With this year’s eyeforpharma Barcelona self-virtualizing in order to meet the demands of COVID-19, one digital panel felt particularly pertinent. “Create a Digitally Enabled Field Force to Meet Customer Expectation” convened leaders from GSK, Roche, and Sanofi to discuss the ever-evolving role of the sales rep. Moderator Olivier Zitoun, Life Sciences Global Sector Lead at Capgemini, focused the conversation on how reps are adapting at light speed to this unprecedented moment.

Hélène Tixier, Sanofi’s Head of Global Digital and Multichannel Strategy, spoke about the heightened importance of having reps carry the right material. “If you have nothing to say to your customer, you shouldn’t talk to them—and with remote detailing that’s even more true,” she said. “Content, content, content is king.”

While the importance of quality content remains constant, there are other ways in which the role of the rep is dramatically changing. Roche Digital & Multichannel Manager Nuno Rodriguez emphasized that, now more than ever, “reps will be the ones to know the customer. They create the relationship and manage it.” The intel gleaned from that relationship is crucial, said Rodriguez, allowing the company to “be on the right channels, at the right time, with information they want.” Tixier put it in different words: “[A rep will] become much more like a manager of his territory rather than a salesperson.”

She went on to note that figuring out the right mix of channels is an important focus during the time of COVID-19 but it also has been an industry focus for a long time and will continue to be. “We’ve tried 100% digital and 100% face to face. At the end, the conclusion is always that we need to have a mix of touchpoints.”

With the pandemic forcing many physicians to be more open to digital channels, both in treating patients and meeting with reps, the panelists agreed that it is likely that even post-pandemic more physicians will be willing to interact digitally. With this in mind, GSK Commercial Director Ignacio Quiles Lara said that “Segmentation is going to get bigger and bigger. More segments, more personalized customer engagements.”

The moderator asked if there were any technological barriers in the way. Tixier made it clear that “the biggest challenge is not the technology—it’s the data integration.” Now the main question, she said, is, “How can we integrate data from all different sources to generate a 360 view of the customer?”

Rodriguez elaborated on this point, explaining, “Omnichannel is what all of us want to achieve. When you have in place an ecosystem that allows you to have integration between CRM, digital presence, email marketing, rep interactions…the channels are integrated. But we need to understand how these little different pieces interact with each other and what is the big picture we can gather about the customer.”

“These are things we’ve been think about and moving on gradually for ten years,” Quiles Lara said. “But COVID has been accelerating everything…I hope that in a few years we’ll be able to say that we have all these systems integrated.”

Tixier highlighted that the constraints of current moment actually come with some advantages. “What is nice about remote detailing,” she said, “is the fact that you can really measure the interactions,” and thereby improve your strategies going forward. Measurement is crucial, but before you get there, “the key is to listen before we talk,” she said. “What are [the customer’s] expectations right now?”

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.