Smart Pharma Sales: How Digital is Reinventing the Process

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Publication Date:
June 2020
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Post COVID-19, pharma's opportunity is to build on the impact of digital technology to revolutionize its sales practice and engagement strategies

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically reshaped how pharma does sales and has driven rapid growth in the use of digital technology. With old sales models no longer fit for purpose, companies need to take the opportunity to drive digital innovation and develop multichannel strategies to effectively engage with key stakeholders. The digitally savvy sales rep of the future will need to take on an expanded role, harmonising multiple interactions across all channels to deliver seamless experiences that will help HCPs make the right decisions for their patients. But how will reps build and maintain key personal relationships? What new skills do they need? How does this role fit into pharma's commercial team structure?

This critical June 2020 report Smart Pharma Sales: How Digital is Reinventing the Process explores, through extensive interviews with sales leaders from companies such as Merck, Roche and Novartis, these key questions and identifies practical approaches, tools and techniques for developing the smart sales force of the future.

Experts explore key questions such as...

  • How has COVID-19 impacted pharma sales?
  • How are digital technologies transforming the size and structure of pharma's sales force?
  • How is pharma attracting and recruiting individuals with the skills and capabilities needed for selling in a digital world?
  • What training and technologies such as augmented/virtual reality are helping pharma's sales force meet the challenges of digitally-orientated roles?
  • How are digital technologies impacting relationships between sales reps and physicians?
  • What KPIs and tools are being adopted to measure the success of pharma's sales force in a digital world?

What Experts say...

"COVID-19 pushes all field forces to rapidly strengthen their digital muscles. What we learn is that although the set-up of face-to-face calls and Zoom or Skype calls is different, the dynamics remain quite similar. HCPs that were easy to approach before COVID-19 seem to also be more accessible through digital tools, whenever their workload allows. My belief is that this new normal of digital pharma sales will continue to exist. Therefore, field forces need to adapt quickly as I expect a number of HCPs will prefer to be approached only through digital means, even once this crisis is over."
Anonymous, Global Marketing Leader leading US pharma company

"The increase in the use of digital is a product of the fact that you can't get in front of a doctor like you have in the past. For example, tools such as AR and VR are something new and innovative and that allow you to get five minutes instead of one minute to reach your targets. Furthermore, the use of digital has become even more of a priority during the COVID-19 outbreak."
Neil Keene, Novartis, US

"A digital pharma salesperson becomes more of a networker of information, which involves connecting the right information with their client, the physician. The other element is being a good storyteller, even in a multimedia environment and being comfortable with not following the exact sequence of stories. This has to do with being very flexible around the question of 'where is my customer in his knowledge journey and what resonates best with my customer?' This also means the salesperson has to apply more listening and be more adaptive to the style and preference of the physician, whether they're more scientific, more patient-oriented or prefer a 'be-quick, be-gone' style."
Jörg Corsten Roche, Switzerland

Case studies included

  • How Sanofi is using AI to recruit Chinese sales staff
  • How Viscira used AR to help improve Actelion's salesforce's knowledge of pulmonary arterial hypertension
  • Towards intelligent customer engagement: Novartis' partnership with Aktana

What to expect

A detailed report exploring the process and personnel challenges of driving digital pharma sales.

  • An examination of 12 key issues that are driving pharma's digital sales revolution
  • 15 targeted questions put to digital sales and marketing experts
  • Their responses which provided 65 insights supported by 116 directly quoted comments

Expert contributors

Experts contributing to this report have been screened to ensure they:

  • Are a pharma professional working within the field of sales, digital marketing, and/or multichannel marketing
  • Have over 5 years' experience within the field of multichannel sales and marketing.
  • Have been responsible for conceptualizing, developing, and shaping strategies and initiatives for pharma sales and marketing
  • Have direct experience of analyzing and interpreting previous customer interactions and behavioural data for the purpose of informing future engagement with HCPs and other key stakeholders across digital and non-digital communication channels, either as part of a committee, or as the lead decision-maker, in the last 12 months

Experts interviewed included

  • Chetak Buaria is the Global Head of Customer Engagement & Channel Evolution at Merck Group. With over 20 years' experience in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, Chetak has led and developed teams across diverse functions such as commercial operations, strategic marketing and business development. In his current role, he leads the global team responsible the deployment and adoption of digital solutions to improve Merck's global commercial system. Chetak is highly skilled in Pharmaceutical Sales, Strategic Marketing and Business Development.
  • Jörg Corsten is currently Digital Medical Engagement Strategist for F. Hoffmann La-Roche, Switzerland. He has almost 19 years of pharma industry experience across various roles, most of them related to the use of technology to drive engagement and sales through the development, coordination and implementation of digital strategies. With a marked passion for customer-centric digital transformation and innovation, Jörg is an experienced digital marketing specialist with a strong economics and business administration background. In addition to leading teams in the implementation of Roche's digital strategy, he has provided volunteer mentorship on maximising social media channels for marketing and sales. His specialities include digital brand planning and digital medical customer engagement.
  • Dr Hector de la Riva currently works with Novartis as Spain Commercial Lead, Gene Therapy for Rare Ocular Disease. Prior to his current position, he has served in a variety of roles mainly in Sales and Marketing, but also in Medical Affairs and Clinical Research in the areas of Rare Diseases, Inflammation and Immunology, Oncology and Liver Disease. He has expertise in Strategic Planning, Product Management, Account Management, Marketing Strategy and Pharmaceutical Sales. In addition, he has led some digital strategies and transformations within commercial activities in different therapeutic areas
  • Jorge Herrera is currently Pfizer's Emerging Markets Digital Marketing Lead where he leads the digital strategy and transformation in emerging markets for Pfizer's Innovative Health Business Unit. With over 25 years digital technology experience and over 16 years in the pharmaceutical industry, he has served in various roles using digital marketing strategies and tactics to improve business outcomes. From automation to email marketing and CRM tools to multichannel marketing, Jorge is a seasoned leader in digital marketing, digital strategy and marketing strategy within the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Neil Keene is currently a Marketing Consultant at Novartis, responsible for the company's multiple sclerosis portfolio. Neil has garnered significant experience in multiple executive-level strategic Multichannel Digital Marketing roles in the Pharmaceutical/Biotech and Medical Device space. Prior to his role at Novartis, he was Digital Brand Consultant, NASH HCP Marketing for Intercept and Digital/Multichannel Marketing (MCM) Consultant for Sunovion Pharmaceuticals where he managed the strategic, tactical, digital and MCM for the respiratory franchise of products. In 2019, he was a key speaker on the topic of digital transformation at several pharmaceutical and healthcare conferences. His specialities include strategic marketing, digital and online marketing and MCM.
  • Matt Portch is the Senior Vice President, Sales and Market Access at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. Matt brings 35 years of pharmaceutical sales experience into his current job. Having risen through the ranks in several roles from sales rep to SVP of sales and market access, Matt has hands-on understanding of the impact of digital capabilities in pharma sales. His key strengths include strategy, pharmaceutical sales and sales effectiveness.
  • Anonymous is the Global Marketing Leader at a leading US pharma company. Prior to joining them, he was Global Marketing Director for another pharma company, where he successfully repositioned and relaunched new medicine for a rare disease, creating the fastest growing brand within that disease area and driving accelerated global sales growth. He also co-led the company's Global Digital Strategy and capability building programme. For over 17 years, Anonymous has gained strong experience as a global commercial pharma and biotech executive with a proven track record of delivering strong growth at global, regional and affiliate levels. His expertise lies in sales effectiveness, product launch, marketing strategy and commercial excellence.
  • Anonymous is the Digital Sales Lead at a top 10 pharmaceutical company in the UK. In the past, she has worked as an e-detailer and as regional business manager at two other pharma companies. With over 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical sales, more recently focused on digital, anonymous is vastly experienced in the impact of digital in pharma sales. Her areas of expertise include sales management, account management and market access.

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