in terms of handling the technology itself but also in relation to tailoring content for individual customers. Salespeople will require the capability to interact via various channels, both face-to-face and online, so we are likely to see more hybrid reps in future. In general, reps will need to be increasingly agile and flexible: could it be that Tyrannosaurus rep is starting to evolve into Velocireptor?
Other changes are afoot, too: because customers have huge demands on their time and are able to find routine product information online, engagements between physicians and salespeople will be reserved for occasions where specific interaction is required. While reps will have to be adaptable in the way they communicate, they will frequently also require greater depth and breadth of knowledge. In general, reps will move higher up the food chain as they become more knowledgeable and skilful, both in terms of domain knowledge and business know-how.
At the same time, there is likely to be a new focus on customer satisfaction, listening skills and communications ability, rather than traditional selling skills (in common with other industries).
So what of the opportunities that technology brings? Digital offers massively expanded choice for physicians in terms of the channels they have available to obtain information; today’s customers expect to find the information they are seeking through whichever channel they prefer at the time they need it. Meanwhile, pharma is attempting to fulfil this demand through a variety of multichannel marketing (MCM) initiatives.
Benefits for pharma
For pharma, technology offers the opportunity to transform the customer experience, but only if digital is viewed as an enabler rather than an end in itself. The geek contingent aside, few customers are interested in the delivery platform per se. What technology does achieve for pharma is to lower the cost per contact while simultaneously providing the opportunity to analyse important metrics such as customer engagement. Digital and a multichannel approach offer potential for greater engagement of physicians, patients and payers as well as the opportunity for in-depth analysis of customer behavior.
Going forward, digital innovations such as the provision of rich content, interactivity and real-time analysis will undoubtedly be significant, albeit that their contribution may only be evolutionary – part of the process of continuous improvement. In contrast, the four potentially revolutionary game-changers are predicted to be: virtual events, social media, social media monitoring and big data in general.
Each provides new opportunities for pharma and its sales and marketing organizations either to engage more effectively or to gain greater insight into their customers.
What does this mean for the salespeople involved? They will have to become proficient at interacting online through a variety of channels, via webinars and other virtual events, chat rooms and social media where appropriate.
In many instances, this is a dynamic process requiring active listening skills but it also assumes the ability to interpret and analyse online intelligence with the facility to then contextualise the insights gained,and position them as value statements in terms of thecustomer and the customer’s customer, as well the company’s brands.
In conclusion, as reps rise higher up the food chain, there is an expectation for salespeople to act almost as mini-business units, with individuals capable of understanding business dynamics as well as relevant product and market information. In the digital world, the role of the rep is likened by many to the conductor of an orchestra – the maestro who brings together the many channels of communication at his or her disposal into a harmonious whole designed to please the audience.
Of course, that audience is our customers, and research confirms that companies capable of providing customers with a better experience consistently perform better financially. With the help of digital, the sales force is in the perfect position to deliver that enhanced customer experience.
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