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  • Writer's pictureKarsten Schmidt

Transitioning smartly into the new healthcare customer engagement model



The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation processes for Life Sciences companies in engaging with their customers. Today, we would like to shed some light on the implications of this new environment as seen from the perspective of Contract Sales Organisations (CSOs). With this objective in mind, I have invited Thomas Zadro, CEO of Credopard, one of Germany’s largest independent CSOs, for an interview. Thomas has been spending the last 20 years in Contract Sales Management for the healthcare industry e. g. for companies like IQVIA, Syneos-Health and Credopard.


Karsten: Thank you, Thomas, for taking the time for this interview. As a start, could you tell our audience a bit about your background and career steps in staffing and recruitment?


Thomas: Thanks a lot for having me. Recruitment is the art of anticipating the unforeseeable. I come from the commercial side, so this challenge was not unfamiliar to me as every business plan eventually is doing precisely this: Based on data from the past, trying to deliver a good guess about the future. This includes the candidate potential and the employer's needs in the future and how both components are harmonising. So, working in recruitment was a perfect preparation for leading Credopard with the declared objective to support companies in mastering the challenges this dynamic market offers. In particular, nowadays, all companies suffer from a lack of certainness concerning the future, its demands, and the best ways to handle it.


Karsten: The pandemic has reduced the engagements rates of Life Sciences representatives with their customers in many countries. What implications does this have for Contract Sales Organisations in general?


Thomas: It was interesting to see how companies responded to the challenges. The first reaction of larger organisations was reducing headcount while mid-sized enterprises tried to keep their staff, either through reducing work hours or switching them to other sales channels. Independent of the company size, though, the fluctuation was, and still is, not levelled by new hires. While Big Pharma has invested heavily in remote customer care solutions and increased its omnichannel activities, many local suppliers were hesitating to professionalize their efforts in this area as it often appears as a massive investment in a tool, they do not believe in. And there are good reasons for not going all in, besides the costs. People are buying from people, not from voices or chatbots. Many physicians and pharmacists have been overwhelmed with emails and phone calls, webinars and video messages. The number of opt-outs increased massively in the last months as HCPs have the impression that they became a kind of deposit for unwanted product messages.


In many cases, sales reps, forced to engage with HCPs by phone with little to no training, felt frustrated. While our data are showing a general understanding that this change in communication will be permanent, it is hated by many traditional medical sales reps. They were hired for establishing a personal relationship, but how to do this by phone or a video call?


Karsten: I often hear from my network that it is difficult to try and compensate for the lack of face-to-face engagements with remote calls as the willingness of HCPs to accept remote calls is limited. What is your experience in this regard?


Thomas: The point is, a simple replacement of personal interaction by remote instruments does not work. On the other side, it is a given fact that, while HCPs very often seem to be annoyed by being approached remotely, they appreciate such communication when it creates additional value. Being randomly called by ten reps daily, all blocking the line while dozens of patients seek an appointment for getting vaccinated, makes the HCP feel entirely ignored. Showing respect by asking for an appointment via email, offering an open line for the HCP, initiating the conversation when a need is given, offering webinars and open calendars for discussions is a different animal. There is a simple truth still ignored too often: Content is king, context is Queen, and the client is God – will say: To engage remotely, one has to offer meaningful content that matters to the recipient. The content has to harmonise with the HCPs needs, and as a representative, I have to understand and respect the circumstances my client has to live with.


Karsten: Undoubtedly, engaging with a customer face-to-face is one of the most effective channels. What needs to happen to make remote engagements similarly impactful from your perspective?


Thomas: What needs to happen that a TV adventure becomes as thrilling as being in the jungle yourself? I think we have to understand that these are two different animals. In a 121-situation, the relationship is the primary driver, while in a remote situation, the content is the dominant element. In our venture, we developed a communication matrix, allowing our medical reps to work professionally with their HCPs, respecting their needs as well as defending our clients' budget. Instead of just clustering HCPs in a classic A, B, C-style, we also collect information about their preferred communication channel. Combining the commercial potential with the desired or necessary channel allows creating different groups. If an A client hates to run web sessions, the chances of gaining consent for phone calls with this person are probably also limited.


Another point, sometimes not taken into consideration, is the demographic change. In the next three to five years, we will see a massive increase in younger HCPs. They are used to find their way through the internet, doing their own research and are more open to remote solutions. This eventually leads to an overall reduction of demand for in-person contacts and makes it mandatory to go for omnichannel solutions. The level of cleverness in combining different channels will set apart successful and less successful sales organisations. A complete replacement of direct, personal contact, though, is undoubtedly nothing an organisation should aim for. In the end, we are speaking with people who are responsible for the well-being of human beings. Our product is neither Tupperware nor a new smartphone where clients can be tricked by phone into purchases or new contracts. It is about a suffering human being. Therefore, trust is the main currency, and this trust is primarily built on the basis of personal engagements.


Karsten: How do you foresee future customer engagement models to evolve once we leave this pandemic behind us?


Thomas: Germany will finally join the rest of the world where remote and omni-channel customer communication are already well established. I have been preaching this for years, and the pandemic taught all organisations a tough lesson which did not prepare for this switch. While the infrastructure gets eventually updated in most surgeries, the conditions are now set, and the days of sales organisations only relying on in-person interaction are over. We will see a professionalisation of interaction, finding the right balance between personal and remote calls, integrated sales materials and open communication platforms, allowing both sides to interact when needed.


Overview of different engagement models combining phone and web-based solutions

Karsten: There are a couple of big CSO players who you have to compete against in the German market. What are the key ingredients to be successful in this challenging competitive environment?


Thomas: On a global scale, Credopard is small, as we only operate in Germany. Thanks to our network, though, we can provide solutions on a European level. Our partners are other national CSOs, all highly specialised in their home market. This model allows us to grant our clients to encounter the best possible solution by a national specialist, rather than a generic one by a globally active CSO with strong and weak local organisations. Our strength comes out of our values – Responsibility, Fairness and Solutions Orientation. We are not seeking quick business but a long-term relationship. This enables us to challenge ideas by adding new aspects, consulting our clients and supporting them. Our answer is not "more heads" for gaining more money, but "are we sure that this is the best way of handling it?" If we are not convinced, we tell our client. This approach allowed us to act successfully in the current situation as our clients experience daily the "we do this for you" approach. We strongly believe that a customer should not bear the risk by himself, so our solutions always include an element of financial responsibility for the project success. All proposals are open book so that there are no hidden costs or small-print clauses, often used to get the most out of a client. In short terms, we are not seeking to "get something out" but to "put something in".


Karsten: Where do you see future challenges and opportunities for CSOs in the context of the increased hybrid customer engagement models?


Thomas: While investments in tools and equipment might be annoying, the real challenge is to get the right people for handling all these opportunities. Very soon, it will be close to impossible to find the right talent. The industry's reluctance to hire Rookies will fire back soon as handling these new tools needs well educated, highly motivated and technique-affine professionals. The mid-thirty medical rep with two to five years of experience becomes a unicorn everybody is looking for. Agencies will earn a lot of money by shifting these rare talents from one company to another. This is why training programs are so important, combined with a concept of observing an employee's development. There are many intelligent ways to overcome the challenges related to the shiny new world of pharmaceutical sales. It is up to the industry to open its mind and make it happen.


Karsten: Thanks a lot, Thomas for sharing your perspective on important aspects of future customer engagements for Life Sciences. In summary, we can say that finding the right mix between personal and remote calls whilst taking into account customer preferences will be key moving forward. Life Sciences companies smartly combining different channels will certainly gain a competitive edge.


Do you have similar or different expectations on how the future customer engagement model will evolve? If you find this article interesting, please like or share it. For further reference please reach out to info@xeleratio.com or t.zadro@credopard.de.

 

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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