Focus on the “why” to unlock the potential of omnichannel

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By David Laros, Beghou Consulting

Pharma commercial leaders are understandably energized by the prospect of leveraging emerging technology (e.g., advanced AI tools) to amplify the velocity and impact of their promotional efforts. With AI, for instance, they hope they can generate improved next-best action guidance and automate delivery of that guidance, supercharging the commercial effort.

While this potential lies ahead, commercial leaders must first address the age-old organizational challenges that continue to stand in the way of a fully coordinated and customer-centric promotional infrastructure. For example, organizational silos persist. Most notably, it remains difficult to get the sales force to act on next-best action prompts – no matter how many times commercial leaders tout the data analytics underlying the guidance. And it’s not the sales force’s fault. Today, many reps view next-best action guidance as out-of-context dictates from above instead of recommendations for how they can be more effective. And they are often right. Too many next-best action prompts lack needed context, backing, and proof. So, the onus is on commercial leaders to explain the “why” behind next-best action guidance instead of simply demanding that reps comply with analytics-derived guidance.

Next-best action: the enabler of omnichannel

Next-best action capabilities are key enablers of robust omnichannel promotion efforts. And omnichannel promotion is essential to building customer centric commercial operations. Omnichannel is inherently customer centric. After all, the purpose of an omnichannel program is to orchestrate seamless delivery of tailored, contextual, and timely information to customers or future potential ones. In an omnichannel operation that’s firing on all cylinders, a next-best action engine drives effective rep action in a coordinated manner with digital customer engagement. However, if reps don’t trust the guidance they receive and feel they know better, omnichannel will fall short of its great potential. To overcome this barrier, commercial leaders must take the next-best action engine out of its black box and embed two-way engagement with reps. The steps:

  1. Explain the “why” behind NBA guidance: Next-best action alerts should make clear to reps whether a prescribed customer-focused action is based on engagement with promotional materials, publication and industry event activity, analytics-based predictions of behavior, or something else. Commercial leaders must also package explanations and recommended actions in a consumable but thorough way. Reps should receive clear prescribed actions that are placed in a multifactorial, customer-specific context (e.g., “Dr. Smith is a high prescriber in this market. She recently interacted with the efficacy page of our branded HCP website and wrote her first prescription for our product. She has not received a sales force detail in the past 90 days. Consider seeking an in-person meeting with her.”).
  2. Facilitate inputs from reps: Reps’ local knowledge should become data points that inform next-best action guidance alongside a company’s analytics-derived insights. Companies should equip their CRM systems to facilitate this input. Sales leadership can further streamline this effort by defining variables on which reps can add information (e.g., access levels, digital affinity, message preferences). The process for reps must be quick and intuitive. And reps should see their local knowledge-based insights driving appropriate suggestions from the next-best action engine.

Providing the full context behind a recommendation while also soliciting input from reps will help a company chip away at the silo that traditionally separates sales force activity from digital promotion. By doing so, companies have a chance to unlock the full potential of an omnichannel effort and eventually enable more AI-driven promotional orchestration. Breaking down divides between digital promotion, analytics, and field sales force activity is a crucial prerequisite to AI-enabled commercial operations. It is also a great New Year’s resolution for pharma commercial leaders as we enter 2024.

David Laros is VP of digital strategy, analytics and insights at Beghou Consulting.