Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, pharmaceutical companies knew that the customer engagement game had changed.
New types of stakeholders, little swayed by the strength of a product sales pitch, have been looking to pharmaceutical companies to sit more consistently at the patient population management table. Only a few were in the process of pivoting in response, but everyone knew that their way of engaging with their customers needed to change.
Now, as the global pandemic has re-written the rules of strategic customer engagement and removed at least in the short term, in person face-to-face contact with health. care stakeholders, pharmaceutical companies are trying to navigate how to be effective with their customers.
Aspirational phrases such as “partnership value” and “patient-centric approaches” have seeped their way into the planning conversation for years but with marginal impact on most product-focused launch strategies. It became necessary to accelerate the shift from transactional product sales pitches aimed at promoting a product to a physician for an unmet patient need to creating solutions designed for a broader set of account stakeholders.
This critical change to shift from transactional product driven messaging to strategic customer engagements was accelerated in the past year. For any pharmaceutical company sitting on the sidelines, “waiting for the storm to pass,” our message is clear: hoping that things will go back to “the way they used to be” is not an option.
In the midst of the chaos of the pandemic itself and the daunting challenges that lie ahead, it can often be difficult to see the silver lining. Pharmaceutical companies can embrace a compelling opportunity to make a strategic and critical shift. More than a sense of being stopped in one’s tracks, the pandemic has had the interesting effect of preventing pharmaceutical sales organizations from “speeding up the mess” of coin-operated sales pitches and has made companies acutely aware of the limits of product-centric physician contact models.
This raises the questions of an organization’s ability to pivot. The irony here is that at that very same time those thought to be the “traditional” influencers for pharmaceutical products appear to have gone into communications blackout, the issues now distracting health care stakeholders are creating customer needs and challenges that are starting to pile up and adding pressure to find insights and solutions to manage the overall patient population more effectively.
“The issues now distracting healthcare stakeholders are creating customer needs and challenges that are starting to pile up and adding pressure to find insights and solutions.”
Things have changed. Priorities have shifted. Your customers want to talk.
And they need to talk as a way to make sense of and validate their own re-worked strategies for moving forward. Entire sets of strategic initiatives, areas of therapeutic focus and primary and specialty care patient protocols have been thrown into disarray; exposing seismic gaps that the pharmaceutical industry can be well-suited to help customers close.
However, if pharma organizations are either hesitating or planning to double-down on the same product messages; (even those embedded in shiny new digital platforms backed by data), then they will miss the critical void that has now been created where a more imaginative and creative customer conversation can replace one-way tactical dialogs of little value or interest to healthcare stakeholders in need of new answers.
THREE IMPERATIVES FOR MOVING CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT FORWARD
To provide perspective and direction for pharma organizations ready to embrace a new way to engage with customer stakeholders, we see the following imperatives driven by leadership.
- BUILD A WIDER, MORE SUSTAINABLE BRIDGE BACK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
While the goal of positioning products against the competition in ways that promote appropriate, effective usage by patients will always need to be part of any good account strategy, it must finally take its proper place as a cog in the larger machinery of strategic customer engagement. The timing and context of physician interactions must be thoroughly integrated with the larger co-creation efforts between field teams and a broader selection of senior healthcare stakeholders who together, can identify more sustainable, patient population management solutions and enable new, stronger sets of account relationships to be formed.
In this way, pharma organizations can expand their footprint within accounts and build a wider bridge of value and impact in ways that more directly map to the strategic imperatives of the healthcare organization itself; imperatives now being substantially re-vamped.
“In a post Covid-19 world, product positioning must take its proper place as a cog in the larger machinery of strategic customer engagement.”
- CREATE AN ADVANTAGE THROUGH DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR CUSTOMERS
The need your customer stakeholders have to be better understood has been greatly intensified. Conversely, if those needs are not well-understood post-pandemic the propensity for commercial failure in pharmaceutical companies, will increase substantially as well. To the non-pharma world, it’s easy to assume that the picture should be bright for pharmaceutical companies producing medicine for a more sickened population with more complex needs. The most effective and valuable pharmaceutical account teams will be remembered for their ability to move beyond tactical sales pitches and understand customer and patient needs at a deeper level before recommending solutions matched to time-sensitive needs.
- DEMONSTRATE YOUR ABILITY TO PIVOT
Pharmaceutical companies and their commercial teams are not exactly known for being nimble and adaptable in times of extreme change. This has now been intensified and dragged out into the light of day with the stark disparity between the legacy product promotion objectives of pharmaceutical companies and tectonic shifts in strategy being forced on health care decisions makers.
This requires not just and adjustment in the game plan but a complete pivot in perspective and action. If health care stakeholders could listen in on the conversations at the C-suite level of more pharmaceutical companies, they might be pleasantly surprised at the range of vision and talk of ” True Partnership Value” between the pharmaceutical industry and the customers and patients they serve. However, if these aspirational messages remain embedded on glossy strategy plans without manifesting in the form of different customer engagement behavior at the field team level, then an ability to pivot will not be demonstrated.
What will separate pharmaceutical companies that succeed in moving customer engagement forward from those left behind, clinging to the ” Let’s find more ways to promote our products” mentality, is the recognition that:
1. The time to re-engage is now, when your customers are looking for more meaningful dialogue, not “after the storm passes” or ” when things return to the way they were.”
2. Data and digital strategies are best leveraged in support of strategic customer engagement approaches ( with appropriate and integrated product pull-through ), that recognizes a changed health care landscape and the ability to pivot in new directions.
Together, these three imperatives highlight how critical it is for pharmaceutical companies, now more than ever before, to pivot on their customer engagement strategy and evolve the capabilities of their customer teams.
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