Selling pharma in Covid – Omnichannel and parked BMWs

By Matt Beckett, Managing Director & Lee Ronan, Commercial Director, CSL

Remember the good old days (pre COVID), when reps could see HCPs and you felt you had measure of your relationship with your customers? 

This year has posed many challenges to the traditional model, with reps relying on video calling to engage with doctors. Things have been particularly challenging for secondary care reps; more reliant on “passing trade” in the hospital corridors. Getting appointments and follow ups with hospital specialists has been tough. 

But we’ve been talking about multichannel (sorry, got to call it omnichannel now) marketing for years, so surely this is its time to shine. The reality is that Pharma is now going through the frustrations and challenges that many other industries have found themselves in for years; struggling to talk directly to customers, and finding it difficult to measure the impact their efforts are having. 

With traditional outbound marketing (such as F2F rep calls) you get instant feedback on your results. Who have you seen, what did you talk about, how engaged was the customer, what’s the next step?

The world of inbound marketing is like selling in a dark room with a blanket over your head. You have few good quality metrics and have to replace these with patience and faith. Patience, because there is very little timely feedback, and any effect is typically the result of an accumulation of effort over time. Faith, because you feel like you are shouting into a void and have no idea whether anyone is listening. 

I’ve spoken to very few people that feel like they get multichannel marketing right, and those that do normally precede it with “after years of trying, unsuccessfully, we finally feel like we are getting somewhere”. 

So here are some tips we’ve picked up along the way: 

  • Don’t assume any one thing works in isolation. For multichannel to work effectively, it needs to be coordinated to ensure the same messages are being played over each channel over the same period. You are aiming to position yourself so that the customer comes to you when the time is right for them. Ideally, with a mixture of messages that stimulate need, establish capability, and demonstrate domain expertise more generally. 
  • Find data proxies. You might not be able to directly measure the effect you are having, but there may be data that can be used to approximate affect. For instance, change in views to relevant web pages following an information campaign, or number of contacts from customers you don’t usually hear from. 
  • Don’t try to measure effectiveness over days or weeks. Generating inbound leads is a long-game, with each piece nudging the customer towards you – often without them even knowing it. 
  • Do it well! This might sound like an obvious statement, but in the same way as a poor FF call will have a negative impact on your business, so will a poor digital experience. Whether that’s the online meeting technology, the detail aid flow, poor website design, or simply the KAM’s broadband connectivity when they try and engage.
  • Be mindful of Zoom/Teams fatigue. No doubt you hear this often internally, and perhaps experience it yourself. Spending day after day in online meetings (perhaps followed by a fun online quiz in the evening) there is a limit to what we can take. For your customer, they will probably have dozens of KAM’s trying to entice them onto an online call. Make sure your focus remains on “what’s in it for them”.

Compared with face to face calls, relying on omnichannel marketing feels uncertain, frustrating and immeasurable. However, that’s been the reality for many B2B environments for many years, and with another wave of COVID about to break on our shores, nothing looks set to change in the short term. Looking to the long term return to some sort of normality, we think it is clear that those companies that do omnichannel well now will be far better placed to engage with their customers than those that don’t. The investment and the pain/uncertainty will be worth it.

If any of the above resonates with you and you want to discuss (via another Zoom/Teams call 😊), then please do drop us a message at


Featured Article

Economic Factors Squeezing Pharma