How can pharma sales reps harness the power of the digital and deliver more value to HCP’s?

Juliana Saldarriaga, Innovation Manager at A Piece of Pie Colombia

The doctor is in his office when there is a knock on the door: it is one of the sales representatives that visits him often. The doctor has learned this is not just someone who is selling medicine, it is someone who is genuinely interested in listening to him and meeting his needs to raise the quality of patient care. They talk for a while and shake hands. Now picture this situation in the COVID-19 era, when the digital transformation that was slowly taking place in healthcare has dramatically accelerated. What will happen to this relationship between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals (HCP)?

Pharma companies have established and nurtured their relationship with HCPs mainly through face-to-face interactions, something that is hard to change considering the channels HCP prefer, such as sales representatives, speaker programs and conferences, are all in-person (1). There is an expression we use in Latin America that explains this preference and the relevance of the sales rep in this relationship: the face of the saint does miracles, that is, there is nothing quite as effective or as productive as a face-to-face encounter, much less something as fleeting as an email or a phone call.

However, due to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, deeply rooted beliefs are being challenged everywhere and pharma companies and their sales reps have an opportunity to seriously consider digital channels to engage with HCP, a relationship that had remained untouched by digitalization. They must understand that the use of these channels is not a temporary issue but an essential part of a new interaction model for a post COVID-19 world — a model that requires we reimagine digital platforms not as detractors but as enablers of meaningful relationships in healthcare, such as the relationship between HCP and pharma companies.

There is growing evidence of this. From our fieldwork we know that, when it comes to onsite conferences, HCP consider the conference “follow up” is just as important as the actual event. This means their interaction with experts and pharma companies should not be limited to a two-day event and that more permanent channels should be available to them afterwards, when they’ve had time to review and absorb the conference’s insights.

“All of my questions about the topics covered come to me back home, during my study time. Not when I am in the conference room listening to the speaker” Neurologist.

Regarding new treatments, HCP have suggested it would be very interesting to them if they could somehow observe colleagues in other countries applying the treatment. They consider this could be more revealing than onsite events, where they learn about treatments but are not able to see them “in action”. In cases like these, digital channels are not limited to emails and webinars: they become ideal solutions to meet the needs of HCP — even those needs that already existed prior to COVID-19.

“I could talk about how I do my work every day, but if someone was actually with me for a day, his or her understanding about my routine would be more accurate” Hematologist.

Once we understand digital platforms can enable meaningful relationships, the question left to ask is how. How can pharma companies and their sales reps incorporate these channels quickly and efficiently, considering COVID-19 has created a sense of urgency? At A Piece of Pie, we are working on a model that helps these companies define a strategy to navigate the digital transformation and discover how the digital and the analogue coexist in a post COVID-19 world.

From our experience in healthcare projects, we know the first and most crucial step is to understand who we are dealing with. Not all HCP have the same relationship to the digital world, so it is important to inquire about their expectations and what they want to learn via digital channels, as well as the channels they are familiarized with and what they like and dislike about these. Knowing the sales rep is just as important: with our model, we want to understand what motivates and what discourages them about the digital transformation, as well as the capabilities that must be created or strengthened to make sure they are ready (and happy) to work through digital channels. This is essential because reps will continue to be relevant in the COVID-19 era and afterwards; they must be listened to and involved in order to avoid what Gartner’s Hype Cycle calls the “Trough of Disillusionment”, or the disappointment any community can feel when a new technology fails to meet expectations which, in the case of sales reps, is the enrichment of their connection with HCP (2).

Implementing this model and reimagining digital platforms as enablers of meaningful relationships in healthcare ensures the sales rep-doctor relationship will not disappear, but rather transform itself to remain relevant in a post COVID-19 world. Do not hesitate to contact us if you want to learn more about our model at!

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A Piece of Pie

A Piece of Pie

Global consultancy that brings meaningful impact through our unique business anthropology and emotionality approach.

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