When Myths Become Reality: Commercial Evolution
Chris Colapietro, VP Customer Engagement COE
Mar 15, 2019

As humans, we’re prone to legends and mythology. Whether we are attempting to explain the unknown (like the Greeks), verbalize our greatest fears (like urban legends), or differentiate our products and services (like sales and marketing people—guilty!). All cultures and communities have their own stories they tell, and the Life Science industry is no different.

Digital Transformation Myth

Industry has been talking about digital transformation for a decade. Even we’re guilty. And if you’re anything like me, then I know what you’re thinking: What on earth does that even mean? You probably even gave an eye roll or two, because let’s face it: “digital transformation” has become as meaningless as “best-in-class”.

By and large, the customer experience for manufacturers hasn’t changed much in the last two decades. Representatives still go to offices based on market potential, and travel schedules designed with mostly arbitrary content, rather than allowing physicians to determine the content they want to see and when they want to see it.

When we use the old method, we’re lucky to get even a minute of physicians’ time, and even then the interaction often is mere placating on the part of the doctor. And truth be told, Life Science is the laggard industry. We talk about digital transformation as if something has radically changed our engagement model the way Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and other companies have been fundamentally transformed. But we haven’t.

For the most part, “digital transformation” has been lip service that couldn’t drive the efficiencies and engagement necessary to provide our clients with the consumer-grade experience that they’ve come to expect in literally every other organization and industry they interact with.

Patient/Customer Centricity Myth

As an industry, we try to put customers, physicians, patients, and caregivers, at the center of engagement for over 30 years, and we have made some progress at doing so. Manufacturers provide more resources than ever to customers: patient assistance programs, samples for physicians, nurse educators and other field personnel. They invest tremendous capital—human and otherwise—in helping patients.

Life Sciences companies equally attempt to enable multiple channels to engage customers. Though, as we know all too well, these efforts are largely done in silos. Channels are utilized with little awareness of other programs, say nothing of an orchestrated approach to providing an integrated customer experience.

Multi-Channel Marketing Myth

The last evolutionary attempt the industry made to improve the customer experience was through the buzz-worthy multi-channel marketing method. The premise of MCM is imperative: interact with your customers how, when, and where they want to. But in execution, true multi-channel marketing was never enabled. Quad-channel marketing was.

The quad-channel engagement model is easily identifiable

  • in-person discussions
  • emails
  • websites
  • call centers

The industry isn’t quad-channel because those are the only platforms available to reach customers, nor because manufacturers are only willing to use this platforms. Rather, every additional engagement channel required another technology (and license fee) and another integration point added to the stack.

Limitations Behind the Myths

I want to be clear: our industry myths aren’t a con or marketing ploy. Digital transformation, patient/customer centricity, and truly multi-channel marketing are aspirations and evolutions. The steps we’ve made along the way are significant. And the challenges that handicapped their progress are valid.

Digital transformation has been a myth because we haven’t been able to really define what that transformation is—or would be. We’ve been using the term with no clear understanding of the digital evolution we’re experiencing.

Patient/customer centricity and multi-channel marketing are stunted by the sheer investment needed to achieve the aspiration. A fully consumer-grade engagement methodology (and the multi-channel marketing to support it) historically required an expansive and expensive tech stack that all needed to be integrated and regulated. The inefficiency was simply too costly.

The end result is, yes, the industry is engaging with customers in multiple ways, but not in the ways customers want, largely because the technology doesn’t enable it. Instead, we have limited ourselves to four channels that has caused a trend—one in which physicians receive more than 200 promotional e-mails from pharma annually. That’s almost 1 a day! In essence, our latest attempt at customer centricity has led to a “spray and pray” approach. And the prayer we’re chanting is “Please don’t opt out!”

Technology Makes Myths a Reality

I understand it’s hard to envision a consumer-grade model in pharma, since it’s hard to even imagine what the technology would look like to make it happen. But the truth is, many of your peers are already early adopters and seeing these successes. And the first step is eliminating system silos and consolidating your technology ecosystem so you can have greater insights with lower costs and fewer integrations.

You might be wondering what’s next. I’ll tell you:

  • What if HCPs could opt-in to notifications when in-field personnel (MSLs, Reps, Nurse Educators) are within 30 minutes of them, and could request avisit, or simply ignore the prompt and go on with their day?
  • What if representatives could proactively be aware of the other engagement touchpoints their company has had (emails, symposia, speaker bureau) with their customers?
  • What if marketers could refine the channel preference—at an individual level—based on feedback a customer provided to a rep?
  • What if consumers could receive automated notification of clinical trials for conditions important to them, and the nearby sites now enrolling patients?

Our buyers: consumers and HCPs alike, are people first, just like we are. The experience we’re all looking for is the same one we have when we engage in our everyday lives. Just as when we use the Starbucks app or buy something on Amazon, Life Sciences now have the ability to deliver a consumer-grade customer experience where by all the resources manufacturers have, all the human and digital channels, and all of our customer experiences can be orchestrated on a single platform, with 0 integration required, for a single price.

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