Best practices in pharma remote HCP engagement

Why remote detailing matters

Remote detailing, and generally any kind of remote engagement, has been increasing steadily over the last decade. It was clear that it would have a big part to play in pharma marketing and sales in the future. Last year turbo charged that. Now it’s an essential channel – and is growing exponentially.

Despite concerns that healthcare professionals (HCPs) would react poorly to virtual communications like remote detailing, all indications are that there are few problems. It may even be that some HCPs prefer it.¹

And yet the same basic rules apply to remote as they do for physical meetings. You still have to provide high value to justify an HCP’s time. In fact, the number of invites that medical professionals currently receive for remote sessions make it even more important to deliver a great experience.

So, what’s the right way to do it? This article lays out some general principles that Anthill has developed over the years with forward-thinking clients around the world.

Guide to Remote detailing with image where girl smiling while using tablet

Short, relevant and personalized

What do HCPs want from remote calls? It’s the same thing that they want from any communication: relevant information, that’s personalized to their specific needs and delivered in an engaging way – all conveyed as concisely as possible.

There is nothing new in that but it’s worth keeping top of mind. The best experience is always the one that delivers the most value. As the remote detailing channel gets crowded, it's this value that makes you stand out from the competition and maintains your access to HCPs.

Be cautious with video content

While a short animation of the mode of action can work wonders, it’s generally best to avoid video. There are often situations where an HCPs won’t have the internet bandwidth for it to play, resulting is a frustrating experience as the content loads slowly.  

And generally, video is a passive experience. If you’ve got a customer online, take every opportunity to engage directly and encourage discussion. Keep your video content for follow up information and maximize precious time with HCPs.

Make it easy for HCPs

Keep things simple. HCPs don’t want to be downloading software in order to connect with your customer teams. (And they may not have administration rights to their computing devices, in any case.)

Rather, design a frictionless experience. A cloud-based solution will ensure that they can connect through a web browser. That way, HCPs just have to click an emailed or texted link. And if your solution is well designed it may also enable ‘shortlinks’ which a rep can easily read out over the phone.

Connect to other channels

Remote HCP meetings are an opportunity for a more connected digital approach. While in-person meetings were often considered as something different to digital channels, remote detailing – if only because it is mediated by technology – has been easier to integrate into a company’s digital mix.

In practice, this requires not seeing channels in isolation but rather as a connected system that provides better customer experiences. This is something that Anthill has pioneered with our customer journey planning services. Remote HCP meetings can have a key role – providing points of high value personal contact in multi-stage customer journeys through your channels and content.

Consider compliance

The working from home phenomenon has further blurred the lines between consumer and enterprise products. WeChat, Zoom and Messenger are now regularly used by reps, often to great advantage. But compliance can be an issue.

Many companies that used standard software to ‘fill the gap’ are now considering more compliant remote solutions that provide better controls on what content can be shown. Or they are seeking specific functionality like the ability to order patient information or samples. Some companies are also recognizing that HCP engagement is changing and are providing the ability for reps to quickly switch between technologies like WeChat and ‘real’ remote engagement solutions, as a call shifts from a ‘catch up’ to a detailing session.

Be professional

Taking one-to-one HCP engagements online, does require a different way of working but it shouldn’t be casual. These are important interactions that need to be taken seriously. Credibility is still key. Customer-facing staff still need to look the part and act in a professional manner when engaging online with video. A professional approach should include controlling your background. It’s also good practice to look into the camera to connect with the audience. And it pays to dial into a web conference a few minutes early to welcome the doctors when they join the call.

Deliver an experience

Even if you’re not yet working actively with multichannel customer journeys, always consider the pre-call and post-call experience and how other channels and materials can be used to support it.

Reps can prepare HCPs (and raise their interest) by sharing materials before a remote meeting. Approved email content, for example, can provide a quick introduction to a topic that can later be explored in detail during a call. Likewise, other channels can empower reps to provide follow-up material in response to an HCP’s questions or enable HCPs to take a ‘deeper dive’ than was possible during the call.

Plan for multiple devices

Unlike eDetailing where you know which device the presentation will play on because a rep brings it with them, with remote detailing it depends on what the HCP has to hand. Likely, it will be a desktop in the HCP’s office, but it could also be a phone or other device.

If your content was designed for a tablet, how might it present on a phone? Is it too complex? Is it readable? A slide created for an iPad might contain characters too small to be displayed in a small screen. How should reps respond? What kind of presentation should a rep make to match an HCP’s chosen device? The good news is that all these questions can be answered – but doing so first requires understanding the multi-device nature of remote detailing.

Maintain interactivity

Switching from in-person meetings to online environments could potentially produce more passive experiences in which HCPs become listeners or viewers rather than active participants. If companies are most familiar with running HCP webinars, there’s a risk that the more passive webinar format gets applied to what should be involving remote detailing.

Quality content that pulls the customer into your product story still matters. Calculators, and elements that reps can use in collaboration with the HCP, heightens engagement in the call. It also ensures that you continue to gather market insights through the feedback that HCPs provide by engaging with the presentation material.

Build the engagement

While there are no fixed rules for how to schedule online meetings in pharma, it can be a good idea to keep calls short initially, especially for new contacts. First, the rep and the HCP need to find a setup where the connection and environment allow them to focus on the discussion. So, the first calls could last for just 5 to 10 minutes to establish an HCP’s knowledge level and interests.

Later, this can be extended to ‘deep dive calls’ to more fully explore topics of interest. The overall story flow could also be co-created with an HCP if needed – established during the earlier, shorter duration, calls.

Empower reps with data

Depending on which remote engagement solution you choose, it should be possible to provide customer teams with data to inform their call planning and provide a better, more relevant experience to HCPs. Some remote solutions even have data dashboards built in, enabling reps to access real time data when they are on a call.

Getting data in the hands of customer teams – in a clear and actionable way – can be a huge boost to remote engagement in the life sciences. And if it’s possible to integrate data streams from other channels too, reps and MSLs will have a clear picture of an HCP's needs and be able to respond more effectively.

Enable reps to match their communication style

At Anthill, we always consider the ‘human factor’ – accounting for how people respond to and use technologies – because this will often ultimately determine the success or failure of a project. An often-useful approach here is to determine some different ‘rep archetypes’ and design for them. These archetypes will all be doing remote engagement but acting in slightly different ways.

One archetype could be reps seeking a concise and effective approach (Executive). The next could be those wanting to be available and dynamic (Responsive). The last could be those confident with technology who are keen to engage HCPs in the possibilities (Digital). In this way, you encourage reps to consider not the technology itself but also how they can match the tools to their own style.

Provide great training

It’s obvious but can’t really be stressed enough: you can’t just provide the tools. Always consider the human factors too. How effectively customer teams use remote engagement in pharma depends largely on how confident they are, both in the technology and the techniques to make best use of them. And that requires effective training.

A very basic remote training would cover:

  • requirements
  • best setup
  • booking a call
  • in case of emergency
  • following up

With that foundation in place, additional training will multiply the results. You could explain different communication styles with remote technology (using the archetypes noted above). You could continually share case studies highlighting specific strategies such as connecting remote to other channels. Or provide video tutorials that explain how to use your CRM to better prepare for remote meetings.

1.     Reuters: Beyond COVID-19: Life sciences reimagined, 2020

A Women engage remotely


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