by Andreas Buchholz


Nice, October 11 2022


Over the past week, I had the privilege to attend the Reuters Pharma Event 2022 in the beautiful city of Nice which included numerous compelling discussions, meetings and presentations. On that note, I am more than happy to share my summary of the keywords that were the focus of the commercial and marketing tracks for those who were unable to attend:

Omnichannel and Hybrid Reps

Omnichannel and hybrid sales reps are on the rise and have come to stay. However, this doesn’t just mean that KAMs are no longer the only ones who are in touch with the HCPs. More is involved than merely adding additional channels such as company emails and webinars.

Content is king. This is one of the key phrases in social media, but it applies equally to commercial engagement strategies in the pharma industry. In this context, Novo Nordisk presented its content creation strategy. Together with various media agencies, they invest huge sums to get the right messages across. And although content creation is not (yet) their core competency, it is one of the most important success factors.

But you can’t simply send every piece of content to your customers. In fact, it is essential that you have a personalization strategy in place to present the right message to each customer at the right time in the right channel. This can be achieved by adding new levels of segmentation such as digital segmentation and behavioral segmentation, but also by using other personalization strategies such as customer feedback (like/dislike). This also translates into the required customer journey strategies enabling you to track each customer’s engagement across channels. Which email was opened by the customer? Did he open an email triggered by a representative after a F2F visit? Which URL did the customer click on? What was the message behind the URL that was clicked? What was his reaction to the message? There are numerous questions that arise after the start of the omnichannel journey. I will discuss this issue in more detail in the following section, “Data Everywhere.”

Some discussion also revolved around the division between sales representatives and medical representatives. Is this split still state-of-the-art or do we need new commercial models which include a tide integration of both, commercial and medical reps, or even going one step further to remove the split completely and just have one team? Is this division still contemporary, or do we need new business models that provide for close integration of commercial and medical representatives? Or do we even go one step further and abolish the division altogether by having one team only?

Numerous questions regarding the omnichannel were related to the return on investment (ROI) for omnichannel strategies. Does it really make sense to invest in multiple channels and content marketing, or should we continue to make large investments in F2F? I think this is one of the most difficult questions that I was unable to find an answer to during the conference. Calculating the ROI based on the number of prescriptions may not be possible, and it is difficult to link actual sales to omnichannel marketing. However, it can also be measured by quality factors such as NPS (net promoter score) or customer satisfaction (see the “Customer centricity” section for more details). Therefore, you could let your customers judge the success of the omnichannel strategy. One of the most interesting responses I received was, “Can we afford not to?”. In other words: If many pharmaceutical companies invest in a new engagement model, “old-fashioned” distribution models could face hard times in the near future.

Emerging engagement models also call for new measures of success, i.e., new KPIs, but also new targets for sales teams. In the past, KAMs often received a bonus based on prescriptions, market share, and/or adherence to call schedules. But is this still the best possible approach? Do we not need to replace this with more customer-focused metrics such as NPS or customer satisfaction? Instead of individual targets, shouldn’t we be thinking about team targets? KAMs focus their work on making the most of it at the end of the day. If all that matters is the number of visits, what interest do they have in a well-defined content strategy?

So far, I have already observed a further regression towards a strong F2F focus among some of my customers as well as many restrictions and blockages still imposed by the KAMs. That doesn’t surprise me, because you can’t introduce a completely new process within a few months and expect everyone to just go along and adopt it. It’s about leaving the comfort zone and by that leaving the ways that have been mundane for many years. Change management is crucial when it comes to establishing the new hybrid agent approach and omnichannel strategies.

Data everywhere

While data is ubiquitous in pharmaceutical companies, many still struggle with turning data into insights that can be translated into action. In particular, the new omnichannel strategies, hybrid sales models and content strategies provide many times more data than ever before. Already existing data models require modification or new data models need to be created.

This leads me to the following statement: Many companies are rich in data but poor in insights! So how can you get people to use them?

More than ever before, clear data strategies have become imperative in order to deliver clean and reliable data to users. We can observe that many companies are investing in data lakes, data warehouses and data lakehouses to cope with the huge amounts of data. Excel is no longer sufficient to integrate these many different data sources into a single point of truth. Pharmaceutical companies need to develop strategies to have a single source of truth to avoid losing confidence in their numbers.

Palantir was one of the presenters at the conference and shared its strategy for transforming raw data into insights. Poor quality data locked in silos needs to be integrated into a solid foundation so users can access the data. Similar strategies can be achieved through solutions offered by AWS, Snowflake, and many others. While it is not the goal of this article to go into detail about the various approaches, more detailed articles will follow in the future.

Once the data is accessible, cleaned, and integrated, new actions must be taken to gain real insights from the data. In the past, I’ve seen many metrics such as number of interactions, time in the field, accessibility, call schedule adherence, and customer capture. Newer reports integrate channel mix, per-channel insights such as open rate, click rate, and key message delivery. But it’s no longer just about quantitative information; qualified measures are also gaining interest. Which content is used the most? How many reps are using rep triggered/approved emails? What about the use of engagement meetings? What key messages are being delivered to specific physicians? In the future, we will see other measures of customer centricity (see next chapter) such as customer satisfaction and NPS.

The value of data lakes lies not only in obtaining new metrics, but also in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), which were other hot topics at the conference. AI and ML are partially used in R&D, but also in clinical trials, which will help save a lot of cost and time when launching a new product. In the commercial sector, we see a very high level of interest regarding Next-Best-Actions (NBA). This is similar to the shopping experience on Amazon, where customers click on a product and see products that other customers have also purchased when buying that one product.

Next-Best-Action can help KAMs see which customers they should see next, but also understand what key message they should deliver to specific customers as well as which channel they should use to communicate. For example, they would receive reminders when they have made an F2F visit but have not yet sent an email following it. It therefore helps in providing personalized content and gives some guidance to the KAM. Taking it a step further, one could even think about monitoring how often a KAM follows the recommendation and to ask him/her why he/she does not follow the recommendation when he/she does something else, so that the system can learn from human behavior. While this sounds very promising at first glance, there could be many limitations as KAMs could feel even more controlled or directed. Therefore, it is essential to involve the KAMs in the projects and to develop change management strategies for a successful start.

In addition, it can be used to show the HCP content with messages such as “Other HCPs who have viewed xxx have also read the following article.” Thus, not only the KAM but also the HCP is guided in his interaction with the content.

Customer Centricity

Customer Centricity means putting the HCP at the center of everything you do and requiring new 360-degree views to see full engagement with customers. That means integrating all channels that interact with a customer into a single view for complete insight. Face-to-face visits need to be combined with omnichannel information such as company emails, webinars, web visits and many other channels.

However, it’s not just about integrating the different channels into a 360-degree view; new metrics are also important, and they need to focus not only on quantitative information such as the number of interactions, but also establish qualitative measures. Ideas discussed during the conference were customer satisfaction or NPS. The NPS in particular is already well established in many industries but is rarely used in the pharmaceutical sector. So why not conduct regular NPS surveys to help drive the strategy with each individual customer.

Like Netflix, why not create a “like” and “dislike” button that can be used to provide personalized content to each HCP based on their personal rating? This assessment can also be used to evaluate good content and determine how future content should be delivered. Achieving this cannot be done through simple F2F interactions, but requires closed-loop marketing (CLM) with strategies for efficiently delivering the right content.

Patient Centricity

The above topics focus more on the channel with the customer (HCP), although pharmaceutical companies are not only customer-centric but also patient-centric. This requires a shift from “selling pills” to “selling health.” However, there is so much more about patient-centeredness that requires an additional article.

Finally, I would like to thank the Reuters team for the fantastic Pharma 2022 event in Nice. I am already looking forward to the next conference in 2023, which will again be held in Barcelona.