What are the critical success factors for driving commercial realisation in the ‘new normal’?

Pharma adapts

No doubt COVID 1.0 has dramatically impacted the pharma industry in what became a ‘digital-first world’ literally overnight, presenting opportunities for those that could pivot and respond quickly. Whilst we’ve now moved to a COVID 2.0 hybrid world with continual uncertainty, one thing is for certain, given changing HCP and patient behaviours we won’t be returning to the old traditional model.

What became apparent in COVID 1.0 was that those leadership teams who had invested in digital transformation would be at an advantage. With their digital vision aligned to their commercial growth priorities and change management programs, and with capability roadmaps in place, they had the solid foundations needed to react cohesively.

With the field force on the bench, it was all about non-personal promotion. Down came any remaining digital barriers as the pharma industry rushed to transition their tactical plans, seeking to leverage digital channels and stay connected to their customers. As Iskra Reic, Executive VP, Europe/Canada, AstraZeneca reflects; “It’s quite interesting to see how fast we are able to move with different things now days and that we were not able to do the same a few months ago in the business as usual environment.”

According to a study from Best Practices Research, over 75% of biopharma companies are now looking to streamline future operations through use of virtual technology and face to face interactions, with 79% looking to switch to virtual Adboards in Q2/3.

Critical Success Factors 

10 Critical Success Factors to drive commercial realisation in COVID environment;

  • Ensure Digital acceleration vision is aligned with new commercial growth priorities  
  • Quantify commercial impact, identify ‘must win’ digital bets and invest 
  • Maintain ongoing change management and skill building across entire organisation
  • Transition now to a digitally empowered field force enabled by data and channels
  • Refine segmentation to develop Personas and Customer Journey Maps
  • Prioritise data and analytic capabilities with standardised benchmarks and metrics
  • Adopt campaign journeys to optimise pre-event, event & post-event activities
  • Agile, agile, agile approach for activity planning and implementation
  • Establish new mindsets for experimentation and ‘no fear of failure’ 
  • Look to external resources/expertise to accelerate and breakthrough faster


As globally renowned author and motivational leader Simon Sinek states “these are not unprecedented times” – he challenges companies to adapt in the COVID environment, and gives us a very simple choice; “the opportunity is what will we be now, not how do we preserve what we had, that’s an infinite mindset.”

HCP’s Fast Facts

At the ‘eyeforpharma’ Barcelona Virtual Summit in March, Bertrand Bodson, Chief Digital Officer &, Executive Board Member, Novartis challenged the industry; “How can we think what’s useful to Doctors out there, have the ability to read those signs, I see new models being developed faster than ever before…”  

A Royal Australian College of Physicians study found 90% of healthcare professionals surveyed are using Tele-Health services with 70% of patients more likely to keep appointments, whilst also enjoying a better customer experience. In the US, McKinsey’s Institute predicts 62% of physicians will maintain or significantly increase use of digital and tele-medicine tools for patient care in the post COVID environment.

Surprisingly, a study from Australian Doctors Group found that 79% of GPs haven’t been contacted by pharma reps in COVID, with only 5% of those reps using videoconference technology.

Finally, research comparing pre-COVID pharma engagement from McKinsey’s Institute points to an overall decline of HCP interactions from 100% to 84% post-COVID. The US study forecasts face to face interactions will decline from 83% to 61% with the use of remote tools increasing from 18% to 23%, and a not insignificant 16% of interactions disappearing.

Think Differently

As the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker pointed out “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. This has never been more relevant than in today’s COVID 2.0 environment. One thing is for certain, with continual uncertainty on the road ahead, it is a safe bet that normal transmission won’t resume anytime soon!

Peter Stephenson FAMI CPM, Director, West 53rd St Digital a consultancy that specialises in helping pharma and healthcare companies accelerate digital transformation www.west53digital.com

See this link to access Health Industry Hub and read another Peter Stephenson article: 7 Tips for Pharma marketers to adapt their digital customer engagement to deliver real value to HCP’s in this dynamic clinical environment


*Banner image photo by Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

COVID forced pharma industry transformation to a ‘digital-first world’
Peter Stephenson
Managing Director, West 53rd Street Digital
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