The 2020/2021 pandemic compelled the workforce to move online, dramatically transforming how the healthcare industry operates. It ignited a digital transformation that we continue to see shaping the trends in pharmaceutical sales today.

As advancements in technology, changes in healthcare policies, and evolving patient needs reshape the industry, pharmaceutical sales representatives must quickly adapt to these new trends. In an interview with Pharmaceutical Today, Florian Schnappauf, VP of Enterprise Commercial Strategy at Veeva Europe, observed, “The pandemic amplified the need for digital engagement and highlighted the benefits for healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients.”

As pharmaceutical sales representatives navigate this evolving landscape shaped by digital transformation, a critical aspect emerges – the need for a balanced approach that incorporates both in-person and online interactions. Below, we dive into the emerging trends, challenges and opportunities arising in the wake of these changes.

Digital Transformation – Upskilling Your Sales Representatives

Before the pandemic, the cornerstone of pharmaceutical sales was built on traditional face-to-face interactions between sales representatives and HCPs. This strategy involved in-person meetings, product presentations and establishing a personal rapport with physicians, pharmacists and other key stakeholders. The pandemic shifted the need for these strategies to be performed digitally and in person.

Recognizing the value in integrating both facets, leading sales representatives and pharmaceutical organizations now leverage hybrid methods, transitioning seamlessly between virtual and in-person engagements. From Zoom calls to webinars, digital communications are proving less intrusive and more cost-effective. With this newfound effectiveness, the emerging trend is organizations and individual sales representatives seeking opportunities to upskill, ensuring a smooth transition between different modes of interaction.

“The very best reps build deep in-person and digital connections that ensure they are sought after and easy to reach, even when they’re not physically present,” said Florian Schnappauf, VP of Enterprise Commercial Strategy at Veeva Europe.

The Online Challenges and Opportunities for Sales Representatives

As the trend for digital upskilling increases, it’s essential to examine the online challenges and opportunities that are currently emerging. Shifting online doesn’t mean sales representatives should be reaching out to HCPs anytime they want. For example, 23% of HCPs can feel overwhelmed by the number of emails they receive from pharmaceutical representatives and companies.

Just as they would do in person, representatives should be able to tailor their content towards HCPs while also learning that HCPs don’t have much time to watch numerous webinars or answer generic sales emails. With time constraints and the risk of burnout, email communication is evolving with a “less is more” approach.

Pharmaceutical representatives should send personalized, concise and targeted communication to reach HCPs online. Furthermore, they can share education/training materials with fresh content and curated videos corresponding to relevant treatments and optimize omnichannel marketing. A 2019 report from Elsevier found that 93% of HCPs want “bite-sized, easy to digest, short-form articles and downloadable bits of data.” In an environment where time is money, efficient and critical messaging is more relevant than ever.

Recognizing the diverse preferences of their target audiences, pharmaceutical sales representatives are adopting omnichannel engagement strategies, including in-person meetings, virtual calls, email campaigns, and social media outreach. A diversified approach allows representatives to connect with HCPs through channels that align with their preferences.

While considering executing a targeted omnichannel approach, it’s important to note the loss of emotional connection that comes with shifting digital communication.

However, amidst the advantages of digital communication, there is a notable loss of emotional connection, as pointed out by an oncologist in response to a Creative Engagement Group survey: “I believe the availability and ability to plan things are better (with virtual) but you lose a lot of emotional contact and follow-up questions. When you are sitting across from one another, looking at each other eye-to-eye, then other things will be broached compared to a halfway sterile online conversation.”

Adapting a Consultative Engagement Strategy

While investing in upskilling proficiency on the latest virtual technology, in-person meetings will still be vital, especially for therapies requiring more technical discussion. In this case, we have seen that healthcare professionals seek to speak with representatives with more specialized knowledge. As healthcare professionals become increasingly discerning, there is a distinct trend of pharmaceutical representatives shifting to a consultative approach.

A 2022 report from The Creative Engagement Group found that “47% of HCPs see conversations with field teams as vital in the dissemination of new and meaningful information.” The report found that “27% of HCPs are frustrated when pharmaceutical companies arrange meetings but have nothing new to say.” With a consultation-like approach, sales representatives should listen more closely to the HCPs’ needs and empathize. Through active listening, they can better understand what to deliver to make the lives of HCPs easier. Consider whether they need traditional samples, welcome kits, or more engaging content to reach patients.

Sales representatives should be viewed as an asset focused on patient solutions while providing valuable insights and knowledge into adherence, educational value and simplicity. Representatives who understand their HCPs’ patient demographics can tailor discussions and provide helpful support and solutions. As this consultative approach gains prominence, sales representatives become partners in healthcare delivery, ensuring that their interactions contribute meaningfully to patient care and well being.

Looking Ahead

Pharmaceutical sales representatives have always been integral contributors to healthcare solutions, but now with a consultative approach. The blend of digital communication, upskilling efforts, and a hybrid mix of in-person and virtual engagements signifies a pivotal moment for the industry. Acknowledging evolving healthcare professional needs, fostering deeper connecting and transcending transactional interactions.

As pharmaceutical representatives embrace their role as healthcare consultants, the industry’s future promises meaningful engagement and genuine partnerships.The ongoing commitment to adaptability, innovation and a patient-centric ethos ensures the continued impact on shaping the evolving healthcare landscape.

At RxPx, our technology connects patients, HCPs and pharmaceutical companies to create patient-centric solutions to help patients get access to new therapies and transform lives. To aid you adapting to these emerging trends, we have created a new guide with insights on how to improve patient support. You can read the full guide here: Revolutionizing Patient Support: A Guide for Pharmaceutical Brand Managers on Harnessing Technology for Peer Support.