Four Reasons Why Pharma Struggles To Engage HCPs Online (And How To Change That)

Pharma is failing to reach one of its critical customers in the online space, says Sanofi VP, Bozidar Jovicevic



The traditional sales channels used by pharma are evaporating. The question is what are they going to do about it?

Pharma clearly needs to find new ways of promoting drugs and engaging with physicians, and ultimately a brand-new channel through which they can reach them, says Bozidar Jovicevic, VP, Global Head Digital Medicines, Sanofi.

Jovicevic outlines the four key issues plaguing pharma in this space and presents the solutions: 

1. Holding HCP attention
 “The number one commercial channel for years and decades has been sales reps, visiting physicians and influencing them to prescribe drugs. Pharma companies use many other channels but that has been the most impactful channel for years. That channel is slowly dying, for two reasons. Doctors are either closing their doors to sales reps or else limiting the visit to just two minutes – you have sales reps driving around in their cars with a price per visit being between US$300-500 and maybe making five sales calls per day. That adds up to spending just ten minutes with physicians each day, which is really not impactful.”

“We know that the doctors are increasingly spending time online to stay up to date. In Europe, 63% of physicians spend more than six hours online each week, in order to stay up to date on developments in their fields. Physicians are spending time online and they are closing their doors to pharma offline.”

2. Uninspired content 
Pharma is “notoriously bad” for engaging with physician’s online in a meaningful and sustained way. “In the online world, it is easy for physicians to stop engaging at any point if it is not meaningful or relevant to them. In other words, if pharma is not relevant to them in the first 10 seconds, all they need to do is close the tab/window. It takes one click.

“For physicians, one problem they face is the overwhelming amount of content available. They are finding it difficult if not impossible to stay up to date due to the vast proliferation of data and the escalating number of trials published each year. This is one issue where pharma can be helpful.”

3. Inexperience
Another problem for pharma when engaging with physicians in a multichannel world, is their lack of expertise in this area, according to Jovicevic; “in the pharma world there is a very small number of solid digital marketeers, people who understand online engagement, analytics, traffic, conversions, psychology, etc. There is also a lack of digital leaders who both have skills and can lead the digital transformation.”

4. Outdated processes
Pharma’s lack of digital leadership is further compounded by pharma’s largely legacy-driven approach to product development in IT, he warns.

“Most IT platforms need to be common (one platform customized for each country but still one platform) and cloud-based. Pharma needs to adopt agile processes and leave the waterfall behind. On top of this, the top 20 countries in a big pharma organization may use five different CRM systems, so it is very difficult to harmonize and create a global, digital multichannel strategy. When you add to that building of many non-common online platforms each country is building its own apps, developing its own engagement platforms for physicians.”

The Solutions

1. Build rapport
”Pharma has to shift its online approach from an “unwelcome pest to a welcome guest” by providing value to physicians and building good will, says Jovicevic.

“This could be providing education – it means talking about something not necessarily to do with their drugs, but this will then build up goodwill and form a relationship and get permission to talk about their products, what I call ‘permission-based marketing’.

2. Rethink innovation
Another key element is not to “over engineer” the innovation. It is Jovicevic’s belief that in large pharma companies, or any heavily regulated industry, innovation “breaks” at middle management level, and also legal and compliance. A long process of de-risking as the innovative project moves through a large corporation means the resulting success might be so minor that it is ultimately inconsequential, he says.

According to Jovicevic, organizations need to create special innovation teams or groups, which enjoy their own relatively high level of autonomy. These should be fundamentally separate from the rest of the organization – he even recommends a separate building. Executive sponsorship is key – without this, the innovation will continue to fall foul of mid-management overthinking.

“Large companies are designed to execute proven business models – they know their stuff. They know how to sell, how to produce and how to talk to customers. Innovation works very differently – you are searching for a business model, you are testing. Companies need to build a prototype, test, tweak, and try again.”

3. Centralize digital content
The example that companies should follow in terms of centralizing their different digital content offerings is already out there – a little site called Facebook. Jovicevic laughs: “When you log into Facebook everything is there, not separate apps for each country – it is all accessible with the one password and it adapts to your own needs.”

A centralized legal and compliance team devoted to digital issues should also be established.

4. Aggregate what’s already out there
When it comes to content, ultimately it is about finding the “white space”. Pharma must analyze the online content and platforms that physicians are already using and then use this to find another opportunity. One clear opportunity lies in the aggregation of content – by collecting and curating the vast swathes of online content already out there, this would make it easier for the individual physicians to digest.

Jovicevic would know about aggregating content – he was central in pioneering the first global eCongress platform for medical e-conferences while at Novartis. This gathered the best content from the huge number of medical conferences held each year and hosted it on a platform called VivindaTV that he says looks like “the Netflix of medical conferences”. It included the latest breaking abstracts, videos in real-time, chat forums (in development), all personalized to the doctor’s interests and/specialty. “This was of huge value to physicians and is a good example of finding the white space (confirmed by NPS score of 71 from physicians using the platform).”

Bozidar Jovicevic will be sharing his wisdom at the eyeforpharma Philadelphia event in April. 


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