Since the pandemic took hold in Latin America in March 2020, it has highly affected the modes of interaction between healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical representatives. As of November 2020, 41% of physicians in Latin America have converted all in-person contacts to online contacts and 31% have a mixed model that includes some face-to-face and digital interactions. For 70% of physicians in Latin America, the frequency of these contacts has decreased by at least 10%, leaving the pharmaceutical industry to rethink its engagement strategy and make a digital shift.
Impact of COVID-19 on HCP and sales rep interactions
Pharma needs to define how to win in this new scenario, as this trend is expected to remain. When asked which interaction channels healthcare providers prefer to return to once the pandemic is under control, 42% of physicians indicated the face-to-face interaction model, 50% want a mixed model with virtual and face-to-face interactions and 7% chose virtual-only interactions. Depending on the physician’s specialty, interaction preferences also vary: Orthopedists state the strongest preference to return to the pre-pandemic face-to-face interaction model, while hematologists voice an inclination for a mixed approach. Understanding these preferences in detail and navigating them will be key for success as pharma companies make a digital shift.
The pharmaceutical industry must rethink key areas of commercial planning and execution. We believe there are three main digital marketing areas that the pharmaceutical industry must focus on to adapt to the effects of the pandemic in Latin America.
1. Marketing strategies must focus on channel affinity and digital marketing capabilities
- Pharmaceutical companies will need to determine the channel affinity for the physicians in their regions to define segmentation and develop tailored engagement journeys for each segment.
- As a result of the increased complexity of these engagement journeys, marketers at pharmaceutical companies must upskill their teams and maximize their impact through multichannel sequencing and orchestration.
2. Advanced analytics will be the new table stakes
- The increased adoption of digital channels will generate more data. Pharmaceutical companies will need to enhance their analytics capabilities to collect, manage and discover actionable insights (e.g., identifying the next-best action).
3. Sales team roles and engagement models with physicians will change more dramatically than sales team sizes
- The November 2020 report from Fine Research on this topic indicates that a hybrid approach blending face-to-face interactions with subsequent virtual follow-throughs will be the predominant model healthcare providers prefer. This new emphasis on digital communication engagement will require sales reps to not only master new digital tools and systems, but also to develop the skills to build relationships remotely.
- Virtual engagements have an opposing effect on sales rep capacity. On one hand, these engagements can help reps be more efficient, as they eliminate travel time. On the other hand, they require more preparation and often encounter scheduling restrictions from physicians. (For example, physicians may only be willing to meet virtually outside working hours.) Similar dynamics are expected to influence reps’ panel size. It may become attractive to cover remote physicians because of the absence of geographic constraints. On the other hand, physicians who see less value in rep calls could start declining meetings once they must be prescheduled and they take time away from patient care. The balance of all of these factors will result in smaller, less disruptive changes in the sizes of pharmaceutical sales teams than initially expected.
Using these three areas of impact as a starting point can help pharma companies think through how to move forward with a digital approach to sales and marketing in this new scenario to drive commercial success in the region over the long term.