Advancing global healthcare brands.

The Not-so-New Normal: Part 2

What’s next: What healthcare marketers will care about tomorrow

Ross Toohey | April 16, 2020

I’ve had several healthcare marketers reach out over the past week asking what to expect in the coming months, what their peers with other 2e clients are focused on, and what they may be missing. (Shout out to those whose intellectual gold I’m about to shell out as my own.)

During the first couple of weeks, everyone was buzzing about switching to virtual congresses. Then, every healthcare marketer fired up Excel and dove into budget rebalancing exercises. So what’s the next thing CMOs will be jumping on Zoom chats to hammer out? Given the conversations we’re having with clients of late, I’m willing to wager one roll of TP and two boxes of Thin Mints (2017 vintage) the next phase of focus is on field sales, and how best to utilize a now-idle force of Type-A personalities.

While many pharma and device marketers have already forged short-term plans for field teams, the coming weeks will see longer-term plans play out as new revenue forecasts and resulting budgets are handed down from on high. What we’re seeing is a fairly consistent pattern of two-faceted plans, with sales and marketing organizations approaching this challenge both internally and externally. Here’s what they’re talking about:

1. What does the future of sales rep calls and customer relationship development look like?

2. How can our sales team develop skills during downtime?

To be fair, this first consideration isn’t new. This has been a subject of active debate and exploration for the past few years. Regulations governing the activity of sales representatives are getting tougher.  Many pharma marketing organizations have trialed virtual sales forces with mixed success, but typically these explorations are focused on cost reduction, rather than a focus on optimizing the human-to-human sales experience. COVID-19 has created a very real need to evaluate non-personal field operations in the absence of traditional tactics, rather than in addition to them.


From highly sophisticated technological solutions to back-to-basics approaches focusing on phone-and-email-based customer interaction, the accelerated evolution of field dynamics is a thoroughly fascinating ongoing discussion across organizations of all shapes and sizes. Even something as simple as introducing email communications and cadences with prominent “Request a Rep” call-to-actions have proven to have increased engagement lately, as email communication, per IQVIA research, has become the preferred method of industry contact at this time.

This is a massive subject worthy of its own post, so we’ll tackle this deeper in the future. 2e is hosting a virtual roundtable with industry leaders in the coming weeks on this very topic.

The second question above is the one we’re hearing more and more activity around lately. As the cement is setting around plans for budget reallocation and staff sizing, sales and marketing leadership are turning to internal training and research teams for easily deployable, snackable skills and knowledge development opportunities to help juice the capabilities of their now-grounded field teams. Driving this appetite, of course, is the desire to keep skills honed during a period of bench warming, as well as a very human desire to continue building value with a key asset (the reps themselves) despite cooling activity.

Consider this: Perhaps your organization invests healthy focus on training sales reps on product knowledge, competitive counter-messaging and overall objective handling, but when was the last time equivalent resources were allocated to training core selling skills like negotiation or relationship management? Furthermore, many organizations altogether lack ongoing refresher training on the adopted selling model (for example, Challenger, SPIN), relying almost exclusively on rep onboarding training to cover the subject entirely.

A few super-simple considerations for tapping into sales force down time that have become recurring themes in our conversations with marketers:

Keep it simple

Now is not the time to deploy complex new platforms for content distribution or learning management. Instead, focus on smaller, more modular topics that can be broken down and distributed as learning assignments. For example, even a topic as seemingly finite as Sales Negotiation can be broken down into further subtopics like negotiation dynamics, active listening, and conflict resolution.

Don’t fire and forget

So you’ve just read a fascinating report on evolving HCP trends in digital engagement and you’ve hammered out a two-page email to your team providing an overview of the content, summary of key points, and inevitably-broken link to the original article. Don’t just hit send and move on. Follow through on content by adding a few minutes to your next virtual meeting to discuss how that report applies to them, or even challenge them to translate it into knowledge they could turn around and share with their customers.

Reprioritize prework

COVID-delayed your launch another few quarters? Consider retooling foundational/prerequisite learning that had been slated for NSM/POA classroom sessions to include a home study reps can be polishing up on so they’re primed for deeper content engagement when pre-launch training is back on the agenda.

Of course these are obvious considerations, but in times like these, it’s often the most fundamental things that warrant priority. So what is top-of-mind for your marketing organization these days?

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