3381_CustomerFacingModel_Blog (1)-1Jude Konzelmann co-wrote this blog post with Roz Lawson.

We all know that pharma’s customer-facing model has been evolving based on changes in the industry as well as in the broader environment. Technology allows HCPs to have easier access to medical information than ever before, but it’s an overwhelming amount of information: medical knowledge was estimated to double every 50 years in 1950, but next year it’s projected to double in just 73 days.

Within the last year, we have seen an increased appetite for innovation in customer engagement from both large and small companies, from rare disease to primary care.

Customer engagement of the past:                         Customer engagement of the future:
Mostly face-to-face                                                    Increasingly multi-channel
Mostly one-size-fits-all                                             Increasingly personalized
Mostly pushed                                                             Increasingly two-way
Mostly “more is better”                                             Experience quality is better
Mostly siloed                                                               Increasingly connected

We believe that any customer-facing model must be multi-channel, and face-to-face promotion is just one channel. Companies often struggle with finding the right balance of promotion between face-to-face and non-personal channels. How much you push to one end of the spectrum (heavily face-to-face vs. heavily non-personal channels) depends on five key factors:

  1. Product/therapy area complexity: Introducing new products such as pan-tumour indications or CAR-Ts to the market requires high levels of expertise and interaction with healthcare providers, in order to earn their trust. This is much easier to achieve face to face. If, however, the product isn’t complex, meets a clear unmet need and is guideline-driven (an antibiotic for example), then investing in broader, non-personal promotion with no face-to-face interaction could make sense. Everything in between requires a blend of promotion. The question is, where should you set the needle?

    For example, a major pharma player was launching a high potential asset in an underdiagnosed condition and needed to engage the wider HCP community to improve the diagnosis rate. The company opted for a hybrid approach: face-to-face coverage was directed at centers of expertise and major clinics, which had the capabilities to diagnose patients and manage the complexity of the condition, while mostly digital channels were leveraged for other customers to raise general disease awareness, assist in diagnosis and increase referral rates.


  1. Product lifecycle: It’s really hard to launch a product without visiting prospective customers. Our clients ask, “Can’t we just do digital?”, but proactive promotion is difficult if you don’t know who the customers are, don’t have their email addresses and (in Europe at least) don’t have permission to contact them. Once established, and especially later in the product lifecycle, a more digital-heavy approach can help reach a broader customer base and potentially serve customers better by tailoring promotion and content to their specific situation. The right blend of face-to-face and digital channels depends on the objectives for each stage of the lifecycle: It will be different if the objective is education, awareness, patient identification, share gain, loss of exclusivity or lifecycle management.

    For example, one major pharma company was looking to optimize its commercial organization structure due to changes in its oncology portfolio. Because of the breadth of the portfolio and multiple new high-potential assets coming to market, certain products were deprioritized for face-to-face promotion and switched to digital-only channels. These were selected based on potential, but also on the company’s ability to win with digital with these products, as determined by understanding the customer decision-making process in detail, understanding and developing their own capabilities and by testing through research. The company had the capabilities to design and deliver digital interactions such as emails, webinars and online information to customers to support their continued use of these products.


  1. Face-to-face access: Access to HCPs is becoming more and more challenging, especially in some therapy areas and some countries. This can be a driver of a more digital or remote promotion model. For example, access to GPs in the UK is notoriously low, and face-to-face interaction is limited to group visits in some of the largest French hospitals. Tailored digital campaigns can offer broader reach and a better return on investment than traditional face-to-face models.

    For example, a major pharma company in France was facing increasing access restrictions for its face-to-face team. The company adopted an automation technology based on machine learning that sequenced their face-to-face promotion and other channels such as emails and webinar invites to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time, making the most of face-to-face interactions and managing access challenges.


  1. Customer preferences and needs: To create a positive customer experience, companies need to build the following internal capabilities to develop relevant communication across channels:

  • Identifying the right message
  • Developing the right content
  • Adapting content to the appropriate channel
  • Orchestrating content delivery based on preferences, optimal timing and sequences

    For example, to innovate its customer engagement approach across multiple therapy areas, a major pharma company segmented its customers based on channel preferences and developed smart journeys orchestrating the customer experience. At the same time, the company focused on developing sales rep capabilities so that physicians remembered the interaction because it was seen as valuable.
  1. Company vision: Last but not least, think about your ambition as a company and what objectives you’re seeking to achieve: who do you want to be for your patients and customers? If you want to build a reputation as the trusted partner for migraine therapy or the leading diabetes company, you need some feet on the street. You can of course use a multichannel approach to deliver an excellent customer experience, but it will be hard to achieve with a digital-only approach.

    For example, a pharma company with a presence in primary care was looking to build a specialty care organization in Europe. Although the product complexity was not especially high, the company chose to invest in face-to-face promotion rather than digital channels, because it wanted to establish a reputation as a highly scientific, specialty care-focused company. 

When faced with the question of how to design your customer-facing model, assessing your situation against these five drivers can help set the needle on the face-to-face/digital scale.

Topics: customer engagement, digital promotion, face-to-face promotion