Remote detailing is now a well-established channel in life science communication. And it has been growing for some time. Forward-thinking companies seeking more flexible and cost-effective ways to engage healthcare professionals (HCPs) have been introducing it for a while. But during the COVID pandemic remote detailing grew exponentially, as companies sought to maintain their service provision when traditional physical in-person meetings were impossible.
Live remote or phone detailing increased by more than 85%¹ as the industry responded to the pandemic. With digital engagement the only means of keeping customer conversations going, companies were executing long-term remote engagement plans in months or even weeks. And growth is expected to continue at a similar rate in the future.¹ This means that remote detailing is now established as an essential channel for HCP engagement – and one that will only get more important.
Despite concerns that HCPs would react poorly to virtual engagement channels like remote detailing, all indications are that the transition caused few problems. It could even be that some people prefer it,¹ as previously hard-to-reach HCPs may be more open to remote engagement than they were to physical in-person meetings.
The rapid growth of remote detailing – and its almost overnight switch in status from an ‘interesting experiment’ to the primary HCP communication channel – has made it competitive. Remote detailing is no longer a novelty that is fun for customers to experience. It is an everyday part of their working day. HCPs now receive many invitations to connect, and they have learned to recognise a great remote detailing experience when they see it. So naturally, they are choosing to engage with those who offer the most value. Companies that can provide this value and have built a reputation for excellence in remote engagement are operating with a commercial advantage.
Remote detailing simply means an online detailing meeting between a rep or MSL and an HCP. Rather than being physically present in the same room, they can now connect ‘remotely’ through technology. HCPs receive an invitation to connect remotely, join the meeting, and view an eDetailing presentation on the device of their choice.
A good remote detailing system enables HCPs to see content, ask questions and engage in discussions – just as they would in a physical meeting. Usually, these meetings take place one-to-one. But one of the advantages of remote technology is that multiple participants can join a call simultaneously. This is particularly useful when seeking to provide educational services to a whole department or bring together physicians from around the world.
Remote detailing is also referred to by other names, including remote eDetailing, virtual calls and remote calls. Remote detailing is part of the broader category of remote engagement, which includes other forms of online meetings such as webinars, and channels like telephone calls, messaging, self-service systems, websites, and social media.
Many life science companies use specialised software (e.g. Veeva Engage Meetings) for remote detailing. However, standard enterprise meeting solutions such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom are also common. And in some markets, customer teams may switch from a consumer application like WhatsApp to a remote detailing solution ‘on the fly’, as they move from a quick catch-up to a detailing session.
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There are advantages of remote detailing for both life science companies and medical professionals. For pharma and MedTech, the major benefit is the efficiency that it brings. Because there is no travel, teams can spend more time engaging HCPs: less time on the road means more time helping customers.
This efficiency improves the results that you can achieve with the same salesforce. As the cost-per-contact drops, customers can be reached more frequently. This efficiency also opens new opportunities for different kinds of market segmentation. A lower cost-per-contact means that more customers become economically viable. Lower priority targets, for whom contact couldn’t previously be justified, are now reachable through remote detailing – and those HCPs can benefit from your services and initiatives too.
Remote detailing also opens up new educational possibilities. MSLs and other medical experts can now be brought into the conversation more easily through remote technology – either in special one-to-one meetings or regular one-to-many sessions. And reps can increase their standing with HCPs by facilitating these contacts. Medical professionals want value from remote detailing sessions. In the life sciences, value means scientific knowledge, and therefore interactions with MSLs are always popular. By using remote engagement to facilitate these contacts, reps can build their personal value to HCPs, earn access, and raise the whole company’s standing.
Remote detailing also helps to integrate direct customer contact with other channels. The increased contact frequency that remote enables means that personal engagement now can be planned for multiple steps on a customer journey. As HCPs move through your content in channels like self-service detailing websites and approved email, reps and MSLs can use remote engagement to check in more regularly. And it may be that remote detailing – by being a digital medium – makes these transitions smoother than when HCPs were moving from physical meetings to digital channels.
Beyond the innate efficiencies of remote detailing, there are also other benefits for life science companies. For example, in some markets, remote engagement is vital to maintain contact with HCPs spread across large geographic areas, remote regions, or places where weather conditions prevent physical meetings at certain times during the year.
Many remote detailing benefits are mirrored for HCPs. The efficiencies that make it easier for pharma and MedTech companies also make it easier for HCPs to engage. Remote detailing sessions are simple to schedule and reschedule when required. The overall convenience may explain why remote detailing is generally popular with HCPs. It has been known for sometime that many doctors want access to reps through online meetings.² This was demonstrated during the COVID pandemic when HCPs who historically preferred face-to-face engagements transitioned smoothly to remote engagement.³ This preference is expected to remain. Most pharma companies now believe that traditional face-to-face meetings with HCPs will become more difficult in the future.³ With the benefits of virtual engagement technologies such remote detailing now clear to medical professionals, it could become the dominant form of HCP engagement in the future.
Achieve more HCP engagements
Overcome geographical or severe weather issues
Access previously uneconomical
Meet HCP expectations
Enable convenient, easy-to-schedule meetings
Direct HCPs through your channel ecosystem
Raise your value
Facilitate contact with medical
While remote detailing is broadly similar to traditional eDetailing, it does pose some specific challenges to address. One issue to be aware of is the potential for HCPs to be less focused on the call than they would in a physical meeting. It may be tempting for some people to multitask by checking emails or reviewing their calendars while the rep or MSL is speaking. That will severely reduce the benefits that HCPs receive from a remote detailing session.
There are many ways to avoid this and keep attention focused. The first step must be to ensure the right kind of remote detailing content. A series of dull slides will not keep people engaged. Even more for remote detailing than physical meetings, your content needs to be lively with great graphics and clear and compelling messaging. You really do need eyes glued to the screen. If your system allows for it, interactive elements are highly beneficial here because these turn what might otherwise be a passive experience into an active one that involves HCPs in the presentation.
Presenter video is also a smart way to keep the audience focused. When HCPs can see the rep or MSL, it makes the experience more personal. It’s human nature to pay attention to other people, and it adds dynamism to the presentation. Seeing someone speak will always be more engaging than listening to a disembodied voice. And if all parties consent to video, that should further increase engagement levels.
Video conferencing in remote detailing is also useful when seeking to gauge how HCPs are responding to content. A rep or MSL can often determine if something has not been understood – or spot a topic of concern – just by seeing someone’s expression. A simple frown or puzzled look from an HCP can be a signal to stop and ask if there is a question or comment.
Another way to determine levels of engagement is interactive content. Remote detailing materials can include interactive elements at key points in a presentation – just as they would in a good traditional eDetailer. With remote detailing, however, it’s even more important to get customer feedback wherever possible and is highly recommended. Even simple polling questions can work wonders and help the rep better understand their audience. Some remote eDetailing systems also offer ‘real-time’ dashboards that show HCP reactions to the content, providing the rep with insights on where to direct the remote session next.
Training customer teams is crucial. Because the interaction is online, specific skills and techniques are required to make the most of remote detailing sessions. The ability to elicit feedback from the audience by asking questions, for example, prevents the meeting from being overly passive and helps ensure relevance too. Remote detailing shouldn’t be a one-to-one webinar but rather a discussion. Achieving this level of engagement requires the right combination of presentation skills, powerful content, good analytics, and a great technical setup. If you get it right, you can have all the efficiency benefits of remote detailing while providing a great experience that keeps HCPs focused on every call.
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With its flexibility and efficiency, remote detailing is now established as an indispensable pharma and MedTech marketing channel. And, for some companies, it has already started to replace face-to-face meetings. To help you get the most from what it offers, we’ve outlined some of the strategic issues to consider and potential use cases. And then we’ve provided some tips which, while sometimes being simple, are essential to get right – enabling you to build a reputation for remote detailing excellence.
Behind every great remote detailing experience is a great strategy. How you decide to use remote engagement will significantly determine what you provide and the results that you achieve. There are many options for use cases. Will it be a replacement for face-to-face engagement? Or used to follow-up in-person meetings or engagements in other channels? Are you looking to expand your marketing reach by getting more HCP meetings per rep? Or will you use remote detailing to increase engagement with priority targets? Or will it be reserved for lower priority targets only? Maybe are you looking to enable HCPs to get more access to MSLs and other internal medical and product specialists?
Another important consideration is the role that you want remote detailing to play in relation to your other channels. Best practice in life science marketing is to work with customer journeys, in which HCPs move through a series of connected channels. This provides a rich customer experience that continually builds physicians’ understanding of your products and services. Remote detailing – being high-value personal contact – should be applied at critical stages. It pays to step back, consider your whole channel ecosystem, and determine at which points on the customer journey that remote engagement will provide the most value.
Another strategic consideration is how to structure your sales force. Many companies have pursued a ‘hybrid’ strategy, providing their existing customer-facing teams with remote technologies and training them in its use. This was particularly the case during the COVID pandemic, but it isn’t the only option. There is also the specialist remote or ‘inside sales’ strategy. In that model, dedicated remote teams solely engage HCPs online. Physically meetings are then either the responsibility of another group or perhaps even phased out entirely.
While customer teams generally adapt well to remote detailing, it’s a good idea to consider individual rep and MSL requirements at the outset. At Anthill, we always recommend paying attention to the human factor, which means accounting for how people actually use technologies. In the context of remote detailing, a useful approach is to determine some ‘rep archetypes’ and design your content for these different types of users and engagement styles.
One archetype could be ‘executive’, who are reps seeking a concise and effective approach. Another could be ‘responsive’, for people who want to be available and dynamic. The last could be ‘digital’, who are people confident with technology and keen to engage HCPs in its possibilities. There are many other possible archetypes. The point is that by creating these user profiles, you can add more flexibility to your remote detailing system and enable people to use their natural communication style in remote calls. That helps build rep and MSL support because the tools fit how they prefer to work. Archetypes are also an excellent way of briefing agencies and encouraging more creative and flexible kinds of content.
Staying with human factor thinking, it can pay to scale slowly – yet deliberately – when introducing remote detailing. This gives customer teams time to become confident with the new tools. While people are now much more familiar with remote communication tools following the COVID pandemic, it may be useful to set some simple targets. For example, consider asking reps to initially host one remote meeting per month to help them integrate the new technology into their workflows.
It may also 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 enable them to focus on the discussion. Such preliminary calls could last for just 5 to 10 minutes to confirm that everything is working correctly and establish the HCP’s knowledge level and interests.
Ultimately, what matters is the quality of the customer experience. HCPs generally appreciate remote eDetailing and other forms of virtual calls² because of its flexibility. But, beyond the inherent convenience of the technology, what they want from remote detailing is the same thing that they are looking for from any form of communication: relevant information, personalised to their specific needs, that’s delivered engagingly. Providing this requires getting each aspect of remote engagement right. Here you can find some insights into best practice in content, strategy and technology that will help build your reputation for remote detailing excellence:
Maintain interactivity: Switching from in-person meetings to remote detailing can potentially produce more passive experiences. Consider adding interactive elements to the presentation to keep HCPs focused on the call.
Communicate the value: HCPs want to engage remotely, but they now receive many online meeting requests. Ensure that your remote detailing invitations stand out by communicating a clear and compelling value.
Build the engagement: It can be a good idea to keep calls short initially, especially for new contacts. With an HPC’s knowledge levels and interests established, subsequent remote engagements can dive deeper.
Plan for multiple devices: Unlike F2F meetings, you can’t know on which device an HCP will view the remote detailing presentation. A good quality assurance process is needed to set your reps up for success.
Keep the data flowing: As more HCPs switch to remote meetings, it’s important to connect engagements to your business intelligence system – and include the interactive elements required to generate two-way data.
Design for different users: A great remote detailing presentation will enable reps to communicate according to their personal style e.g. ‘short and concise’ or ‘multichannel’ to explore the potential of technology.
Avoid video: Keep video content for follow-up information to maximise your precious time with HCPs. If you’ve got a customer online, take every opportunity to engage directly and encourage discussion.
Make it easy: You don’t want customers downloading software. A cloud-based remote engagement solution will ensure that HCPs can connect through a web browser. That way, they just need to click an emailed or texted link.
Make it easier: Consider a remote eDetailing solution that generates ‘short links’ which are simple URLs that reps and MSLs can read out to HCPs – enabling them to connect quickly in any setting.
Connect to other channels: Remote detailing, being convenient and cost-effective, is very useful in a customer journey strategy – enabling reps to guide HCPs to content in other channels like brand websites.
Consider compliance: Be aware that some standard video conferencing software can inadvertently expose sensitive information when ‘screen sharing’. For full compliance, consider a life science specific solution.
Bring in the experts: Introducing MSLs and other experts into remote engagements is a great way to deliver the scientific information that HCPs value.
One aspect of remote detailing excellence that deserves special attention is the pre-call and post-call experience. There is a tendency only to focus the remote call itself and not on what happens before and after that call. That is understandable, but it pays to consider the whole experience. Preparing HCPs properly for each meeting increases attendance and helps them to get more value from each session. And carefully planning post-call activity enables effective follow-up and the opportunity to connect HCPs with other channels.
A great pre-call experience should increase your reach because HCPs will be more motivated to join your remote sessions. Messaging that precisely highlights the benefit of each meeting is appreciated. When the value is clear, engagement will rise. Likewise, communication that properly prepares HCPs for a remote meeting highlights its importance by demonstrating care and attention. Posing questions that will be answered in meeting is also a good technique. It awakens HCP curiosity, further encouraging attendance and focusing attention when they are on the call.
The post-call experience is equally important. With HCPs primed to explore further following a high-value remote detailing interaction, post-call communication is a great opportunity to bring your other channels into play. For example, information sources that are available on a portal website – that might have gone unnoticed – can now be sent directly to HCPs. Because these resources follow up on specific remote sessions, the relevancy is clear and engagement should be high.
Unlike standard face-to-face meetings where the rep or MSL brings the presentation device, remote calls will display on the audience’s system. You can’t know for certain which device or system an HCP will be using. In channels where this is the case, like approved email, quality assurance and proper testing are essential.
While it’s likely that HCPs will be joining sessions from their work computers, it’s a good idea to ensure that your remote detailing system works on multiple devices and platforms. Things change and HCPs are increasingly using mobile devices at work. For example, in some markets, it has become common practice for reps to switch from a ‘catch up’ call using an app like WeChat to running a detailing session when required. Enabling a seamless experience in such cases requires attention to detail.
Technical problems are highly frustrating for everyone involved. When HCPs have set time aside for a remote detailing session, poor functionality reflects badly on the company and is embarrassing for the rep or MSL. It really must not happen. Everything needs to run smoothly so people have faith in the technology and focus exclusively on the conversation. The good news is that today’s technology for virtual HCP engagement is excellent and continues to improve. With a little attention paid to quality assurance, you will have few – if any – problems.
Remote detailing is now an essential channel in pharmaceutical marketing. And one that HCPs will appreciate if their time is respected by providing high-quality and relevant content. Remote engagements can work brilliantly if customer-facing teams are empowered with excellent presentation material, are trained to work effectively remotely, and have technology they can rely on. With remote detailing becoming ever more popular, companies that get it right are operating with a competitive advantage. Make sure your remote detailing experience stands out.
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1. Reuter’s Report: COVID-19 Accelerating digital transformation in life sciences, 2020
2. Veeva Systems’ whitepaper: 6 Tips for Getting Started with Remote Meetings
3. Reuter’s Report: Beyond COVID-19, life sciences reimagined, 2020
4. BCG report: Physician COVID-19 Response BioPharma Survey, 2021