Digital: Let Customers Weave Their Own Webs

To succeed in digital, reps must customize the message and hand control over to the customer



Digital technologies have transformed the lives of everyone on the planet – and they continue to do so. From the booming mobile economies of the developing world to the democratization of information access globally, the last two decades have seen an explosion of possibilities, and disruption, in almost every part of our lives.

Digital has changed the way we live and work, how to access and manage information. It has changed our behaviours and our expectations. These changes – and the wealth of possibilities of digital – has seen entire business sectors transformed, as tried-and-tested approaches and models are replaced and companies race to keep up with the pace of change, to be first to exploit the competitive advantage inherent in this ongoing disruption.

As a highly-regulated industry, pharma was never going to be the trailblazer in digital but, according to Céline Genty, VP Customer Excellence at Janssen EMEA, the industry is not as slow to adopt new technologies as some detractors might believe. “In pharma, we are quite good at understanding our customers’ behaviour plus we have already transformed the way we do market research and surveys to better understand our customers’ attitudes towards digital. The big gap now is in transferring what we know into concrete actions then learning from those experiences – what worked well and what failed – to create a circle of learning. 

“When pharma joined the digital world a few years ago, everyone thought we would live in a test-and-learn environment for a short while and then we would know how to do it. But my personal judgement is that we need to adopt a constant test-and-learn approach. The digital space is moving so fast – our customers too – so we need to constantly test and learn.”

To implement a successful digital strategy, it is essential to understand the basics. “The traditional pharma model saw reps or MSLs visiting doctors and creating relationships with their customers. At the end of a conversation, the customer may only have been 40 or 50 or 60% happy – the call may not have fitted their expectations of how they wanted to have spent that time – but there is a relationship. Also, the doctor probably didn’t tell the rep that they were unhappy or that what they brought them today didn’t fit with their expectations and needs,” says Genty.

The dynamic is very different with digital. “For example, when sending emails to customers, it’s important to think about our own day-to-day lives – if we are not happy with the content of an email, we will not read it or we will delete it. It is the same with our customers; this does not create satisfaction or loyalty.”

Never has the quality of content been so important. “With digital, it is your content that creates the relationship – and eventually loyalty – through digital channels. Does the content fit with their expectations? Are you using the right content, the right channel? The pharma industry as a whole still has a lot of progress to make in writing digitally. All of us made the same error early on when we just took a traditional document and put it on a digital channel. This is not how it works, because the way you write a brochure is not the same as how you write a digital communication. Is it well-written? Is it well-written for that digital channel? Are you using the right wording?

For Genty, the other side of quality is how relevant the content is for the customer. “Relevance is measured against the expectations of the customer. For example, you are talking about a new drug and a specific doctor has questions about its efficacy, however, you come at him with a message about side effect management. This communication is not for that doctor at that time. Maybe he would be interested in side effects later, but that is not his main concern right now. So, you need to ask, does the message fit with what this customer wants to know about this treatment?”

The only way to ensure that a piece of content is relevant to a particular customer is to know that customer. “This is where customization becomes important. You could send the same email with the same content to all your customers without considering their expectations and needs, but it will not fit. After a while, they get upset and will opt out, then you have lost contact with that customer. Customers are much more volatile overall; they expect the content to be customized to their needs. The secret is knowing your customers intimately, listening to them, understanding them through constantly and very thoroughly collecting customer feedback to understand how you can adapt your offer.”

Traditional ways of collecting customer data, such as market research, salesforce assessment and individual customer feedback, remain fundamental. “The way we practice it at Janssen is to collect feedback at the individual customer level through surveys and other methods. At the moment, we are systematically collecting feedback on our medical education events, asking whether the content was relevant, was the customer happy with it or would he have preferred something different. By collecting customer feedback, you can generate customer insight, plus we also measure the NPS score of our customers. However, there is a danger here of overwhelming your customers with surveys and questions, so finding the right balance is very important.”

Yet, the digital world also offers tremendous opportunities to collect information on customers, although for Genty this is an area where pharma is less developed than, for example, retail markets. “Each time customers connect on a digital tool, you can measure what topics were of interest, how much time they spent on topic A versus topic B, and much more. In truth, the digital world is a world of analytics, so collecting the right analytics to get the right insights is incredibly important. We’re working on this now, but it’s quite a complex new world.

“At the end of the day, it’s about your data strategy as an organization and what you want to do about it and with it. How do you collect data about your business, about your customers? How do you store them and how do you use them and extract the relevant insights? That is all part of the overall data strategy.”

From the earliest days of digital, companies have struggled with how to integrate digital sales tools and channels with the other activities of their customer-facing teams. “This is probably the biggest challenge we still face across the industry,” says Genty. “When I discuss this with peers from other companies, I get the feeling that no one has really cracked the rules of the game yet, so we’re very much in a test-and-learn mode. What we have learned is that you need to embed it at a local level, as close to the customers as you can, because there is a great deal of variation among customer groups.

Looking to the future, what does Genty see next in digital? “I see a future where the system responds to customer activity automatically. For example, similar to Amazon, if a customer looks at X, he automatically receives information on Y and Z. We have not yet integrated this into our logic – we are still following a step-by-step approach, where we do A followed by B followed by C without necessarily understanding the connections. This is where customer journey comes in – rather than build a list of communication tools and stuff you want to do with your customer, you build a journey and understanding the logic that joins the dots. It is an important area where we need to build and improve our strategy.”

Because it is impossible to “100% know” what your customer wants, she says. “A ‘suggestion’ approach is a good solution – you’re saying to the customer that you looked at this piece of information so here is a list of 3-5 topics that you might also enjoy. By doing this, you hand the freedom to choose over to the customer, and, of course, you collect information to better understand their logic. It is much more powerful than just imposing content on the customer.

“As an industry, we struggle to understand that we must stop ‘pushing’ at customers. I come from outside pharma, from a consumer background, and this is one of the things that I am really trying to push. Push strategies are bad and part of the old world. You create ‘pull’ by learning about your customers.”


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