Digital is the preferred method to engage with the pharmaceutical industry for a vast majority of physicians today. But as physicians interact with company assets across multiple channels, sales organizations need to work smarter than before and sales reps need to coordinate more purposefully with marketing channels. Several companies either are considering or are already experimenting with the concept of “field suggestions,” a data-science-driven capability that links multiple data assets across sales, marketing, market access and other functions to produce deep customer insights and suggested actions for sales reps. Without this capability, these insights would otherwise be extremely difficult to predict, even for some of the best reps in the industry.
Commercial leaders from many companies believe in the value of suggestions and the impact that this capability can create within their organizations, but many often wonder how to get started, and what to do to ensure a strong first implementation. Consider these five key imperatives when approaching a suggestions program:
- Start small, test, learn and scale. Institute an early experience program for targeted franchises (or markets) initially before rolling out to the entire organization. Based on therapeutic area, data availability and organizational bandwidth, some companies may choose to start with simpler business-rules-based suggestions. Some companies may start with suggestions for the field initially and then move on to suggestions for the marketing organization to optimize campaigns.
- Establish champions and develop a value proposition. Strong, sincere senior management support plus the clear articulation of how suggestions can enhance efficiency for high-performing reps and maximize effectiveness of an average rep are required to secure organizational buy-in.
- Assess for data readiness. Organizations will see value from suggestions more quickly if they have already started collecting data assets across the enterprise, including those from third-party marketing agencies. However, companies can get started with simple yet impactful business-rules-based suggestions even with a limited data set.
- Emphasize behavioral training. Training needs to be focused not just on the tools, but also on upskilling the reps and educating them on how to leverage the insights. Additionally, training should include first-line managers who need to coach their sales teams on how to capitalize on the suggestions.
- Set up a cross-functional administration committee and impactful metrics. A cross-functional committee consisting of sales operations, marketing, business analytics and IT can help with the co-creation of suggestions, facilitation of field communications and maintenance of business rules. The impact of suggestions must be measured in multiple forms and at multiple time periods to help assess rep adoption, customer engagement and sales impact.
Pilot programs for suggestions are already under way by some early adopters. As companies continue to optimize the customer experience, many will ultimately institutionalize the capability, but they will only get there by starting with small, incremental steps. However, throughout this journey, companies must remain focused on the purposeful integration of sales force effectiveness and domain analytics to ensure that at each maturity level, suggestions continue to drive stronger impact to the field and commercial teams.