The COVID-19 pandemic presents both new challenges and opportunities for brand teams. The choices and business decisions we make now may have a lasting impact on our business goals moving forward. A customer-centric approach with multiple channels in mind now becomes more important than ever.
Healthcare marketers are now facing an uncertain period in which pharmaceutical companies have moved to a 100% virtual workforce, and sales representatives and field-facing individuals have suspended all in-person physician visits. Consequently, during this time brand managers are shifting to nonpersonal alternatives to drive brand marketing, support their customers and patients in new ways, and supplement their sales force efforts.
For those undisciplined at practicing customer-centric marketing — it’s the perfect time to start! When faced with decisions on speed-to-market, effectiveness, and cost, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of a customer-centric approach. In a time like this, a thoughtful and empathetic approach will serve you better now for when we do return to normal and face-to-face visits begin again. Here are the steps to help you get started.
Develop a plan
- First, develop a communication plan. Who is affected? In what ways are they affected, and what can we do to support their needs at this time? How do we prioritize so that our actions are thoughtful and choiceful?
- Evaluate tools and capabilities within your organization that can be quickly adapted and that support quick reaction. Agility is key to success, so you can adapt based on customer response and evolving market trends. Something simple may be best.
- Evaluate channel preference carefully. During this period when we are on information overload, communication preferences may have changed. Be mindful that many healthcare professionals and patients alike have adopted new schedules and working environments.
- More than ever your content needs to be customer-centric and less self-serving. Do your communications have an authentic and empathetic tone? Your communication needs to be relevant, addressing the audience's current situation. Content that previously worked may need to be reconsidered and updated for a more supportive tone.
- Even though your sales force is temporarily unable to make personal calls, carefully consider the business consequences of dialing up your digital channels. When your audience is on information overload, a high volume of messaging can quickly lead to brand fatigue and possibly turn off your customer.
Strengthen the sales force
- Since your sales force is locked down at home (as are the rest of us), use the time to reengage the sales force in disease education or product training. Dust off the home study modules and re-introduce training materials. Review important clinical reprints—you can always find a new pearl of information hiding within. Your sales force will be stronger and more knowledgeable when it is possible to get back to face-to-face selling.
- Perhaps your sales force teams recently held their 2020 National Sales Meeting or POA. Utilize this time away from the field to reinforce the training or best practices that were discussed during those breakout workshops. What has worked well? What haven’t they tried yet?
- For brands in which new promotional pieces are being developed, now is the time to engage your sales force for its input. Are the promotional materials you are developing aligned in support of the sales force selling model? What input do those on the frontline have in strengthening the material?
- The sales force can use the time to conduct practice calls and role play with other sales reps. Reps can use Zoom or WebEx to practice effective sales calls with a strong close. Prepare for every objection.
- Finally, have your sales force utilize the time to take a closer look at their business plan. When they can get back to selling face-to-face, they should know their plan for the next 30 days.
Engage virtually with customers
- Consider a simple rep-triggered e-mail to provide electronic versions of patient-friendly materials for physicians who may not be seeing their patients in person.
- When possible, conduct virtual rep visits, leveraging the many digital detail aids and electronic materials available.
- Conduct virtual speaker programs.
- With many congresses being cancelled or postponed, some are moving to a virtual experience. Explore how your brand can participate in the virtual booth exhibit, or find out what other virtual-conference marketing opportunities exist.
Reevaluate nonpersonal promotion
- How is your NPP performing? Where can you shift investment? Is your media plan optimal for the next few months? Remember, dialing up the volume solely for the reason of supplementing a temporary halt in personal promotion has the risk of backfiring on you if it is not done thoughtfully.
- Agencies can help the brand teams sort through the myriad vendors who are using the pandemic as an opportunity to sell their platforms and services. Which ones are opportunistic and which ones have merit?
- Reevaluate your plan’s cadence and number of touches with customers. Does your channel mix still make sense right now? With everyone being bombarded with COVID-19 e-mail updates from various businesses, will your e-mail get lost in the shuffle, or worse, alienate your customer?
Regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect our business, the decisions we make now must be rooted in a positive customer experience. When we are able to return to business as usual, the choice we make today will shape the relationships we have in our future “normal.”