With a varying degree, and in various forms, a hybrid working model is now gaining greater acceptance of several top pharma companies, across the world, just as in many other industries.
This trend gets echoed in an article of December 07, 2022, published in the Reuters Events Pharma. It recalled, how pharma industry, since nearly the last three years, was compelled to adopt fully digitalengagement models initially triggered by the Covid pandemic. Gradually, more pharma players are preparing themselves to adopt a more complex and hybrid customer engagement model, with a diverse mix of engagement modalities.
Consequently, in many ways the medical rep’s role is undergoing a metamorphosis and becoming more complex. Thus: ‘There is a growing requirement for them to connect the right decision-makers at the provider with the right subject matter experts in pharma’, as the above study recommends.
This situation demands, more flexible customer engagement strategies, based on ongoing data-science based indicators – replacing the traditional static outreach schedules and content that remain in place for months at a time. In today’s article, I shall dwell in this rapidly emerging area.
This changing trend is obvious:
The above change is obvious, and also gets reflected in an article, published by the McKinsey & Company on September 30, 2022. The paper indicated, although some physician’s preference for in-person meetings with the reps has rebounded since November 2020, it was still below pre-pandemic levels (58 percent compared to 76 percent) as of August 2021. Thus, there is a need for a change.
The need for a hybrid approach – why?
The need for a hybrid approach in modern sales and marketing has been vindicated by several recent studies. The doctors or other healthcare customers can now broadly be put in three categories, as follows:
- Doctors looking for a Rep’s personal visit for product briefing.
- Difficult to meet doctors, who prefer to get relevant product/ disease information through remote platforms, as they want and when they want.
- Doctors who now prefer a hybrid engagement, some personal and some remotely.
Thus, no wonder why the top players are upending their traditional go-to-market (GTM) strategies by augmenting their field sales forces with remote-sales organizations for better meeting the needs and preferences of physicians and other customers. The above McKinsey study also underscored, ‘’the shift to a hybrid sales approach has been demonstrated to unlock growth opportunities and reduce the cost to serve across care settings.
Hybridization of a pharma field staff job with push and pull strategies:
For pharma field staff, like Medical Representatives, one may wonder how their work can be made hybrid for increased effectiveness by manifold. Let me illustrate this point with the example of hybrid drug detailing to its target audience.
As many would know, drug companies have been traditionally engaging with physicians mostly with face-to-face product detailing, for increased prescription demand generation. This approach primarily entails a ‘push strategy’.
Whereas e-detailing is crafted with a built-in ‘pull strategy’, allowing customers to fetch what they want – how they want and when they want. E-detailing in various sophisticated forms is now receiving a strong tailwind on its sails, after getting a strong boost during the lockdown period of the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
The key benefits for hybridization:
As a research paper in this regard, published in the i-manager’s Journal on Management found that high technology based e-detailing not only reduce selling costs, but more importantly, increase the company’s physician reach and communication effectiveness powered by a pull driven system.
This study, after thoroughly examining the strength and weaknesses of both the traditional and the technology driven approach to drug detailing, proposed a blended or hybrid selling model as superior. The researchers found that ‘by integrating push and pull strategies with the use of new information tools, pharmaceutical marketers can best maximize the process of diffusing drug knowledge, while best considering the demanding needs of selling to time pressured physicians.’
The paper then concluded that – “Hybrid detailing can enhance physician knowledge by providing pharmaceutical marketers with more effective digital information tools that can further support and improve an adaptive and relational selling approach.’
That’s why, many pharma majors now believe that a hybrid detailing model, can help the company to better assess, track, and evaluate their selling effectiveness by employing information tools, systematically. This approach can be an integral part of the overall Omnichannel communication platform of the organization.
Transformation to Hybrid Customer engagement model – some options:
There could be several options to make a transition into a hybrid customer engagement model from a traditional one. One way could be to create a fresh infrastructure for a state-of-the-art e-marketing platform, alongside, of course, traditional sales and marketing.
Another way may well be, to keep traditional sales and marketing in-house, and outsource Omnichannel digital sales and marketing activities. The choice of the right options will be decided by the leadership of individual companies, based on their wherewithal, and other strength and weaknesses.
Outsourcing of digital marketing – an option worth pondering:
Outsourcing of digital sales and marketing aren’t new in the global pharma industry, many large pharma companies, including Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, and several others are, reportedly, availing such services for quite some time, with a significant return.
These custom-made digital services, as reported, could be many, such as, e-marketing, remote detailing, multi-channel interaction management, online video, mobile, and smart device detailing, besides permission-based email and targeted advertising services to name a few. Thus, reckon, while considering a hybrid pharma sales and marketing model, outsourcing of digital sales and marketing is worth pondering, especially in India with so much of talents in this area.
It is important to note that unlike many other fields, hybrid models of pharma sales and marketing, don’t just involve Work from Home (WFH). For this critical transformation drug companies would need first to create a commensurate organizational ecosystem to take on board all individuals in the hybrid workforce. The aim is to deliver differentiated deliverables in the marketplace with an expected return.
As I see around, building a hybrid sales and marketing model in-house from the very beginning could be more challenging, especially for mid-size companies due to various reasons. Outsourcing the non-traditional digital part of this initiative may add speed and exponential value, if the selection is right.
Either way, the pharma leaders, I guess, are already witnessing increasing intricacies in the traditional role of field staff. It needs to be resolved, soon – undoubtedly.
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.