Maximizing HCP engagement as the definition of a sales ‘call’ expands


How pharma’s retooling of its promotional efforts in the post-pandemic era impacts sizing and targeting, two crucial foundational pieces to successful commercialization

The increase in digital promotion over the past year has, in some cases, helped sales representatives reach healthcare providers (HCPs) they long struggled to see in person. But it has also created commercial strategy challenges as the types of interactions with physicians proliferate.

One challenge is capturing the true state of rep-physician engagement today. This effort starts by determining what a sales “call” is in a time when sales reps are interacting with HCPs across channels—from traditional face-to-face meetings to Zoom calls to text messages. None of these forms of rep-HCP interaction are new. However, as reps were unable to call on HCPs in person during a large portion of the pandemic, they increased their use of digital and “non-personal” promotional channels. And as commercial teams seek to accurately model rep capacity to structure sales forces, deploy reps and plan promotional activity, they need to account for the increasingly complex and multifaceted nature of rep-HCP interactions.

A second challenge emerges from this initial challenge. Commercial leaders need to accurately measure the effectiveness of their various promotional efforts. A commitment to advanced analytics will play an important role here. But, before a team can get there, they must have robust, timely and accessible data management processes.

Alongside these modeling and measurement efforts, commercial leaders must form points of view about the future state of industry promotion as the market transitions into the post-pandemic era. For example:

  • Are some rumbles about dissatisfaction with digital engagement the result of Zoom fatigue, or a real sign of a meaningful return to in-person promotion?
  • Will any of the digital promotion efforts that increased in use during the pandemic be tossed aside in a newly reopened world?

We don’t have the answers to these questions today, but we do have guidance for how companies should position themselves to adjust to the changing market, no matter how these questions end up being resolved. However things shake out, the implications are broad for biopharmaceutical commercial teams and will impact almost every facet of commercial operations. However, in this article, we’ll focus on how these efforts impact sizing and targeting, two crucial foundational pieces to successful commercialization.

Shift from ‘calls’ to ‘touchpoints’ to optimize sales force structure

An accurate understanding of how reps interact with HCPs will help commercial leaders model rep capacity and lay the foundation for the sizing and targeting efforts that follow. In short, a sales “call” doesn’t mean what it used to and now extends well beyond a face-to-face meeting. Hence, drug manufacturers should think in terms of “touchpoints” instead of traditional “calls.” Depending on how elastic a company wants to make the definition, these touchpoints could include everything from virtual meetings to emails to texts.

Each biopharma organization must come up with its own perspective on the relative value placed on each type of touchpoint. For example, it’s hard to dispute the effectiveness of a face-to-face meeting in a physician’s office. But the value equation can grow complex when a company digs into email promotion and video calls. That’s where the rigorous measurement and analytics we discuss in the next section come in. But, no matter how a company defines and values its interactions with HCPs, it must accurately and comprehensively capture these interactions, then use that information to model rep capacity. This understanding of capacity will help a manufacturer appropriately size a sales force for launch or revisit sizing for an existing sales force.

Even as the pandemic wanes, we expect the digital promotion that has built up during this time to remain a significant piece of a company’s promotional efforts. In other words, the emphasis on touchpoints is here to stay. Biopharma companies must adjust their commercial planning to account for this reality.

Analytics-derived insights are the key to targeting improvements

Beyond understanding touchpoints and accurately modeling rep capacity, companies must assess their pandemic-era promotional efforts and capture (with a high degree of granularity) the effectiveness of the various tactics they deploy and channels they use. Unsurprisingly, advanced analytics is the key here. Specifically, bringing together a mix of marketing analytics, omnichannel analytics, propensity and preference analyses, and, in some cases, health system analytics can help commercial leaders piece together a comprehensive understanding of HCP promotional preferences and the effectiveness of each piece of their companies’ promotional efforts. This detailed analysis is crucial when developing and fine-tuning targeting plans.

To bring these analyses together, organizations must stand up robust technology infrastructures where they can house, organize, analyze and update large amounts of data. These advanced analytics-based systems will support ongoing analysis and adjustments, which is especially crucial in this time of significant change.

Prepare to pivot

As we enter a post-Covid-19 world, biopharma companies must be ready to pivot their promotional efforts quickly and with minimal disruption to ongoing commercial processes. To improve sales force size and structure and customer targeting efforts in today’s dynamic commercial environment, drug manufacturers must accurately capture the more complex reality of today’s rep-HCP interactions and accurately track the effectiveness of their increasingly omnichannel promotional efforts.

Fortunately, there’s a significant amount of data available that companies can mine to uncover the impact of their promotional efforts. The analyses we’ve seen suggest that, generally speaking, in-person interactions tend to be more effective than digital interactions when it comes to message recall, share of voice and brand awareness. Still, some HCPs will respond more favorably to digital promotion. The most successful companies, therefore, will leverage the full marketing mix in the post-pandemic world.

There’s a lot more to this story, but, exiting the pandemic, it will be crucial for biopharma companies to put their promotional efforts—from in-person rep calls to digital content—in the optimal position to succeed. To do so, biopharma commercial leaders must successfully account for pandemic-driven changes in HCP engagement and improve sales force design and customer targeting efforts during this evolving return to normal.

About the authors

Erik Cruz (left) is an associate partner, and Kevin Frymire (middle) and Dan Schulman (right) are partners, all at Beghou Consulting.

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