Toward Digital Transformation in Biopharma

September 15, 2021
 min read
Toward Digital Transformation in Biopharma

'Digital transformation’ has become a common phrase in many industries. Every firm is trying to integrate digital technology into all aspects of its business, to the point where it’s become a bit vague and meaningless. Of course, we’re always supposed to be innovating, and we’re doing more and more things digitally. But what more can we do?

In truth, digital innovation isn’t just about more change and more technology for their own sake. Improved technology enables digital transformation, but it is driven by organizations identifying real problems and opportunities and grasping the technological tools they need to move forward. In some cases, this might require significant cultural or operational changes; in others, integrating better tools or methods into existing workflows might be enough. In every case, digital transformation should center the real needs of the customer and the practical challenges to meeting them.

In the case of pharma, the global pandemic has radically disrupted the way sales and marketing teams can do business. Digital channels have never been so important. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 39% of surveyed physicians said they had not communicated with a pharma representative within six months, up from 24% the year before. Since then, according to an Accenture survey, in-person meetings with HCPs have declined from 64% of meetings to 35%, and only 10% of HCPs want to go back to the pre-Covid norms. On the other hand, according to the same survey, HCPs have come to rely more on pharma support services of all kinds, from patient education to assistance with stocking and affordability.

Competitive advantage is shifting from the brands with the larger sales force to brands with better digital tools. With the problems and opportunities clear, now is the best time to think seriously about digital transformation and what it means for your firm. Below, I outline four important areas in which the pharma industry can expect digital transformation to occur.

Big Data

‘Big data’ is another buzz-phrase, but a strategic factor with key importance. Many pharmaceutical companies already have large internal ‘data lakes’. The task now is to put that to good use, while reaching out to third-party data sources to enlarge the available pool even further.

Utilizing internal data properly requires data transparency across an organization: a common set of tools and techniques so that any team can access pertinent information. It also requires proper governance, like data anonymization and digital security, and the development of data literacy across the organization regarding governance and data collection and labelling.

Finally, big data cannot be used without analytic tools that can actually do the job of looking through the data, finding valuable insights, and presenting them as actionable visualizations. This is one area where, the use of ‘artificial intelligence', is going to be central.

Market-Driven Insights

Customer segmentation in pharma has not changed much over the years and is still a bit of an art versus driven by dynamic market data. Digital transformation to generate customer insights means gaining a more accurate understanding of what the market is actually doing, not what the marketing planners want to drive downwards to their sales teams. This is a real challenge with immediate stakes: brands that can understand their customers can reach them better, and in an era where face-to-face interaction based on personal relationships between customers and sales forces is declining, those stakes are increasing every day.

In practical terms, firms will have to move beyond static, prescription-based categories of customers, like loyalists or ‘innovators’, and use data-driven tools to identify dynamic and market-driven customer features for segmentation. Importantly, digital transformation offers not just accuracy, but speed. The smaller the gap between changes on the ground and the generation of new insights, the more rapidly insight can be converted into action, which in turn forms a new set of data from which insights can be derived. This feedback loop from bottom-up sales activity and customer reactions back to marketing to develop personalized messages to customers is the key to advancing over competitive brands.

Real-Time Prompts to Action

As with segmentation, intelligent prioritization of actions can be done more accurately and quickly with data analytics tools. Ideally, new tools will be able to tell field forces and marketing teams not only who their customers are, but the next best audience to engage with and the next best channels to use.

These actions will be based on an ever-more-accurate picture of the true customer, allowing a hyper-personalized strategy that has the individual customer in the center. Digital transformation may not mean the obsolescence of field forces so much as their own transformation. A combination of ground-up knowledge and powerful, evidence-based digital insights will increase the performance of field teams as well as sales forces, allowing them to become driving forces in a successful digital transformation strategy.

Omni-Channel Marketing

Increasingly, the hallmark of a successful strategy will be the use of every available channel by commercial teams. Omni-channel transformation means not only moving from physical collateral to digital formats but creating a seamless customer experience across all available channels. Wherever a customer is in the buying cycle, they must be able to access product information via the most convenient channel for them at that moment, be it a sales rep, an email, a website, an app, or some other channel.

To achieve this, channels will need to be better integrated. Messaging from a single campaign should be orchestrated across all channels. Effective attribution and access to real-time data will keep sales reps ‘in the loop’, and suggest the next best channel alongside other forms of contextual action prioritization.

To achieve all of this, some brands may shift toward ‘engagement teams’ rather than traditional marketing/sales team models. In this model, cross-functional members across the organization can engage with customer data and prioritize their actions intelligently.

Pharma's Customer-Facing Teams are Transforming to Digital

The global pandemic has changed the customer-facing pharma business, forever. With direct access more difficult than ever, and HCP preferences shifting permanently toward digital engagement and personalized support, digital transformation is now a main priority.

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