Approaches for Better HCP Engagement

October 6, 2021 Sharon Rubin

Conduent recently attended a virtual industry pharma commercialization event. While there, I spoke with colleagues on a panel about how pharma companies are reimagining the system, reigning in sales and marketing efforts and executing digital transformations using new technologies to answer impactful business questions. This is particularly relevant to the future of pharma as the industry looks to improve healthcare practitioner (HCP) engagement while also lowering costs.

Why is enhanced HCP engagement at lower cost so urgent for Pharma?

Priorities have shifted since the start of the pandemic and there will no doubt be continued changes in our access to healthcare providers. Every speaker at the conference shared challenges around optimizing their channel mix to increase HCP access – particularly given that the pandemic has accelerated virtual interactions. When it comes to HCP engagement, many pharma companies are rethinking their strategic partnerships and are developing new capabilities to support their sales and marketing programs that will be critical to their ongoing success.

These new capabilities will allow for real-time engagement and decision making through the HCP’s preferred channel. With that in mind, there is a growing demand in pharma for solutions that offer a data-driven approach to engage with HCPs, in a scalable way. The end goal is to create a better end-to-end experience for everyone involved from pharma to HCP to patient.

5 key takeaways for Pharma

The answer to how pharma companies can adapt to these changing market dynamics can be summed up in five key takeaways from the event:  

  1. Rethink strategic relationships
  2. Increase internal capabilities and selective outsourcing
  3. Innovate on content strategy
  4. Re-evaluate ROI
  5. Decrease in the value of direct industry experience


1. Rethink strategic relationships

Pharma is evolving to adopt new technologies but lags behind most other industries such as HR, transportation, insurance and banking when it comes to technological maturity. Of the pharma companies I connect with, 40% are looking for analytics to be built into their contract while 53% want support in sales and marketing. 

Many brand teams have relied upon a creative marketing agency to get the job done, but are finding limitations in these partnerships to deliver innovative and effective solutions with a positive return on their investment. Additionally, Pharma companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per project and, depending on their business model, that’s not always sustainable. Not to mention that creative agencies rarely have an ability to support an end-to-end user experience. More and more, companies across industries are rethinking the role of agencies while seeking out new partnerships to support and improve customer engagement, while others are investing internally, bringing work in-house. Such is the trend in Gartner’s 2021 Annual CMO Survey, which found that 29% of work that used to go to agencies has been moved in-house over the last 12 months — focusing efforts on high-value, strategic capabilities fueled by data and technology.

2. Increase internal capabilities and selective outsourcing

Marketers need to deliver dynamic messages and experiences to keep up with each customer as their preferences, interests, and needs change in the moment and evolve over time.  Conduent’s clients often report that resources such as creative agencies can be less agile and offer less personalization in the messaging. For example, Click-through rate (CTR) is a metric, shown as a percentage, that measures how many people clicked your ad to visit a website or landing page but it doesn’t give you the whole story.   

Pharma is moving towards providing more persona-driven and timely information to HCPs through enhanced capabilities for web and email personalization and real-time engagement that can be managed internally.  Additionally, new partnerships are helping to bolster internal capabilities with technology and data — adding automation to simple processes to deliver personalized communications that optimize the customer journey.  It’s clear, pharma is evaluating their organizations’ infrastructure and aligning investments with brand goals to deliver greater value. Wherever new capabilities are needed, pharma is determining whether or not they can be developed in-house.

3. Innovate on content strategy

Content is key, but it has to be delivered thoughtfully. Many HCPs are realizing that remote, digital communications are fast and convenient, but can also mean a lot of irrelevant content to sift through. This can take up time and create missed opportunities for the best engagement. Further, if you think about the process of crafting a campaign, drafting clinical messages and getting it all reviewed…By the time pharma companies are ready to deliver that content, the information can already be outdated.

Pharma needs to understand and anticipate what type of content HCPs need throughout the care journey and deliver that content in targeted, incremental messages to create a steady stream of the most relevant, value-add content. Going forward, pharma needs to accelerate their internal content creation and review processes so that relevant content can be produced, approved and distributed to HCPs quickly.  Marketers are focused on ways to improve content creation and delivery processes, designing a superior UX (user experience) and optimizing new digital presentation tools.  

New and emerging technologies such as machine learning, AI and data-driven platforms can enable better real-time decision making, which ultimately creates better patient outcomes by guiding the next best action with content that is readily available.

4. Re-evaluate ROI

Digital marketing measures such as click-thru rates and time spent on site can inform on the number of impressions and how well keywords and ads are performing, but offer less insight in terms of holistic engagement with your brand.  As a result, pharma is not seeing the full ROI picture and the impact of digital efforts lack actionable insights.

Pharma needs to rethink their ROI model and needs to consider:

  • Technology costs and the associated value of advanced automation to drive improved engagement
  • Efficiency gains from shifting to lower cost channels and optimizing touch points across campaigns that improve agent productivity
  • The impact of client lifetime value from increased loyalty and advocacy
  • Revenue achieved through cross-sell and upsell opportunities

Ensuring the net return on your investments covers the overall cost to profit (and beyond) is critical to informing your marketing and sales strategy and creating a good roadmap and may increase the lifetime value of a customer.

5. Decrease in the value of direct industry experience

There has never been a better time to inject new thinking and approaches into pharm marketing and HCP engagement. Analytics-based tools and solutions can have a high-value impact on sales and marketing programs, due to its ability to analyze data sources using predictive models, personalized insights regarding a physician's preferences, salesforce and marketing campaign effectiveness.  The challenge for pharma is that this level of insight and maturity of experience isn’t typically found within pharma. Many of my colleagues are looking outside the pharma industry for their next hire.  Or, they’re outsourcing to strategic partners who can understand what their capabilities are today, provide internal support and determine what moves can make the greatest immediate impact.  

A clear path forward

The best path forward for your organization comes down to identifying just how disruptive your company wants — and needs — to be. What’s the appetite for innovation? How much budget can you put behind it and how do you best drive growth?

The key business areas to focus on are:

  • Data: Creating a singular customer view through an integrated data platform that continually combines fragmented data
  • Automation: Rethinking workflow and simple processes while automating simple tasks. What manual initiatives can be automated for efficiency, such as getting samples out to physicians?
  • Customer journey: Delivering data-driven next best actions via customized omnichannel platforms that allow for personalization in real time and real-time decisioning. 

You can think big but start small with an incremental approach. Don’t be afraid to get in there, break some stuff, back out and try again. Learn more and listen to the event recording: In-House Approaches to Dealing with Data

About the Author

Sharon Rubin

Sharon Rubin is the Director of HCP Engagement solutions for Conduent. She is a marketing expert with more than 25 years of pharmaceutical industry experience and 16 years of physician and patient marketing expertise across numerous therapeutic areas (Cardiovascular, Oncology, Asthma and Allergy, Dermatology, and Women’s Health).

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