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One of the few sectors that is benefiting from Covid-19 is healthcare and pharmaceutics. There is an irony in this because the pharmaceutical industry has been historically slow to digitize. Instead, it has tended to stick to its antiquated sales approach of relying on its salesforce in the field to visit healthcare providers (HCPs) in person to hand out samples and give information.

Even before the onset of the health crisis, the buyers and prescribers at the other end of the sales journey were becoming increasingly disconnected from the distributors and manufacturers. Like all B2B buyers, HCPs want to be able to streamline their buying activities to what is convenient to them – in other words, they are looking for suppliers to digitize.

Covid-19 forced companies across all B2B sectors to accept the new digital realities – and there is no going back. This is also true of the pharma and healthcare markets. Of the 75% of physicians who preferred in-person visits from sales representatives prior to Covid-19, 47% now prefer virtual exchanges or fewer visits, according to Bain.

Pharmaceutical companies have every incentive to digitize, both for their customers and to help them achieve their own growth objectives. It is this aspect of digital transformation we shall analyze below.

Embracing digital omnichannel sales enables pharma companies to attract new customers, penetrate new markets and increase sales performance

Adapting to the way your customers want to buy seems a good enough idea by itself, but the omnichannel sales strategy has a host of other benefits.

It enables manufacturers and distributors to engage with customers who were previously beyond reach. This is true for most segments, whether it be non-prescription drugs, prescription drugs or even the API market (alive pharmaceutical ingredients). The exception is governmental-level types of pharma (e.g. buying vaccines), where demand is not really impacted by the channels through which they sell.

Digital sales channels present a unique opportunity to expand into new geographies, or new types of buyers. In the long term it’s an opportunity to reimagine and redefine the customer experience as well as improve sales rep productivity. 

Embracing digital omnichannel sales will improve retention and increase average customer sales

Another direct benefit of implementing a fully omnichannel sales strategy is to improve retention and increase average sales with the existing customer base. A 2020 survey of 3,000 HPCs in the US indicates that only 40% of doctors ever engage with a sales rep without any restriction, a 6% drop on the previous year, signaling a decline in the willingness of healthcare professionals to consider unscheduled rep meetings.

In a time where competition is tougher than ever, especially with the unstoppable rise of generic drug manufacturers, building a digital relationship with both the direct buyers (be it hospital procurement managers or others) and the prescribers (HPCs) is key to securing and even increasing average order size through cross-selling and new product offerings.

Embracing digital omnichannel sales will streamline sales processes, improve operational efficiency and reduce costs

The old way of relying entirely on an army of sales reps for marketing, evangelization and education to impact the level of sales has long been recognized as wasteful – and as an area where automation and B2B self-service can significantly reduce cost. Yet how to replace this long-established sales model, and what the right channel mix would be, remain open questions. 

It would appear that we are nowhere near as close to the demise of pharma sales reps as predicted ten years ago by the WSJ, but in a hybrid mode where high-cost sales reps focus on high-value tasks that digital cannot properly replace. 

The opportunity of building an experience platform for digitizing your sales and marketing strategy

No one is disputing the benefits of digitization, yet everyone agrees that such a transformation is not easy to achieve, especially in the pharmaceutical sector where stringent regulation, privacy concerns, security requirements and a complex supply chain complicate the sales process. At every stage of the supply chain and at every step of the buyer journey, regulation and traceability are crucial requirements. 

Digital experience platforms (DXPs) can intervene meaningfully in this context.

For example, as the pharma industry requires strict adherence to regulations, legal mentions and technical documentation, approval workflows and the ability to set up self-service digital portals become paramount. Such portals enable pharma companies to share account-specific information with their clients and deliver content that is relevant for them through personalization. 

For buyers, they can self-serve and take specific actions in their buying process such as selecting products, calculating prices, requesting quotes or any other action that would help them in making their purchase.

Ibexa has developed a DXP focused on B2B relationships, enabling pharmaceutical companies to digitize their sales strategies by supporting all channels required for their go-to-market: from managing the relationship with practitioners and HCPs to providing direct online purchasing and e-commerce options for procurement managers up to engaging directly with the end-customers when and if needed, be it for pre-sales, sales or post-sale interactions. 

Contact us if you are interested in exploring how a DXP can support the digitization of sales and marketing for pharma and healthcare.

Roland Benedetti, senior vice-president, strategy at Ibexa.