Admit it: the digitalization of marketing has been quite a drama. According to the good old Shakespearean tradition, there’s always some kind of heartbreaking loss or near-loss by the middle of Act 2.  In our case, the presence of digital tech, virtual reality and chatbots has pushed some marketers to over-automatize, well… everything. Meanwhile, people are starting to feel weary of lifeless, standardized treatment and are looking for more personal interaction. As an example of this tendency, marketing experts are even encouraging slight personal bias in corporate social media posts because it gives the audience that warm, cozy feeling of listening to a real person.

conversation-based marketing

Pharmaceutical marketing has a long tradition of conversation-based marketing, with representatives running the show. In the context of digitalization, can pharma really reject face-to-face communication and reps as such? Obviously not. It’s not even about disturbing the delicate balance between B2C and B2B that exists in healthcare, it’s generally against the will of the audience. Yes, social media and communities have definitely changed us – we’re now oriented towards microcommunities of individuals.

Good time for rethinking, isn’t it? We tried to look at how you can expand the boundaries of the “old-school” f2f method to adjust it to these neo-digital, ultra-personal realities. First, let’s look at what we start from – namely, what needs expanding and what actually deserves to be tagged as old-school.


The standard, traditional, boring communication

Oh sales representatives. Even now, the classic scheme most people, including HCPs, have in mind is as follows. It’s an unexpected rep’s visit, you just know they came for your time. The representative is a complete stranger, and their overly friendly, half-formal tone sounds somewhat strange in the hospital setting. After the initial disruption shock, an intrusive presentation begins. It’s most frequently lecture-style, although the rep tries to “interact”. The dialogue elements in the conversation are mechanical: “overwhelm with a question, then present the problem and the solution”. No matter whether the question was overwhelming.

The rep seems to assume they know and understand everything about the doctor’s practice – leading the HCP to suspect they’ve been observed all the time. Creepy. Still more, the rep is typically trying to collect data, and the corresponding statistical questions are poorly connected with what was said a moment ago. And then the painful ordeal starts. Namely, working with objections. At this point it’s clearly obvious the rep is just trying to sell stuff. Only that pills are not stuff. There’s simply too much responsibility for that label. The post-meeting follow-up normally assumes the form of attacking the customer/lead/prospect with spammy emails.

This is the basic scheme. It looks absurdly uninspiring these days because the freshness of marketing is all away. No wow effect – people got used to it. Anyway, note that at the core of it, the idea of communicating f2f is still better than just leaving prospects to google something they haven’t heard about. The problem is the interaction has to be done differently today. Here are just several ideas on how to improve it with digital tech.

1. Make interaction real

Interest is the ultimate icebreaker. You can use the possibilities of digital tech to fuel the conversation and make it more natural. Humans simply need to move their head in different directions and be distracted from time to time – a fact that film directors know well. That’s why digital presentations work best when used intermittently with eye contact. For the same reason, it’s perfect if you don’t rely on a single presentation and can adjust what you tell to what they are interested in (plus it’s entertainingly distracting).

The next level suggests interactive elements inside the presentation. Digital “toys” are nice enough on their own: 81% of content marketers admit interactive content is a much more powerful attention grabber. This works even better if your content platform supports different scenarios. This way, the HCP doesn’t feel the urge to “play along” to your script – they can talk naturally and don’t mind a question or two.

And oh – there’s another simple idea: never change the subject after receiving the answer. It’s ridiculous if you don’t react in a natural way, and it exposes the backbone of your script:

  • Do you feel treating hepatitis is a challenge?
  • Well, in a way, since you often don’t get enough compliance with your prescriptions.
  • Let me present you the revolutionary medicine that does not contain…

Sounds harsh. The third line would be there regardless of the second. Way out? Make sure your technical means correspond to the natural flow of conversation.


2. Don’t let the agenda be noticed

There we are at the second point of improvement. By now, everyone and their mother knows the traditional 5-step sales scheme, and they all are ironically watching the rep switching between the stages. That doesn’t add to the feeling of being unique and confident, does it? A considerable improvement is to be able to access personal customer data instantly. In this way, you don’t feel pressed to adhere to the frame.

Technically, this means skill. In the pre-digital era, there were masters of conversational genre who never exposed their secret plans. When tech came along, there was that period of standardization, when the liveliness of f2f was sacrificed to the luster of vector graphics. Reps were simply too anxious to demonstrate those beautiful pics no matter if they were relevant – and the structure stiffened as a result. Now that more advanced tech is available, you can make it your strong point.

3. Give something, not just a leaflet

We are all pragmatic deep inside. Theoretically, someone could listen to a rep simply because they’re too well-mannered to interrupt – but in this case, the chances at further interaction are as low as they seem to be. That is why marketing is becoming so obsessed with providing value. What does this mean?

Intellectual value – useful information, research data, product testing results – something the customer can’t just look up in the internet. Perfecting this point means two challenges for your digital base. First, the content should be accessible instantly from any point when needed. Say, a sequence of slides or a PDF file you can open in a second. Second, it should (ideally) be shareable – because that’s what everyone expects, and it qualifies as a valuable “gift”.

Emotional value – no eye rolling here! Seriously, it’s all about contrast: most reps are emotionally abusive and it’s not their fault. Marketing is. If your reps manage to differ in being attentive, not pushy, helpful and good listeners, they’ll provide huge emotional relief, comparable to those costly anti-stress medicines. According to recent research, 79% of buyers demand that the rep should act as a “trusted advisor”.

4. Be systematic (in customer journey)

It may sound outrageous to anyone working in sales, but NOT ALL visits should have immediate purchase as a goal – because guess what? It drives HCPs crazy and makes them think they’re being exploited. If they want to research the product, don’t push too hard (or do push but so that they don’t notice it).

Of course, any salesperson wants to close deals because that’s what generates their salary. Of course, no one wants to let the prospect study offers online on their own. To a rep, this generally good practice would mean losing the customer to a colleague. That’s why savvy managers arrange for building long-term relationships – again, something that digital tech can help you with. That’s why CRM/CLM systems are evolving all the time. If the system is advanced enough to enable cooperation between reps and decent handling of the database, you can afford the luxury of being generous and consistent. How? Look at number 5.

5. Follow-up

The conversation should not finish after a closed deal. Somehow, all HCPs have the intuition of when a rep just wants to sell. Building relationships is the most effective way to make communication productive; however, it also requires interaction in between the deals. Follow-ups can be the ace in your sleeve when it comes to tactics.

However, they are often misunderstood, too. Statistics say 80% of deals require 5 follow-up calls after the initial meeting; 44% of salespeople “give up after one follow-up”.

Give up? This suggests there was a poorly covered mental fight to close that deal. Instead, you can be confident. Make customers feel they collaborate with you. Have a LOT of email templates to choose from, use distant calls for follow-up, use apps you can distribute to them, – anything your tech allows you. This is the advanced-level game, where stakes are high: your time, on one side, and geometrically increasing referrals, on the other. An advanced CRM in a combination with content production tool is a good way to reduce your own risks here.

Conclusions… What now?

The key takeaway from all of this is quite obvious: we need to keep the balance between informal and professional talk. What’s more, it must help to reach the commercial goals at the same time. Sounds tough and almost impossible… or does it?

Not anymore if you have really smart digital solutions. Solutions that allow merging technical excellence with the human nature of conversation. These can improve face2face interaction, and also help you deliver your key-message remotely. In the world of connected healthcare, it is a gem that grants very much.

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