Pharma's new marketing mix brings closer collaboration with sales reps

While pharma experienced a massive shift to digital sales brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward, a marketing mix that includes in-person touch points remains integral to building strong relationships in the pharmaceutical marketing industry.

That’s according to Dan Rizzo, Veeva Systems' head of global business consulting, who explained in an interview that pharma needs to be shifting sales and marketing tactics in this new, so-called “blended environment,” which includes developing a new sales compensation model for the future.

According to a recent report from Veeva—using data from 130 million quarterly field interactions across 80% of global biopharmas—video meetings are three times more effective than in-person interactions when it comes to driving new prescriptions. In fact, Veeva found that pharma video calls with providers averaged around 21 minutes, significantly longer than the two or three minutes of an in-person interaction.

Pre-pandemic, an estimated 5% of sales interactions with healthcare professionals were digital, and that number is nearly 30% post-pandemic. Specifically, the field sales teams report interacting with healthcare professionals through email (18%), over the phone (5%) and on video (3%), according to the Veeva study.

As a result of the change, pharma marketing departments are now having to create different and expanded content to arm sales professionals for client meetings. Plus, content that sales teams traditionally left behind in the physician’s office via paper is now requested electronically and must contain a robust pipeline of digital content.

“The best reps will need compelling content for not only a first dialogue but follow-up meetings between reps and healthcare providers as well,” Rizzo said.

Why the longer engagements via digital means? According to Rizzo, it comes down to physicians preferring a planned meeting time than an unannounced walk-in.

“With a scheduled video meeting on the calendar, you have the provider’s undivided attention,” Rizzo said. “The fact that HCPs were willing to engage in this format, they value what pharma marketers have to bring to the table.”

The next steps in the industry’s revolution relies on marketing departments finding the best balance between in-person and digital content and how to bridge visits without losing a healthcare provider’s attention.

So, what about the talk around “digital fatigue"? Rizzo says that if the balance is correct, pharma marketers are not facing this fatigue among their clients. Moving forward, the mix will likely settle on a 70-30 split between in-person and digital connections. Keeping in mind, this 30% digital touch point mix includes email, video, phone, text or chat.

Rizzo also warns that the phone is the least effective digital channel, so marketers should not concentrate too much time on this type of communication. In addition, while email can be quite effective if personalized, he warns to avoid the trap of mass email marketing blasts that healthcare providers will never open or read.

“It’s been interesting to see sales and marketing come closer together than ever before. The [sales] rep is serving as a bridge between sales and marketing,” Rizzo said. In fact, Rizzo sees marketing as the center of the brain: Marketing comes up with the “plan,” and it is up to the pharma sales team to execute.

Plus, the sales reps are the source of invaluable information to report back to the marketing team such as channel preferences, what’s working and what is not, etc. Therefore, Rizzo notes the importance of automating and capturing this information from the front-line rep.

In this symbiotic relationship, companies can get their sales force to understand that they “have a marketing role and responsibility within this organization […] We all need to be learning from one another,” Rizzo said.

The next trend on the pharma marketing horizon is the reevaluation of compensation models for sales teams, because current models rely on rewards for the end results. But with information now being shared at such a fast pace, the analytics and the financials must adapt as well.