We all know that medtech and pharma customer-facing models have 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, selling products everywhere from specialized hospital centers to primary care.

Typically, the innovation that companies are looking for is in non-personal or digital promotion. Part of the reason is that as customer needs become more diverse, roles and channels need to be diverse as well.


We believe that any customer-facing model must be multichannel, 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 or therapy area complexity: Introducing complex products to the market requires high levels of expertise and interaction with healthcare providers in order to ensure the product is used successfully, especially when it involves a new procedure. This is much easier to achieve face-to-face. If, however, the product isn’t complex and is used in a well-established procedure, then investing in broader, non-personal promotion with no face-to-face interaction could make sense. Everything in-between requires a blend of promotion. Where should you set the needle? One medtech company with a range of products in the cardiovascular space used a hybrid approach. For the launch of a high-potential, innovative cardiac intervention, high-touch, face-to-face promotion was directed at centers of expertise and major hospitals, supported by in-person training for surgeons. Meanwhile, much of the existing portfolio was covered with virtual reps, digital content and online ordering for commodity products.


2. Product life cycle: It’s really hard to launch a product without visiting prospective customers. Our clients ask, “Can’t we just do digital?” However, 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 life cycle, 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 life cycle: It will be different if the objective is education, awareness, patient identification, share gain, loss of exclusivity or life cycle management.


Wound care products are a good example. When the product is new, you need to emphasize the benefits versus the standard of care while also showing HCPs how to use the product successfully—with the right technique and for the right wound types. So at the start, face-to-face interaction is critical. Once the product is established, you need to remind them and make it easy for them to use the product, which can often be done more effectively through digital channels to achieve broad reach and facilitate simple reordering.


3. Face-to-face access: Particularly in pharmaceuticals, access to HCPs is becoming more and more challenging, especially in some therapy areas and in some countries. This can be a driver of a more digital or remote promotion model. For example, access to general practitioners in the U.K. 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 its 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.


4. 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, a surgical devices company had a single rep covering hundreds of accounts. Smaller accounts and accounts outside of major urban centers were getting poor service, with infrequent rep visits and limited support. The company switched to a virtual KAM service for small- and medium-sized accounts. First of all, interacting by phone was more convenient for the customer. Second, the company could be more responsive with same-day callbacks. Third, the customer always received the most up-to-date information on new products, new data, etc. Similar models can be used to better meet the needs of geographically distributed customers such as community hospitals in the U.S., or HCPs in areas of low population density in Canada or Europe.


5. 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 in a particular condition, you’ll need to invest in both face-to-face and digital channels.

As an example, companies selling insulin pumps need to be present for both HCPs and patients all of the time. There has to be face-to-face interaction with HCPs: Nurses take care of new patient starts and patient education, and diabetologists or endocrinologists are responsible for overall patient management and need to be trained on how to ensure their patients know how to use a product that keeps them alive. At the same time, the company will be interacting with patients via a service center and likely also through helplines, websites, and payer/insurance/reimbursement interactions. For a company with the vision of being a trusted partner in diabetes, both promotion and support need to be multichannel. 


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 and digital scale.