How Pharma To Stay Relevant To Customers In The New Digital World

Covid-19 vaccination has commenced in India on January 16, 2021, as in several other countries of the world. A few million Indians, across the country have already received their first shot, according to media reports. But, this isn’t the endgame of pandemic by any measure. Covid-19 will get over – only when it gets over.

Interestingly, on March 07, 2021, the Union Health Minister claimed, ‘the country is in the end game of the COVID-19 pandemic. Curiously, the very next day – the Indian Medical Association IMA termed it as: ‘Unauthorized political statements on Covid-19 pandemic invokes a false sense of security.’ Moreover, vindicating the IMA statement, the Coronavirus trend report, updated as on March 05, 2021 clearly demonstrated that ‘The pandemic is far from over.’

As a fallout of this pandemic, alongside many other nations of the world, most industries in India are going through a recovery process of disruptive changes in the business processes, after a harrowing time. Pharma industry is no exception in this area. Recreating contemporary operational processes to excel in the new normal, would call for not only jettisoning many practices from the old normal by the new ones, but also the creative deployment of the precious resources, by each pharma players.

Accordingly, the need for avant-garde digital-based customer engagement services, is gathering winds on the sails of the ships of pharma marketers, signaling a ‘never before’ urgency to move in this direction. It’s a new business imperative to survive, perform, and excel in pharma. At the same time, the industry also should examine other critical changes required in its primary interfaces with customers, in today’s fast evolving scenario.

This process would involve redefining the new roles of some critical positions in the organization. Today’s article will explore how pharma will stay relevant to its customers, increasingly getting more and more involved in the new digital practices.

Some key challenges in pharma digital strategy:

One of the key challenges for a productive ‘company – physician engagement’, in the new normal, is to be available at any preferred time of customers’ choice and the way they want. This may include, both virtual and in-person F2F engagements, along with customized contents for the same. This need is universal and, by and large, remains the same for key stakeholders of all drug companies.

This point was further reinforced, in the February 22, 2021 article on capacity building in the digital space, published in Reuters Events, Pharma. It focused on demands in new era of ‘digital-first customer engagement’, where content creation and omnichannel engagement also play equally vital roles.

Besides, the paper emphasized, today’s need is investing in the type of contents that add clinical value, as opposed to overtly commercial marketing type material. The primary task for marketers is now, therefore, to use updated, high-quality, neutral content on customer engagement platforms that will offer value – the customers are looking for – and not just values from a company’s self-serving perspective. From this angle, the new content model prompts greater customer involvement for meaningful outcomes.

In tandem, company staff members – including medical representatives, need to acquire multi-tasking expertise, being equipped with – required digital knowledge, skills on using digital platforms and ascertaining individual key customers’ engagement needs. Whereas a company’s digital strategist will work on “digital initiatives, solutions, products and how those will be integrated locally.” Thus, this is not about making everyone a digital expert, as the article underscores.

Need to redefine work processes and realigning the staff members:

As the above article from Reuters Events reconfirms, the digital approach that several pharma players were taking even a year or two ago is redundant in the new normal. Amid rapid transformation in the drug business, ‘pharmaceutical industry can no longer act like ostriches. Digital is no longer a fancy add-on, it’s an integral part of everything we do,’ the study highlighted.

Thus, to move in this direction effectively, pharma companies would require redefining many work processes and realign the staff members in sync with their new roles, accordingly. Further elaborating this point, the Accenture study – ‘A digital booster dose for health care,’ identified a few such roles that will undergo a metamorphosis to meet with post Covid challenges. Following are some, where urgent transformations required are, as follows:

 A.   ‘Intelligent representatives’ – not just ‘medical representatives’: 

In the current scenario, rep’s engagement process with the medical profession calls for leveraging specific intelligence based on behavioral preferences. This is fast emerging as a key requirement. Thus, the paper underscores: “Armed with a closed-looped CRM, representatives can effectively use data insights to plan, deliver and report calls.” I also indicated earlier – to succeed in this effort, individual skill sets, such as digital awareness and analytics will be of great use. The core objective is, looking through physicians’ eyes to understand their needs and solve problems by ‘serving customers as individuals, not as numbers in a call roster,’ the study emphasized.

B.  ‘Customer experience managers’ – not just ‘brand managers’: 

While using omnichannel digital platforms, doctor-patient interactions become more content dependent. Accordingly, brand managers’ role will be pivotal to facilitate a uniform interaction experience across all channels.

Therefore, for targeted communication, better understanding of doctors and patients and how they want to be engaged, is a key requirement. Which is why, brand managers will have to acquire skills, such as content management for continuous engagement across multiple channels. This is now absolutely necessary for effective branding in fostering a new genre of ‘customer-brand relationship’ model, across the company.

C. ‘Helping doctors manage their practice and patients better’ – not just ‘brand marketing’: 

‘Think beyond the patients’ – suggests the Accenture survey. This is because, virtualization of healthcare is all about doctors making further customizations into how they operate, both clinically (teleconsultation) and commercially (payments). This is, another important area where pharma companies can further differentiate themselves, by helping doctors manage their practice and patients better. The process entails acquiring critical skills in disease awareness, identifying key gaps that impact patient experience and clinical outcomes, alongside various digital engagement tools to perform these functions.

Conclusion:

The current year is expected to witness flooring of the gas pedal, as it were, in pharma’s digital transformation process, while navigating through humongous challenges on the way. The process includes, redefining work processes and realigning the staff members to establish a new customer-brand relationship’, based on Covid triggered changes in the customer behavior.

A quantum improvement in the usage of digital tools and platforms, alongside targeted content creation will be pivotal in pharma’s customer relationship management to excel in the changing business environment. Many doctors and patients have already signaled their acceptance for digital or virtual interactions, besides some well identified F2F engagements with relevant and personalized data-driven content as they expected from each drug company.

This need arises when one considers the findings of another Accenture Survey. It reported, while 39% of doctors want all medical representative meetings to be virtual, even post pandemic, ‘around 10% of key doctors still want to go back to pre-COVID-19 norms for in-person meetings.’ Thus, the point to ponder in this area is how to structure these F2F meetings for highly productive outcomes.

However, it’s also a reality that during Covid days, doctors wanted to interact with the Medical Reps more than what they used to do in the past. This offers a huge opportunity to drug companies in leveraging pharma rep’s interaction to accurately understand their customer-insight. Consequently, the new approach will help pharma companies, not only in staying relevant to its customers in the digital world, but also, to keep themselves prepared to face similar challenges in the future, proactively.

By: Tapan J. Ray     

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

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