Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

AffinityMonitor Canada: Channel preferences and coordination matter

By Doug Woods, Angela Wang, and Michael Kenigsberg

July 30, 2020 | Article | 20-minute read

AffinityMonitor Canada: Channel preferences and coordination matter

As we publish this article, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in many ways, and pharmaceutical companies are no exception. Sales reps aren’t able to visit their customers face-to-face, the grounding of sales teams has hastened the importance of shifting promotional tactics to digital channels and new non-personal promotion tactics are becoming increasingly prevalent.


We conducted ZS’s 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada report before social distancing policies in Canada and around the world led to major changes in pharma’s commercial model. However, the data and insights we collected in this report can still act as a baseline, allowing us to determine the size and scope of physician engagement preferences in the future while taking into account pharma’s new reality. We expect that with decreased opportunities for face-to-face promotion, some physicians’ engagement preferences will change, and some of these changes in engagement preference will continue post-social-distancing measures.


In this executive summary of the 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada report, we’ll share Canada-specific insights on how physicians are engaging with pharmaceutical companies today and what companies need to do to create a positive customer experience going forward.

The state of engagement

No matter the state of the pharmaceutical landscape, a solid, data-driven understanding of physician engagement enables pharma companies to tailor future engagement journeys to physician preferences. It also allows companies to better drive channel investments, ensuring that they are investing in the channels that their potential prescribers are engaging in. Today, Canadian pharmaceutical companies are increasingly investing in engagement channels outside of the traditional rep channel. The use of digital channels in particular has expanded drastically, with email being used by two-thirds of companies as compared to one-half just two years earlier, according to ZS’s 2019 Canadian Customer-Centric Marketing Benchmarking Survey. And that trend is continuing: The study also shows that 88% of companies surveyed plan to add more digital channels in the upcoming year.


With the proliferation of engagement channels, Canadian physicians are becoming increasingly bombarded with messages from pharmaceutical companies. We estimate that the most frequently contacted physicians could be getting up to 1,000 attempted touch points from pharma per year across all engagement channels, representing nearly four touch points for each working day. This trend towards increased interaction attempts will only grow as companies invest in more channels. Currently, few pharma companies are coordinating their HCP engagements across channels or brands, with fewer still accounting for HCP preferences in determining which channels to engage through. This suggests a need for Canadian pharmaceutical companies to carefully coordinate engagements across channels to ensure a seamless and positive customer experience.

“As compared to older generations, millennials are the least likely to open emails. In fact, younger generations are less likely to interact with pharma companies in any channel.”

From insight to action

Despite the major disruptions we’ve seen to the pharma landscape in 2020, there are many opportunities for companies to rethink existing approaches to physician engagement and try new ideas for improving the customer experience. Based on our 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada findings, here are four key takeaways for pharma companies looking to improve physician engagement:


1.  There’s still strong rep access in Canada. There’s a lower proportion of physicians with access restrictions in Canada as compared to the U.S. Based on the 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada data, 7% of Canadian physicians are severely access-restricted[1] as compared to 17% in the U.S.[2] There are also significant differences in access across specialties and geographies within Canada. For instance, 13% of pediatricians and endocrinologists are severely access-restricted vs. 0% of rheumatologists, urologists and OB-GYNs. Geographically, remote areas have the lowest rep access, with areas like Northern Quebec, Northern BC and PEI having severe access restrictions for 32%, 20% and 17% of physicians, respectively. The reason for low rep access in remote areas is likely a combination of access restrictions imposed by the physician and rep challenges in visiting these remote geographies. Both cases are important to take into consideration while call planning to ensure that planned calls are feasible and are likely to be completed.


[1] Severely access-restricted is defined as HCPs reached (>3 actual calls) by ≤30% of the reps that are targeting them (>3 planned calls or >3 actual calls or flagged as important).

[2] AccessMonitorTM U.S. 2019 Semester 2 Report

2. Younger generations are less willing to engage. Despite the common assumption that millennials are more likely to prefer digital channels, AffinityMonitor® data shows quite the opposite. As compared to older generations, millennials are the least likely to open emails. In fact, younger generations are less likely to interact with pharmaceutical companies in any channel. Also interesting is the fact that the rep channel is still the most preferred channel across all age groups, with engagement rates far higher than what is observed in other channels.


Given these trends, it’s likely that Canadian physicians will slowly continue to become more difficult for pharmaceutical companies to engage with. By understanding the preferences of physicians, companies can ensure that they not only continue to access physicians at the company’s desired frequencies, but also do so in a way that is meaningful to the physician.

3.  Not all planned rep calls are attainable. Canadian pharmaceutical companies have long debated what call frequencies are attainable with their physicians. In the absence of data, companies sometimes set aspirational call frequencies that resulted in unattainable targets for reps.


AffinityMonitor® shows Canadian pharmaceutical companies what call frequencies a best-in-class rep can achieve at the HCP level. For example, it’s important to know that the average rep delivers one call a quarter to a given doctor, but it’s also useful to know that reps with the strongest relationships can get in once a month with that same customer. For that reason, the AffinityMonitor® report shows the achieved call frequencies for the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile rep.


Based on the 75th percentile call frequencies for each doctor, 12-plus calls are only achievable for 9% of general practitioners and 12% of pediatricians. In comparison, 12-plus calls are attainable—or even expected—for specialists like rheumatologists and cardiologists.


Comparing planned calls to the 75th percentile call frequencies for the companies that contributed to the 2019 AffinityMonitor® report showed that around 9% of planned calls were unattainable for the average company. Companies can adjust their call plans so that they don’t include those unattainable calls and use that capacity to call on different doctors instead, or they can downsize their field force and use the cost savings in other ways.


4. Receptivity to emails varies. The 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada report showed that general practitioners opened 37% of emails received from pharmaceutical companies. Of the 83% of general practitioners that open emails, open rates range from 85% for the top quartile to 25% for the bottom quartile. Although it’s low cost to add on additional emails to an existing campaign, it’s important to consider physician receptivity to emails to ensure that important messages are delivered in a timely manner and to minimize the quantity of unwanted emails that are being sent to physicians.


In addition, as companies are starting to build digital channels, email consent collection is often an early priority that requires significant effort. Using a data-driven approach, companies can identify the physicians most likely to be receptive to email in order to prioritize outreach efforts.

While the data from this report acts as a baseline for channel preferences, future waves of AffinityMonitor® will be able to track and compare physician receptivity by channel during and after COVID-19, allowing us to monitor macro changes in Canadian physician channel affinity driven by extended periods of no face-to-face contact, increased digital promotion (digital channel and content proliferation), and wider use of e-detailing and inside sales.


While no crystal ball can share the future of the pharmaceutical landscape, one thing is certain: Change is most certainly the only constant. However, pharma companies with a strong, data-driven understanding of their customers will be the ones to weather the storm.


The AffinityMonitor® Canada report launched in 2019 and captures pharmaceutical sales and marketing interactions across channels at the individual physician level. Although the report is newly launched in Canada, ZS has been providing this report on U.S. physicians since 2008.


The 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada report includes data from:

  • 21,000-plus physicians
  • 60-plus brands
  • 2-million-plus touch points
The 2019 AffinityMonitor® Canada report provides information on how physicians engage with pharmaceutical companies in the following channels:
  • Personal face-to-face (sales rep)
  • Personal remote (e-rep, telesales rep)
  • Digital push (e-mail)
  • Peer interaction (speaker programs, conferences, webinars)


The AffinityMonitor® data can be used to support a variety of activities within the engagement planning process, including but not limited to:

  • Call planning: Validation of no-see lists and refinement of planned call frequencies
  • Sales force design: Refinement of sales force size and balancing workload across territories
  • Engagement journey design: Physician segmentation based on channel receptivity in addition to value, allocation of spend by channel and development of customer engagement journeys
These activities could help drive significant revenue gains and cost savings. By incorporating AffinityMonitor® data into call planning and sales force sizing, companies can create coordinated customer journeys based on the channels and cadences that physicians prefer, leading to cost savings and revenue gains.

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