Maximizing HCP engagement in a post-COVID world

By Rob Steere, VP commercial strategy (CRM) for Veeva Systems

COVID-19 has driven unprecedented change in the way life sciences companies operate, with many making a hard pivot toward digital as a means of sustaining engagement with healthcare professionals. 

From virtual meetings to field email, digital interactions skyrocketed in 2020 – and now that many commercial leaders have seen promising results from their initial digital strategies, we can expect this trend to continue into the new year. 

By combining digital and in-person engagements, companies have a significant opportunity to improve rep productivity and customer experience. But doing so will require new ways of thinking and new models for supporting the field. Here are five ways to maximize HCP engagement in 2021 and beyond. 

1. Improve rep productivity with digital channels.

For many years the industry has been trying to decrease unproductive travel and wait time while improving the length of product discussion. Unfortunately, these efforts have had very limited success – until the widespread adoption of digital last year.

Virtual engagements eliminated the need to travel long distances, reduced wait times, and dramatically increased the average length of discussion. In fact, in 2020 virtual meetings had an average duration of 31 minutes, which is 10 times longer than traditional in-person calls.

Rob Steere

Rep productivity further improves when field emails are combined with in-person and virtual engagements. Not only are doctors more likely to take action on a personalized email they receive from a rep when compared to a headquarter-sent email, but more than two-thirds of HCPs want this type of interaction. 

With new digital channels, reps can expand their call deck to additional customers, including those who may have historically been deprioritized due to limited capacity or geographic distance. In this way, digital can also create opportunities to generate additional revenue without changing salesforce capacity.

2. Enhance customer experience with hybrid engagement. 

Once in-person access to HCPs resumes, face-to-face selling will continue to be important, but blending onsite visits with digital interactions will improve customer experience, and, ultimately, commercial performance. 

One global life sciences company conducted a two-year analysis to determine the most effective engagement channel in one of their emerging growth markets. The test compared the performance of three separate segments: reps engaging with HCPs using only in-person visits; reps engaging solely via digital; and reps who combined face-to-face and digital interactions. 

The group that used a hybrid approach improved cost efficiency by 80 percent, surpassing the combined sales growth of the two stand-alone segments by three percent. This shows that when done right, using digital as a supplement to in-person visits can result in significant financial benefits after the pandemic. Plus, HCPs prefer it as well.

In a recent survey of 720 HCPs, 87 percent of respondents said they wanted either all virtual or a mix of virtual and in-person meetings even after the pandemic ends. A hybrid engagement model – one in which reps split their time between in-person visits, virtual meetings, and email – will be key in helping companies better meet HCP needs and improve customer satisfaction.

3. Create commercial content faster and at scale. 

As digital engagement grows within commercial organizations, so does the need for more content to be created faster, at scale. Longer virtual meetings and an increase in field email both rely on additional content, and all of it needs to be refreshed frequently based on market events.

 To accelerate the content creation process and gain greater agility, it’s important to first have the right infrastructure and technology in place. With an enterprise-wide solution to create, manage, distribute, and measure approved digital assets, for example, brand and marketing teams can easily reuse and adapt existing content for reps in customer interactions.

 Modular content can also help fast-track content creation. Unlike traditional content strategies that require each new asset to be built from scratch, a modular approach simply reassembles existing, pre-approved content blocks, or modules, into a variety of assets that can be used in different channels and regions.

4. Leverage data to optimize digital engagement.

Like content, data is another critical component to effective digital engagement. Without insight into channel preferences, customer reach, engagement frequency, and cross-channel engagement history, field and headquarter teams won’t have the insight they need to identify the next-best engagement opportunity. 

Sharing digital engagement data with reps and field managers can also help teams identify cross-channel anomalies across customers, territories, and districts. It’s important to remember, however, that raw data alone isn’t what will improve digital effectiveness and sales outcomes; it’s the ability to transform that data into simple and actionable insights – often through easy-to-understand dashboards and suggestions – that will lead to better decisions and follow-through. 

Sales planning teams should use data to make digital channel considerations when evaluating customer segments, territory design, salesforce size, structure, and sales models as well. Key inputs to decision making should include promotional response by channel, channel specific access data, and channel preference observations. 

A final way to maximize digital engagement and accurately measure performance is to benchmark internal data against industrywide data, as this will allow leaders to identify engagement strengths or gaps and take action based on uncovered opportunities.

5. Rethink productivity metrics to align with digital.

Rep productivity metrics have historically focused on the number of calls made during a workday. This was a logical approach in the past as in-person calls were the dominant channel for engagement and it was simple to communicate and measure. 

In a digital world, however, traditional productivity metrics need to be reimagined to reflect the variable impact of a sample drop, extended in-person engagements, virtual engagements, and email. Forward-thinking companies will use performance response curves that consider digital engagement and projected time spent promoting products to inform these weightings.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the power of the digitally enabled rep is undeniable. Digital opens the door for reps to engage more flexibly and effectively to deliver what HCPs need, at any given moment. Companies that take full advantage of this opportunity will lead the industry toward a more effective and efficient model of HCP engagement moving forward.