It’s the fourth quarter, a tie game with 45 seconds left on the clock and third down. Suddenly, the defense blitzes the quarterback. Does he pass downfield or carry the ball? Does he stick with the play or change directions and hand-off?

Only the quarterback can make this game-time decision. He is the only player who can see the entire field, and therefore, who has all of the information needed to coordinate the best course of action by picking from a variety of plays. But in the pharmaceutical industry, the sales rep—the quarterback of the customer relationship—doesn’t have a full view of the field. He only has partial visibility, seeing just a slice of the customer interactions. These reps rarely see the interactions that marketing, for example, has with a customer—and vice versa.

Worse still, reps can only choose from one play: The face-to-face meeting. Most sales reps are driven by a pre-defined call plan—that is, how many times to visit each target and the key product messages delivered. Yes, the rep has the flexibility to vary the meeting frequency or the topic discussed, but the reality is that reps are limited to a finite number of office visits for each customer. That’s it; the face-to-face visit is their only play. Imagine playing any sport and being limited to just one play? No, to be successful, reps need multiple “plays” the way sales reps in virtually every other industry have email, remote selling, tailored online content and more.

Without full-field visibility and multiple plays, today’s sales reps struggle to score big with busy physicians. It forces reps to take a more product-centric approach rather than the more engaging and relevant customer-centric model. Reps can act on only the information that they know—which is often not a complete picture—resulting in missed sales opportunities and a less than perfect (albeit expensive) sales call. A customer-centric model, in contrast, gives customers the content they want, when they want and how they want it—say, in between appointments on a mobile device, or after-hours on an iPad. Physicians, then, are more willing to take the time to absorb the information because it is relevant, personal and delivered on their own terms.

New cloud-based technologies are emerging that will finally empower reps with increased visibility and the plays that they need for the best customer interactions. It’s a holistic approach to customer relationship management with a more complete view of customer interactions across channels such as the call center, marketing, web and email. All of the information can be viewed in one place, in one system that’s accessible through the cloud. Many new technologies also equip reps with a much larger playbook—in other words, more channels that can be used to personally engage with customers. Combined, it’s a real game changer.

Pass Interference—Loss of Incalculable Data

From social media channels to face-to-face sales tools, life sciences companies have been spreading their proverbial eggs in many different communications baskets, but each of these channels often stand alone. This approach only scratches the surface of the full potential of customer-centric, multi-channel communications. In marketing, more is not always better. In fact, it can have the opposite effect when physicians respond by limiting access and turning their time to other, less intrusive ways of receiving drug information. Using multiple channels to over-communicate with customers—direct mail, e-mail and Internet-based detailing, for example—in the hopes that something will stick is of limited value at best. If this is your multi-channel strategy, you may end up a few yards short of a touchdown.

“Multi-channel communication strategies aren’t new,” says Eric Newmark, program director for IDC Health Insights. “For years, the life sciences industry has been investing in various channels, intent on providing customers with the information they need. Unfortunately, the customer interaction information has been locked in different systems designed to execute across each different channel individually. For multi-channel to truly be powerful, sales and marketing need a combined, single view of the customer to deliver a seamless and coordinated customer experience.”

Indeed, one of the biggest tactical violations today is the fact that customer interaction data—specifically which channel and content/messaging the physician prefers—is either not captured, or is captured but sequestered in different systems that are not integrated. Any data that might be useful gets stuck in silos. As a result, there is no consolidated intelligence gained that can be used to inform brand teams or field sales in the next customer interaction.

Without this combined data intelligence, current multi-channel communications wind up as merely a push of content that the company wants to send rather than a pull of content that the physician wants to receive. The communications are not based on customer preferences for how they want to receive the information (e.g., which channel) and what information they want to receive (e.g., which message). And, without the insight needed, the commercial teams are limited in their ability to change course if necessary. Marketing also loses a valuable opportunity to modify messaging mid-campaign to improve impact, resulting in a lower ROI.

New multi-tenant cloud-based systems and platforms, however, enable multi-channel data accessibility, seamless integration and flexibility. Companies can collect and analyze important data about customer interactions to enable both sales and marketing to understand a customer’s needs and respond appropriately. Each proceeding customer interaction, then, is consistent, relevant and timely for higher quality interactions.

Repeat First Down—Ongoing Positive Interactions

The next crucial step is to leverage the data gathered from multi-channel customer interactions by strategically quarterbacking follow-up interactions for the best physician experience.

A life sciences sales rep, for example, with a full view of the customer can now effectively coordinate what information goes to which doctor through what channels and when. That is not to say that sales will determine the marketing plan—sales and marketing have separate roles for a reason and should complement each other. Instead, the informed multi-channel sales rep will have the ability to influence other channels and create a unique, cross-channel synergy that takes into account customer preferences and personal relationship (Figure 1). The result is that each communication will be more impactful and more likely to be consumed whether it’s direct mail, an online detail or a face-to-face interaction. With each positive experience, the physician is more receptive to communications from the rep in the future—possibly one of the greatest benefits yet.


As it is, the average physician has less than two minutes to spend face-to-face with sales reps. Dr. Laurie Gallagher, a family physician in Exton, PA, says, “Each day is like playing ‘beat the clock’ as I try to give the best care to my patients and complete all of the documentation. If I could review an online detail for a new drug at night or during lunch, then get relevant details on that drug from my rep, it would save me time while also ensuring that I get just the information I want for my patients.”

Furthermore, according to an AccessMonitor report, the number of physicians willing to see reps has declined 20% in the last five years. “Even among rep-accessible physicians, 94% of primary care providers do not see even their best reps more than twice a month,” the report states. Many major medical institutions in the U.S. and Europe have enacted policies banning drug reps from their campuses. Better customer interactions and new digital channels may open windows where doors had been shut to greatly expand pharmaceutical selling opportunities.

Some new cloud CRM technologies, for example, enable sales reps to send approved promotional content via email—a practice once considered challenging in the industry due to regulatory risks. Email communications orchestrated by the reps offer a dramatically new level of value and effectiveness. Reps can quickly and easily respond to the question, “Can I get a copy of that?” which extends the call beyond the walls of the office. And, low-access physicians may become easy-access with just a few clicks.

Some key benefits of cloud-enabled multi-channel communications include:

  • More comprehensive view of the customer, including preferences and behaviors.
  • Highly orchestrated communications based upon customers’ specific needs.
  • Ability to leverage the right multi-channel tools most efficiently.
  • Best physician experience, regardless of how or when they engage with the company.
  • Greater sales uplift versus standalone/uncoordinated multi-channel interactions.
  • Enhanced marketing effectiveness with first-hand view of customer interactions.

Scoring the Extra Point

By combining next-generation technology with informed company quarterbacks, life sciences companies can finally engage with their customers on their terms to foster strong, lasting relationships. It gives sales access to a more complete view of the customer, including channels that they may have otherwise not been able to see. This “full-field” visibility, combined with a more complete playbook of tools that go beyond face-to-face visits, make even non-personal channels personal. The multi-channel communications are more meaningful, and physicians, in turn, are better informed about the latest drug information to best meet the needs of their patients. It’s a win-win.

….now with less than 30 seconds on the clock, the quarterback—who has successfully read the blitzing defense and the field in front of him—changes the play. He ducks the tackle, hands off to his running back who crosses the backfield and runs the ball into the end zone. Touchdown!

Sidebar: The Future of Multi-channel Is Here

Consider this scenario: A sales rep calls on a doctor and learns that 70% of his patients are on Medicare/Medicaid and don’t have the ability to pay out-of-pocket for drugs. The rep can ensure that managed care information is saved into that physician’s profile. Later that day when the physician accesses an eDetail, the managed care data specific to that doctor’s practice will be automatically available to him. This level of personalized responsiveness becomes the foundation for a lasting customer relationship—and it’s the future, fueled by the flexibility enabled by maturing cloud technologies.

  • Paul Shawah

    Paul Shawah is Vice President Product Marketing at Veeva Systems where he is shaping products to enable modern multichannel communications between life sciences companies and physicians. He has been driving digital innovation in the pharmaceutical industry for decades.


    You May Also Like

    Healthcare Watch May 2022

    TeleMed Texts: Novartis Launches Streaming Style Service Novartis is pushing beyond the digital engagement ...

    Dream Voice Technology Projects

    Voice is increasingly becoming a more popular user interface as people get more accustomed ...

    The State of Our Blended Reality

    If you have not played around with an Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, you ...