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Knowledge Hub

How to embrace digital engagement, intelligently

By Simon Grime, Director – Digital Engagement, Wilmington Healthcare

Covid has changed the landscape for customer engagement so now it’s time to re-shape strategy and resources around precision.

Covid-19 has accelerated by 3-5 years the need to create the optimal blend of face-to-face sales resource and digital channels, to suit both the NHS customer landscape and patient needs.

To create the optimal customer-centric strategy and structure is a strategic imperative and requires a balance of key account management, aligned to the new NHS integrated customer landscape, with the right blend of channels for precise, relevant, timely and empathetic engagement.

Aligning your business to physicians’ evolving expectations

In a Wilmington Healthcare webinar last autumn, most pharma leaders felt they understood the NHS, although nearly half of the participating companies felt they did not have the right organisational structure to engage with the organisation as it now stands. Around the same percentage thought that customer engagement presented them with one of their greatest challenges.

McKinsey’s October 2020 Update on EU physician experiences, expectations and perspectives on pharma engagement also highlights the rise in in-patient consultations and the changing shape of the omni-channel mix, including an increase in willingness to see reps as well as rises in engagement with and use of video, email and print. While around 50% of HCPs in Germany, France and Italy are willing to see reps, in the UK, physicians were not expecting to accept visits for several months.

Relationships are augmented by digital

In addition to the personal relationship with the rep, which remains a key factor in HCPs’ willingness to engage with a particular pharma company, 67% of respondents expect tailored information in interactions, and 58% expect a tailored channel mix. More HCPs are opening and reading emails, and virtual meetings are lasting longer – up from seven to 31 minutes, according to one study.

The vast majority – over 85% – of HCPs now say they would like digital comms to complement face-to-face meetings. I suspect even more can’t imagine it any other way. This emerging preference is accelerating because good digital communications are more precisely targeted, and increasingly more engaging, through the use of relevant content; videos, virtual presentations, or even augmented reality. You can of course use these tools in face-to-face meetings, but here’s another finding; one third of HCPs believe that in-person meetings with sales reps will not resume post-pandemic. Think about that. One in three of the people that sales reps have traditionally called on will no longer be expecting them and may not welcome them.

Getting serious about digital

The genie is out of the bottle. We are in a data-driven digital world and there is no going back. Remote engagement is now an intrinsic part of how healthcare is being delivered. In-person consultations are still 30% below pre-pandemic levels and remote consultations have helped to pick up the slack. The profession is continuing to embrace virtual consultations and is using a host of techniques, from remote triaging to chatbots and apps that combine diagnosis, chat and referral systems.

The next step for pharma is about more than embracing digital. It requires thinking hard about strategy and re-shaping the resources and teams in the business to provide the optimal blend of customer engagement and channel mix, according to the disease and therapy area and the patient pathway, as well as upskilling the teams. Understanding customer channel preferences, and what different groups of clinicians engage in readily, enables a more compelling, engaging and meaningful customer experience and therefore a more trusted relationship. That is intelligent.

Creating the right channel blend to yield results

Reaching target customers and gaining their consent to engage through the relevant digital channels is the new normal, but requires the right team mix and organisational structure.

We can then blend the appropriate mix of content and channels, whether in launch preparation, in post-launch marketing support, or in shaping the market as part of earning the right to gain consent through the sharing of relevant scientific information and education. By holding and correctly utilising data on multiple roles held by some HCPs, and understanding their preferences, engagement can be tailored to make it precisely relevant.

We need to embrace digital and intelligent engagement, because if this survey by Gartner is correct, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels in the next five years.

How does this feed back into strategy? It comes back to precision. Combining the right balance of digitally enabled KAMs/reps for the new NHS customer landscape with precise customer data and channel preferences will drive improved performance and outcomes of the strategy, culminating in improved customer experience.