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  • Writer's pictureKarsten Schmidt

Significantly enhancing in-field team engagement capabilities for superior sales outcomes

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

There is no doubt that hybrid customer engagements which combine face-to-face with digital customer interactions are here to stay after the pandemic. To improve customer experiences of HCPs with rep-orchestrated multichannel journeys, it obviously is decisive for Life Sciences companies to expand their capabilities of building a hybrid customer engagement system as comprehensive as possible. In such a system, digital tools will have to play a prominent part. We have asked James Harper, Managing Director of 28b, about important aspects to exactly achieve this goal.

Karsten: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, James. Can you share with our audience a bit about your background and why you are passionate about enabling Life Sciences with digital sales tools?

James: Thank you for this opportunity, Karsten. Always grateful for the chance to share some of my passion for enabling field teams through technology.

My career in pharma came about by accident. I left university with a degree in Ecology, some student debt and a very unreliable VW camper van, so I took the first job that needed a science degree and came with a car. I became a medical rep.

I spent several years in the field across both primary and secondary care, before making the relatively unusual move to a medical communications and PR agency. Over the next 10 years I supported brand launches, content creation and communications across a range of roles in agency and in pharma.

In 2010 I set up 28b to support independent agencies in the effective delivery of digital strategy and solutions, websites, apps, sales aids etc. In 2015 we delivered our first Veeva sales aid build and in 2016 we won the business to move the whole of AbbVie UK over to Veeva.

Things were going really well until October 2017, when we lost 67% of our revenue overnight with AbbVie and Allergan (another major client of ours) moving all of their development - both global and local - to a massive global IT services provider. It ended up with just myself and our now CTO Paul, who has been with me since 2012 and who has always been the backbone of the company.

So, we took the decision to drop everything but our Veeva work and hyper-niched into the digital rep enablement space. So here we are, five years on from the brink of disaster with a team of 16 consultants and developers, established as one of the foremost Veeva optimisation outfits in Europe and supporting a roster of 17 pharma companies and 14 agency partners.

Karsten: How would you describe what good looks like when Life Sciences companies enable their multichannel reps with the right tools and digital content?

James: Great question. Well first off, STEM Healthcare did a study into the impact of the iPad on sales (2011-2017 meta-analysis of all observed sales callas across all clients North America and EU) that I often draw inspiration from. The study showed a 71% increase in the frequency of a good sell outcome (when the customer says “yes”) when reps were given sales aids that both they and their customers could interact with vs a paper under glass PDF solution. On this basis, what good looks like is interactive, engaging functional content that enables the rep to deliver thoughtful, deliberate high value engagements with their customers, resulting in an increase in sales.

So how do you get there?

1) This is the most critical and most overlooked factor: align the content, flow and functionality of your sales aid to the sales process your sales team are trained in. It always concerns me when I challenge content creators on this and they have not even sourced, let alone considered the sales training deck for that company.

Almost every process will consist of three critical steps that good functional content can support:

a. Identify a clear source of business. This includes disease/patients/current treatment choice/treatment goals/treatment challenges. This is everything you need to deliver a tailored, high impact call and good content can not only encourage and enable the rep to gain these insights, but they can be written to the CRM to power non-personal omnichannel engagements with that customer over time.

b. Align your content to address those needs, i.e., enable the rep to tell your brand story in a way that is meaningful to that customer and their patients. This is where, as content creators, you must co-create with your field team, iterate, and evolve the navigation and UX to enable them to deliver all core key messages within the time they have in front of customers. Again, I am often disappointed when I ask agencies how long the target field team get on average with their customers as they rarely - if ever - have asked this critical question. There is no point designing a story that takes 30 minutes to deliver effectively if your team only get 20 minutes to tell it!

c. ASK FOR THE BUSINESS! STEM Healthcare data shows an 18x increase in the frequency of a good sell outcome if the rep delivers a competitive, patient focussed close where they ask for the business. If there is just one area that I would encourage every single brand team and agency to focus their efforts on, it would be the close. Create a dynamic, engaging, deliberate close that addresses that customer’s needs and enables and encourages the rep to actually ask for the business. This will have the most immediate impact on your sales success.

2) Utilise functional content to enable and empower the field team to understand their customers’ needs better and then align the content to those needs and ask for the business. Also, ensure analytics are in place to record those insights and actions to the CRM. Once that data is in the CRM it can be used to track KPIs, customer behaviours and content performance, as well as go on to power the customers' wider omnichannel journey and engagements with the brand and organisation.

3) Co-create, co-create, co-create. Work with your field team users! Not only will you gain valuable insights, but you will also create champions for the sales aid and the platform. You want a field team excited about the potential of both and who can't wait to start using the new sales aid with their customers.

Illustration: Building functional content for high-value customer engagements

To see some examples of functional content in action, click here.

Karsten: What needs to happen for multichannel reps to increase their selling effectiveness?

James: My simple, short answer, is that they need to fall in love with the power and potential of the platforms they have to hand, be that Veeva, IQVIA OCE, Exeevo, Tact etc. Once they understand the potential these solutions have to help them sell effectively, you can just sit back and watch them fly.

However, to get there we need to win their hearts and minds and convince them of the value by creating great content that they can and WANT to use. That will generate customer insights and buying signals that are for them and not just for head office. We want field teams excited about the next sales aid, feeling competent and confident in the technology they have and able to use it effectively to deliver thoughtful, deliberate, high value engagements with each and every one of their target customers.

Karsten: In-field representatives want to track journeys of their customers along the adoption ladder. What are important elements when designing digital campaigns, to enable that type of tracking?

James: It is about designing functional content that enables the field team to gain and capture insights into their customers’ clinical and prescribing behaviour and then recording it to the CRM for use in analysis and automatically updating other values such as adoption ladder positioning and customer segmentation.

Standard analytics in systems like Veeva are things like “what slide was shown to what doctor” or “when and for how long". Whilst this is interesting from a content utilisation point of view, it is not going to give you much insight on the HCP. So, we use more granular in-slide analytics. In Veeva this is called “clickstream” and it allows us to track inputs and activity on the slide. For instance, you could work with the HCP to build up their preferred clinical pathways, positioning your brand and then tracking that positioning over time, working towards making it their first line choice where appropriate.

Too often we are asked to implement analytics once the designs are final, severely limiting what we can record and learn from. Best practice is to ask, right from the outset, “what do we want to know about our customers?” and “what KPIs do we want to track?”. Then begin the process of designing your content to capture this and write the results to the CRM. This is only half the journey though as you also have to close the loop – that is review, analyse and act on your data. That is how you get to understand what is working and how you are moving your HCPs along the adoption ladder.

Karsten: Any final thoughts that you would like to leave our audience with?

James: If we want to enable and empower our field teams to deliver thoughtful, deliberate, high value personalised engagement and orchestrate that engagement effectively over time then we must first win their hearts and minds and clearly demonstrate the “what's in it for me” when it comes to these platforms and the content that we create for them. Only then will we see the success that comes from the confident and competent application of these technologies in the field.

Karsten: Thanks for sharing these valuable insights, James. I am sure that what you have pointed out is food for thought for some of our readers on how to build future functional content for hybrid customer engagements.

In summary, we can say that content, flow and functionality of sales aids need to align with the existing sales process that the sales team is trained in. Good functional content is based on identification of source of business, properly addressing those needs and finally asking for the business. Sales aids for high value, personalised engagements should be co-created, iterated and evolved with the participation of field team members.

What other elements do you consider indispensable for creating great functional content that allows in-field teams to produce better sales outcomes?

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Xeleratio Consulting Ltd.

We help Life Sciences executives improve sales performance with innovative best-in-class Business Excellence tools and methodologies . Expertise in Business Excellence has been gained with over 12 years of working in different global and regional roles in the Life Sciences industry.


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