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7 hot topics and takeaways from Veeva Commercial and Medical Summit Online, Europe

veeva summit online

What’s the perfect meeting place for pharma marketing, communications and IT professionals to exchange their practical insights and experiences over the past several months? Numerous excellent events exist to express tendencies and ideas, but when it comes to real-world, tangible cases, the first thing that comes to mind is the platform provided by a giant innovation enabler that is Veeva. Year by year, Veeva Commercial and Medical Summit has been justifying its reputation as that single powerful community builder one conference after another – and 2020 is not an exception.

Fresh intriguing findings from the world of medical reps, HCPs in the time of crisis, sophisticated, COVID-proof marketing strategies and sudden answers to questions with a long history, such as customer experience in pharma – all of this was wrapped in the format of a virtual event. No single blog post would suffice to describe everything, so let us just look at the seven most intriguing ideas – and suggest viewing the sessions themselves on demand for the ultimate immersive experience.

It is definitely worth the time. We at Viseven Group, being certified Veeva Technology Partner, Multichannel Partner and a provider of solutions and services for Veeva users for years, can confirm this from an insider point of view.

Setting the scene

In the opening keynote to the event on November 17, Chris Moore, President at Veeva Europe, noted one thing that most of us working in and for pharma communications can relate to the year 2020 has been truly special in terms of innovation and creativity. Looking back on these days, we are likely to see them as a turning point that made hundreds of professionals rethink almost everything, from digital tech to value propositions. The changes urged by the world situation will stick around and affect both the “digital haves” and the “digital have nots” – but what are these changes in practice?

Two interesting sessions seem to define quite many of the hot topics and ideas that resonated through later panel talks and Q/A’s. One of these was a session with a medical representative and the other an inspired talk between marketing specialists. Together, these two organizationally unrelated episodes make for a perfect exposition of the event.

The “fireside chat” with Romain Piccolo, Sales Representative (Respiratory) at Boehringer Ingelheim, was dedicated to the experiences and insights from the fields that only actual reps can provide. No need to say, this year especially such insights are valuable, considering how the tables have turned with digital and remote engagement. Beside the observations on how to engage HCPs in the new remote format in a country like Spain, where the traditions of in-person visits are strong, there are surprising and quite encouraging findings.

For example, it turns out the “traditional”, go-to demographics like age have little to nothing to do with the actual digital affinity score for an HCP, with various groups completely ready for the format itself. It looks like in the future, the golden number of, say, 15 visits a day will give place to a golden ratio between different channels in the HCP engagement structure. While trying to diversify that channel mix, however, pharma unlocks yet another challenge, and that is content.

While the “how” of HCP engagement is now being secured by nifty solutions – e.g. the HCP being able to request what they want to see, and health centers organizing calls – there is a mismatch between the available and the perfect when it comes to content. Particularly physicians tend to value content that is created by peers (such as key opinion leaders) more than the more commercially wired variety, and of course, more scientific topics is a common wish, not to mention the need to personalize the information that comes to the doctor.

The second session that defined the hot topics for the summit featured Melissa Fellner, Global Marketing Director at AstraZeneca, and Veeva’s Business Consulting specialist Leonie Goddard, discussing the journey to digital excellence that AstraZeneca is undergoing. Apart from the vital role that Veeva’s assistance played in adapting to the new digital norm, several other things are noteworthy here.

First and foremost, it’s the customer experience. Looking at what other industries now have to offer to the consumer, one cannot but wonder how to emulate that in pharma. Essentially, good omnichannel means integrating the brand offering in the customer’s own lifestyle, and it turns out life sciences are capable of that even regardless of the regulatory environment and other well-known “impediments”.

The future of pharmaceutical communications, according to that view, is determined by factors such as deep customer insights, integrated campaigns and dynamic segmentation. These, in turn, equate to supplying personalized content (content again!) across an extended, modifiable channel mix that includes digital services from pharma. With handy tools that provide the next best actions and prompts (for example, to the medical representative as the engagement orchestrator), brands can arrive at the stage where they deliver carefully tailored experiences that can be measured and perfected along the way.

Below are seven ideas that were partially outlined here, as expounded in other sessions in more interesting detail – ideas likely to influence 2021 and the years to come.

1 Let the HCP decide!

In the eventual turn of events (even if we don’t think of the pandemic for a moment), letting the HCPs themselves decide to a bigger extent what they want to hear from pharma proved inevitable. This attention to what the HCPs themselves experience and feel is noticeable even as one looks at the summit agenda. On Day 2 of the event, several sessions were specifically dedicated to listening to practicing healthcare providers, one in English, one in Spanish, yet another one in Italian. Companies have been relaxing the messaging intended for those medical professionals most under pressure from the coronavirus, and adapting the tactics for the rest, which is just an extension of a trend that emerged earlier on: recognizing the importance of the audience’s choice.

As a climax of this development, Veeva introduced a solution called MyVeeva for Doctors in a session led by Paul Shawah, Senior Vice President for Commercial Strategy, and Chris van Löben Sels, General Manager, MyVeeva for Doctors & Veeva Labs. The idea behind MyVeeva is simple and powerful – a single app intended to make it easy for the HCP to connect with pharma and search for reps or MSLs. Once invited by their representative to use the app and successfully registered, the HCP can not just communicate with that particular rep in an in-app chat, exchanging files and messages, but also find other representatives, as well as schedule meetings and enjoy a number of other services, including digital leave-behinds, patient resources, samples and more.

2 Meet the hybrid engagement model

While in March it may have seemed that remote engagement is the eventual horizon for everything and everyone until COVID-19 is a chapter in history books, the actual practice proved otherwise. Human interaction in F2F mode is extremely difficult to eliminate from the equation, and frankly speaking, it is not to be eliminated entirely. On the other hand, the restrictions and safety considerations have opened the potential of other channels, leading to the emergence of a “hybrid” model – with some touchpoints occurring at rep calls as before, and others either orchestrated by the rep or done via non-personal promotion and led by the marketing teams themselves. In his presentation, Giovanni Luca Merlotti, Head of Global Multichannel Execution, Sanofi Pasteur, explored the intricacies of balance between the rep-driven channels versus the HQ-driven ones in the mix. Eventually, such a mix is intended not just to expand the reach and increase the frequency of interactions, but also strengthen customer engagement as such. Remote detailing, as empowered by Veeva solutions, plays a crucial role here, and so does content.

A similar sentiment can be observed in the strategy discussed at another session featuring, among others, Adela Schulz, Multi-Channel Customer Engagement and Digital Transformation Lead at MSD: decisions now have to be made what topics should be discussed F2F, and which ones online. This measure was the result of the crisis, but its consequences will naturally extend into the future. Another participant of that same session, Anna Casanovas, IMCM Business Integration, Bayer, supplemented the topic of agility in life sciences’ communication strategy by emphasizing the need for personalization and modular content.

3 Customer experience, 4 Value proposition, and 5 Push and pull

At the current stage of omnichannel development, pharma is in the position where other industries can provide an insight into how customer experience can be furnished in better ways. However, there is obviously no single set of pre-packed ideas and solutions, since industry specifics plays a major role. There is much room for creativity, and a lot of questions to be answered, especially when it comes to the regulatory nuances and sensitive topics. However, is this the real blocker along the road to great CX?

An attempt to split the problem into manageable chunks was made by Victoria Serra Gittermann, Principal Consultant, Business Consulting, Veeva, in her presentation titled The Six Imperatives of Great HCP Experiences. The analysis started with identifying the six common blocks that impede building a successful CX for the physician audience. The first of these is the desire to exert too much control over the dialogue and formalize the customer journey, essentially robbing the HCP of the opportunity to make choices. A frequent mistake at the initial steps of omnichannel implementation, this is typically solved once the engagement model moves to the next step of maturity, not least due to better data work (see below).

Another problematic point is a value proposition that is inherently narrow because it focuses heavily on the product itself, instead of offering something broader and “growing” from the actual working practice. At the same time, this leads to lack of transparency about the objectives of communication – a known detriment to building trust that the reps’ personal qualities only partially bridge. One more blocker that stems from here is the “mass content coverage” practice from yesterday’s playbooks, with insufficient personalization and targeting.

In practice, this entails the focus on “push” tactics rather than creating enough “pull”. Finally, if you add the limited coordination and governance around customer engagement, siloed workflows and lack of agility in the processes, the picture becomes complete enough for the problems to be solved.

To untie this knot, the presenter suggests six imperatives:

  • Move from static to dynamic insights (behavioral/attitudinal segmentation, dynamic customer journey mapping, etc., content tagging)
  • Align value proposition to customer needs (targeted key messages, focus on health outcomes)
  • Build trust (transparency, consistency, doing the right thing over time, shared purpose, ecosystem, evidence)
  • Making it easy to engage, on the customer’s terms (channel integration, predictive analytics & next best actions, automation)
  • Make it personal (Modular content, metrics and tagging, content automation)
  • Build a customer-centric operational model

The need to work on a broader definition of value proposition was also emphasized in the session led by Suzy Jackson, Executive, Life Sciences, Accenture, dedicated to the impact of COVID-19 on the digital field model. One of the key findings cited was that in the light of current changes, pharmas are starting to “…redefine their relevance… and healthcare providers are seeing the value.” However, this particular session also contributed interesting insights to illustrate the next point.

6 What’s there in-house? Take stock of your processes, capabilities, and skills

The need to build in-house digital capacities is a recognized one by now. After all, convoluted processes, reliance on too many external agencies and subcontractors, together with silos, have long stood in the way of even the most ambitious projects. Of course, no one talks seriously about transferring all the digital activity inside the organization – rather, it is now the matter of flexibility, ownership and agility.

Notably, much has been spoken about pharmas’ in-house talent in terms of data management. This is an extended topic that would require an entire blog post all to itself even if only to scratch the surface. Here, we can mention such sessions as Bayer: Advancing Digital Transformation with Data & Technology with Elie Dubrulle, CRM Project Manager at Bayer Healthcare, and Angela Genco, Head of Integrated Multichannel Marketing & Sales, Bayer Italy.

However, it is not just with data strategy that a revisioning of in-house capacities can lead to good results. Turning back to the Accenture session mentioned earlier, an interesting insight was revealed: when a medical representative has the autonomy to send an Approved Email with a link to pre-selected content, impactable sales rise by 7%. Is this about content? Yes. Is this also about letting more flexibility into the working model and allowing decisions to be taken in a multi-level pyramid? Definitely. Does this presuppose educating the workforce? Of course, it does.

New governance and process models are also beneficial in the realm of content, to be sure. This is, however, just a small part of how content work has changed.

7 What does the perfect content look like?

Any equation for communication excellence will necessarily involve the content variable. What’s the catch? The very fact that content is, in fact, a variable – because each HCP’s needs are that, too. But then, how do you ensure the content you deliver is flexible enough to function as such?

A presentation by Puneet Srivastava, Content Strategy Leader at Bayer, explores the ins and outs of content excellence as it is available to Veeva users. In an intriguing classification, the different types of content are placed along two axes:

“Long” content – “short” content


“Active” content – “passive” content

In this way, one may characterize, for example, remote and face detailing and webinars as “long-form” and “active” (with real-time HCP involvement and interaction), websites, ebooks and videos as “long” and “passive”, and email/SMM as “short” and “passive”. However, there is one missed spot, and that is the one offering short and active engagement. This, in practice, corresponds to the new content consumption patterns and requires even more interactive materials to be designed and deployed.

How to enable content production and circulation at such rates? The answer lies with processes, governance and tracking. Plugging together strategic content creation, on the one hand, and content publishing, on the other, presupposes rethinking the way content itself is handled.

Much has been spoken about, and already implemented, in the realm of modular content for life sciences. In essence, the materials circulate as flexible topical units that can be assembled into channel-specific templates, which allows for better, more meaningful tracking – and easier governance and MLR procedures (you can read more on this in our previous publications, since Viseven has been among the pioneers of the approach and covered this topic extensively in first-hand accounts).

Back to the presentation, with the modular strategy in hand, Bayer is able to ensure not only the right structure, but also a well-defined content taxonomy and tagging, pinpointing performance indicators and tracking, and a standardized content supply center. All of this allows the company to maintain a high level of informational value offered to its vast HCP audience across channels and along the axes of the content-based touchpoint spectrum.

This overview is just scratching the surface of what was discussed at the event. You can request video recordings of the sessions that interested you on-demand at the official event page. For all purposes linked with Veeva expertise, related services and collaboration around Veeva ecosystems, feel free to address Viseven team as a certified Veeva partner.

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