Take control: How to fast-track omni-channel maturity in Health Science

by Matt McLaren

Most Health Science companies have already responded to the immediate implications of COVID-19; employees are staying safe and working remotely where possible, while the handbrake has been applied to discretionary expenditure.

The industry has weathered the recent turmoil better than most, given its non-cyclical nature and tightly regulated environment. Society continues to value access to life-saving drugs and medications, and there is a surge of support for healthcare system resourcing above all else during this pandemic. This is reflected in relatively moderate share price declines across the US Health Sciences sector; since early January (when the first news of COVID-19 started to emerge), Major Pharma shares have fallen by around 6.92%, Medical Specialty by 10.95%, while Biotech has actually risen by 4.06%.

Yet despite this, there are still significant threats – brought into sharp and painful relief by the pandemic – to existing Health Science go-to-market models:

  • HCP Access Frozen – traditional face-to-face channels have been under pressure for years and the current crisis has accelerated this. Field sales forces in Health Science are literally sidelined – representing an enormous cost with uncertainty around when they can be redeployed.
  • HCP ‘Spam Fatigue’ – as a reaction to face-to-face resources being sidelined, many organisations are rushing to poorly thought-out email marketing campaigns that ‘spam’ HCPs with disjointed, irrelevant or unhelpful COVID-19 messages.
  • 'Leveling-Up’ of HCP and Patient Expectations – perhaps the most striking challenge is the acceleration of digital platform adoption at both a business and individual level. Innovative and high-quality virtual experiences are driving a more sophisticated universal perspective on the spectrum of engagement possibilities.

Health Science organisations must now move quickly out of the ‘Respond’ phase and into the ‘Reconfigure’ stage. For some, this means surviving the very real and existential threat to business continuity, while for others it will lead to a total reset of their business model. For the lucky few who are well-placed to continue operating in this climate – it will mean reconfiguring to capture the market opportunity that currently presents itself. Regardless, success will require a bolder set of ‘no-regrets’ ‘Reconfiguration’ decisions that will change most organisations go-to-market models.

In order to assess the right ‘Reconfigure’ actions for Health Science, it is useful to provide a contextual framework that classifies industries as either Advantaged, Disadvantaged or Distressed based on the impact of COVID-19:
  • Advantaged: sectors which broadly stand to gain from the crisis, based on a flight to safety and increased demand for essential products and services.
  • Disadvantaged: sectors which are negatively affected by the reduction in aggregate demand and cutting of discretionary spending by businesses and consumers.
  • Distressed: sectors which face severe challenges around maintaining a viable business in the short-term, due to wholesale bans, restrictions and disruption of specific economic activities.

The other contributing factor is the level of omni-channel maturity. Those with a high-level of maturity (existing digital and remote engagement with customers, a wealth of data and the capabilities to execute successfully) are already set up to succeed quickly in the new world. Organisations who are less progressed, therefore starting from the back foot, are having to quickly build digital engagement and in some cases completely redesign their business model.

Based on this combination of sectoral impact and omni-channel maturity, we see four strategic approaches organisations can take to emerge out the other side.


To find out more about each strategic approach, click here.

Given most Health Science organisations currently rely on face-to-face, product-centric sales models, there is a real opportunity to capitalise on the situation by building remote and digital engagement channels with HCPs and Patients. Here, we will explore the ‘no regrets’ actions you must take under the ‘Fast-Track Omni-Channel Capabilities’ approach:

Understand how HCP journeys are changing

The HCP environment is changing rapidly out of necessity, and to expect that their behaviours and preferences will remain unchanged during COVID-19 and beyond is a dangerous fallacy. Close monitoring of HCP shifts – alongside agility and speed in response – will stand Health Science organisations in good stead to survive, adapt and set-up well for the rebound.

By immediately undertaking a comprehensive re-evaluation of the HCP journey leaders can identify the critical ‘moments that matter’ and how engagement preferences have changed as a result of the pandemic. This will allow organisations to prioritise and build the right capabilities, offerings and services to meet the HCPs when and how they want them.

Invest in omni-channel capabilities, processes, people and technology

The shift towards digital has been monumental. Physical channels based on HCP coverage and frequency were previously considered the lifeblood of Health Science organisations. However, there’s an increased need for online engagement, mostly due to the demand on Doctors’ time, evolving channel preferences and regulatory constraints. The pandemic has now changed field force indefinitely, and the industry is unlikely to return to the old ways-of-working. Organisations must accelerate the omni-channel build to maintain relevance now, and once the crisis has passed.

One unexpected result of COVID-19 is the significant increase in breadth and speed of new technology rolled out by Global Pharma to Affiliates to better engage HCPs virtually e.g. online meeting support, e-detailing and marketing automation platforms. What was delayed previously or deemed of low priority, suddenly became critical to supporting business needs – meaning some of the digital barriers that existed pre-pandemic, have not been as much of an issue now.

In parallel, Health Science organisations need to quickly identify and implement new omni-channel capabilities to support the change in HCP engagement and channel preferences. This includes a focus on evolving business processes to coordinate the management of HCPs across all functions and channels, while aligning the critical capabilities needed to exceed expectations at the ‘moments that matter’ most. Leaders must also determine what capabilities are best supported globally / regionally (e.g. technology infrastructure & data) vs. locally (e.g. execution).

Invest in the field force of the future

Field forces have been disrupted, but face-to-face resources will be critical in augmenting omni-channel go-to-market models of the future. The sophistication of today’s selling environment has evolved and the ‘Rep of the Future’ must continue to adapt to meet rapidly changing HCP preferences and behaviours. The new field force must be:

  • Empowered and enabled through data and insight to deliver more relevant, meaningful interactions
  • HCP orchestrators, not owners – who coordinate across functions and channels, to deliver exceptional experiences based on clear understanding of the HCP journey.
  • High-value problem solvers that can align the organisation to produce innovative and effective service offerings for HCPs and their patients
Many clients have been thinking about the ‘Rep of the Future’ for a while now but COVID-19 has really accelerated the business case for redesigning the HCP engagement model at a global level. Getting buy-in from a critical mass of sales managers and frontline teams across Affiliates, to change the way they think about coordinating their activities across functions and channels is key to delivering the desired customer experience moving forward. Simply sending representatives back out on the road when the lockdown is lifted may not be viable due to a huge patient backlog caused by COVID-19 case prioritisation.

Health Science organisations should leverage data and insights around the changing HCP environment, journeys and ‘moments that matter’ to identify the shifts required for your field force to remain effective in the future. Understanding the performance of existing organisational, manager and frontline functions can also help highlight the key gaps to best practice, which should be addressed as part of the broader omni-channel change program.

The ‘Reconfigure’ stage is a pivotal moment in time for the Health Science industry. There is a window of opportunity to reset business models, reprioritise investments and build effective omni-channel capabilities. The actions that organisations take now will define success or failure, both in staying resilient through the downturn, but also in capturing the growth opportunity beyond. Above all, decisiveness, agility and innovation should not be underestimated in action plans and in execution.

In the past week alone, we’ve connected with multiple Health Science leaders who believe (like we do) that COVID-19 marks a seismic and enduring shift in HCP engagement and channel preferences. Across all, the internal case for omni-channel program acceleration and funding has become stronger given the current environment, and there will be no going back. To assist, Blackdot will share more insights over the coming weeks on what best practice omni-channel engagement looks like, and how to make this shift.

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