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.


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.


It’s time to make this vision 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.

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 the number of new launches and products is expected to increase in the near future, with more than 85% of launches through 2026 expected to be nano- and micro-launches (under $500M in sales) as opposed to blockbusters, according to ZS analysis. There will be more products on the market, aiming to fit into a shrinking funnel of providers’ time. More reps are not the answer. At the same time, customers are looking for more-personalized and customized experiences in all kinds of transactions. As these forces combine, 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:

  • 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 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 in contextual interactions. The goal is to enable pharma to listen, predict and act in ways that align with customer preferences and contexts. Pharma will need to adopt a new model that provides insights more seamlessly aligned with how they want to receive information. 


The new model will require fundamental shifts:

  • From a prescriber focus to a balanced focus on customers across healthcare
  • From a product orientation to a customer orientation
  • From an “interruption model” to a model that advances by building customer trust
  • From a rep-led model to a context-led model
  • From last-mile customization to strategy-led personalization at scale

This model will help pharma overcome some of the flaws in the current system, including limited visibility of customer needs, overreliance on a face-to-face rep to deliver high-impact interactions and functionally siloed engagements. Instead it offers opportunities to develop a true customer-centric mindset, to build institutionalized learning around customers and to create a more customized experience.


Adopting this new model will help pharma companies differentiate themselves in a more competitive landscape. It will help drive results that matter to the business (for example, increased flexibility to foster successful launches). And it will ultimately help pharma solve problems for patients while supporting better health outcomes. 

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:


“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 makes the most sense for the customer. Reps can still have deep and meaningful clinical conversations when the customer needs them because the rep will understand the customer journey and be equipped to provide a more personalized experience. Other types of activities that do not require live interaction can be handled through an alternate channel or even through a self-service route via a method that is most convenient for the customer.


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.
  • Rethinking activities around key customer needs, context and the channel value in each context.
  • Establishing a talent management and training approach that cultivates insights gathering, problem-solving, cross-functional collaboration and ecosystem navigation.

Reimagine marketing. Concepts like being 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 value to the customer through experience.


The benefit: This is an opportunity to synchronize customer engagement across channels, tailor content and offers and equip sales and customer success teams to maximize customer value.


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 engagement strategy, including experience design that leverages a range of channels and modular content.
  • Revisiting the brand planning process to include how product strategy will translate into customer engagement strategy and subsequent tactics.

Build a listening engine and put it to work. To better understand customers and provide personalization at scale, we envision a “listening engine” consisting of a unified data backbone that integrates insights gathered from a variety of sources that aren't being collected now: data on behavior, attitudes, needs and context. This data can be combined 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 artificial intelligence 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. 

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 can scale to successfully launch the many products emerging from the pipeline. 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. 


Watch our on-demand webinar to discover the first critical moves pharma can make toward this transformation.