We are currently living in what might be termed “interesting times”.  We have seen our world turned upside down and huge changes happen in a very short period of time.  The new normal has changed from face to face to virtual.  Everything from meetings, to shopping and even social events have had to move online.  This has called for, and led to, adaption and innovation.

I work in an industry that is based on innovation and yet at the same time has been incredibly slow to innovate.  On the one hand we have the R&D part of the industry which is all about innovation and discovering new medicines.  When it comes to science this industry survives on innovation.  We are seeing turbo speed innovation happening in an attempt to find a vaccine and treatment.

Outside of the science however it has been very slow to innovate.  It still lags behind other industries in terms of using digital channels like social media and remote detailing.  It was also slow to embrace AI.  The industry is still dominated by the rep and face to face meetings.  Whilst some of the big pharma have successful moved to a model focused on a digitally enabled salesforce, others still have a way to go.

It has been clear for quite a few years now that the rep needs to be part of a integrated multichannel ecosphere.  Whilst there is still a role for the rep it has significantly changed but the industry has not always kept up with this change.  Successful reps, working as orchestrators, can have a significant impact on sales.  However this requires investment into digital channels to support this role.  Looking at the budget spend there is a disproportionate focus on the rep as opposed to digital.   Companies were changing but far too slowly and the power of the traditional sales teams remained.

Then COVID-19 happened.  All of a sudden one of the key channels for many companies closed.  Those that had already moved to a full omnichannel model have had less of an issue dealing with this.  Companies that still were heavily focused on the rep and still going through their digital transformation have suddenly found themselves without access to their HCPs.  These companies have had to rapidly try to ramp up their digital activity, but may not have the internal capabilities or process to do this.

Whilst this has led to huge levels of stress for the teams involved in the long run this is a good thing.  The move to omnichannel needs to happen.  I recently shared a post that shows the drop in rep meetings by end of May.  No surprise face to face meetings have plummeted. As mentioned in the post we are unlikely to see the numbers bounce back to pre-COVID days.  As HCPs have got used to a fully digital world many are unlikely to want to go back.  They may still choose to see a rep but may prefer to do so via a remote detail outside of office hours.  Companies that have not yet put process and technology in place for remote detail have, and will continue, to miss out.

The companies that were ready for the digital world now have a competitive advantage.  Those that have been slow to change now need to so extremely rapidly.  The change needs to be driven from the top but also needs to bring in the younger generations to support this.  Some of the best advocates and “experts” for the digitally enabled approach are the under 30s sitting in the company.  The new hires at the start of their careers are not yet polluted with the “this is how we always do it” approach.  The younger generations understand how these technologies work.  They understand the “new” ways of working.  To support them in driving the change senior leaders should be turning to reverse mentoring, taking advantage of the insights these younger generations can provide, as well as getting a better understand of the latest technology.

If pharma wants to survive the huge shift away from face to face it must change today.  Strong communication from leadership, a shift in priority investments, engaging training and mentoring are what is needed now.


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