Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

Pharma’s commercial model of tomorrow starts today

April 2, 2024 | Article | 8-minute read

Pharma’s commercial model of tomorrow starts today

We’re living in an attention economy. But for healthcare providers struggling to deliver care to patients in need, attention is a scarce commodity. Their days are riddled with interruptions: emails, EHR alerts and meetings with colleagues. And among those jockeying for attention are pharma reps. Only 50% of providers are estimated to be fully accessible today, and these customers are being bombarded, with 1.4 touchpoints every working hour from pharma manufacturers.


There’s no reason for pharma to add to the overload and burnout that healthcare providers are feeling these days. There is a better way.


Imagine that pharma organizations could communicate and interact with customers—providers, patients and other stakeholders—in a more seamless way, without creating more interruptions. Imagine if providers could get the information they need when they need it to improve the care they offer to their patients. Imagine that these capabilities could create less burden and more ease for everyone, while helping reach more patients with the right treatments and therapies.


Now that AI and other technologies are finally bringing us closer to achieving deep personalization, it’s time to turn this vision to a reality by rethinking the way pharma interacts with its customers. Pharma needs a model that delivers its innovation seamlessly into the heterogeneous experience of healthcare, increasing its value and making customers’ jobs easier.

Today’s model cannot support pharma’s future. A new future calls for bold transformation—inside and out.

How pharma can advance its interactions with customers

Think about the commercial model we use today. It’s anchored to sales reps and brand-centric marketing. Historically, that model has focused heavily on healthcare providers, at the moment they write a prescription.


Today, providers are considerably more overwhelmed and less accessible than they have ever been. And in general, more-personalized and customized experiences in all kinds of transactions are becoming the norm. Customers increasingly expect more customization around their needs—even when they want to be left alone. For these reasons (among others) the rep-centric “interruption model” isn’t effective now, nor will it be in the future.


There’s no doubt that pharma’s present commercial model has brought the sector a lot of success. But the approaches and attitudes that pharma employs today are holding us back:

  • Everyone—and no one—owns the customer. It’s increasingly impossible for reps to know about every touchpoint across all functions. Every function and channel has its own objectives, and every team has its own portfolio priorities. So companies end up creating a siloed, disconnected and interruption-heavy experience for a given customer.
  • A product-first orientation. Pharma continues to measure its success based on products, not customers. It thinks, plans, acts and measures around product features and benefits—not customer needs.
  • One engagement model. Each customer has their own needs, desires and journeys through healthcare. While pharma can customize some things, it struggles to manage personalization at scale.
  • Reliance on the rep-centered model. The industry continues to place the rep at the center of its model, despite decreasing effectiveness and shrinking access. These processes are so ingrained in today’s pharma commercial model that change seems impossible.

Today’s model cannot support pharma’s future. A new future calls for bold transformation—inside and out.

The future commercial model will prepare pharma to listen, predict and act

The pharma commercial model of the future views customer-specific engagement strategy as the organization’s responsibility rather than the rep’s alone. Its strategy is driven by data gathered from listening to and learning from customer engagements and behaviors to truly grasp full customer context. The goal is to enable pharma to achieve behavior-changing, personalized customer engagement at scale.


Adopting our future model requires making these shifts:

  • From data collection to data connection: We centralize insight and knowledge about customers and their context.
  • From brand planning to customer strategy: We use this centralized knowledge to set individual, context-driven customer strategy and planning (enabled by AI), across all products and all functions and teams.
  • From using reps universally to using reps selectively: We deploy the right roles and channels with the best ability to achieve the context-driven customer strategy in a real-time, n=1 way.

This model will help pharma overcome some of the flaws in the current system and drive results for the business. For example, by making these shifts, it will accelerate adoption by advancing customers through a focused customer strategy, capture previously unmet demand through patient journey management solutions, strengthen cross-functional coordination to execute against customer strategy and enable more efficient resource deployment. The model offers opportunities to develop a true customer-centric mindset, to build institutionalized learning around customers and to create more personalized experiences.


Adopting this model will help pharma companies differentiate themselves in a more competitive landscape. And it will ultimately help pharma solve problems for patients while supporting better health outcomes.

Where should pharma start?

Over the long term, this model will require significant organizational change. But there are several places where pharma companies can set up their business for future success without risking present and near-term results. Here is where pharma should start today:


Build the CONTEXTstream and put it to work. To better understand customers and create personalization at scale, it will be important to centralize knowledge about customers, connecting the data we have to new information about our customers’ context to truly strategize our approach to each individual’s needs. To that end, we envision a CONTEXTstream (which stands for customer insights, observations, needs, trends, environment, experience and touchpoints). This CONTEXTstream would leverage both structured and unstructured data sources (data on behavior, attitudes, needs and context) to unlock a more complete understanding of customers and combine with customer metrics that help identify where experiences can be improved.


But listening is only part of the story. Investing in and implementing technical capabilities such as AI and machine-learning-driven systems will be essential to translate those insights into strategy-led decisions. For example, companies can use a constant flow of insights to develop algorithms that predict customer actions and then recommend intelligent actions.


The benefit: Deep customer insights can be unlocked through the integration of data from multiple sources. These insights can inform and support the work of the rep and marketing function mentioned here and drive decision-making across the organization. When used in a connected health system, they can also help pharma position products better and arm providers and patients with information to achieve faster diagnosis and treatment.


Pharma can start now by:

  • Retooling planning cycles and operating models to create multiple levels and loops of feedback.
  • Shifting the mindset to a two-way engagement where the field receives and shares input, with reps understanding that a critical part of their role is building and sharing customer intelligence.
  • Introducing customer engagement metrics that go beyond activities and focus on outcomes (for example, customer satisfaction score, net promoter score and customer effort score).
  • Integrating the capabilities that will make it possible to listen, predict and act while building a test-and-learn capability to adapt to changing customer needs.

Reimagine marketing. Concepts like data-driven and omnichannel marketing aren’t at all new to pharma. But a new pharma commercial model would require a fundamental redesign of the current approach to marketing around customers with a goal of hyperpersonalization. It would break the old system into two parts—product strategy focused on value articulation and customer strategy focused on what the pharma company seeks to achieve with that customer based on individual context.


The benefit: This is an opportunity to take a cross-portfolio view of a customer and move the mindsets from only brand planning to holistic customer strategy. This will enable pharma to move customers more quickly through their unique barriers and hurdles to ultimately improve patient outcomes and solve customer needs.


Pharma can start now by:

  • Bifurcating the practice of marketing. Create distinct practices and goals around product strategy and customer strategy, then connect the two through processes.
  • Building the practice of customer strategy and customer engagement design that leverages a range of channels and modular content.
  • Revisiting the brand planning process to include how product strategy will translate into customer strategy and subsequent tactics.

“Unbundle” the rep. In today’s model, reps deliver a variety of customer-facing activities while attempting to see customers on a regular cadence. Some of these conversations are incredibly valuable and a good use of the customer’s time, but many are not, which causes customers to limit physical access.


In the future model, the activities from an “unbundled” rep can be spread across channels and contexts in a way that ensures we deploy the right channel and role that is best able to achieve the desired customer strategy. Reps can still have deep and meaningful clinical conversations when the customer needs them because the rep will understand the customer context and be equipped to provide a more personalized experience. Other types of activities are better suited for other roles or channels (for example, shaping a market need or employing a new standard of treatment).


The benefit: Pharma drives more productivity by focusing reps on only the activities and provider contexts where they add the most value.


Pharma can start now by:

  • Gaining alignment on breaking the rep-centered mindset.
  • Understanding the disproportionate value each role and channel brings to customer engagement and different contexts.
  • Establishing a talent management and training approach that cultivates insights gathering, problem-solving, cross-functional collaboration and ecosystem navigation.

The existing pharma model is a finely tuned, complex mechanism. It does its job well—but the future demands more. Every day of conducting business “the way we’ve always done it” is a day pharma runs the risk of being left behind.


A new commercial model can position pharma for future success with fewer interruptions and more ease. By starting to take action now, we can create organizations that advance customers through a focused strategy and capture additional demand. We can work more effectively and efficiently as everyone focuses on an explicit customer goal. We can reach more patients with more treatments sooner and blaze trails with new treatments faster. And we will build the healthcare future we all want and need.


Register for our upcoming webinar to find out how to move toward a future of truly personalized customer engagements.

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