When the pandemic first hit last March, in-person meetings between life sciences reps and healthcare professionals (HCPs) dropped so low (by 70%) that most companies simply pulled their reps out of the field. Digital wasn’t a choice anymore; it was a requirement for maintaining contact with customers.

But as life sciences companies pivoted towards launching new products virtually — using email, video, and digital content instead of the traditional, in-person ways of interacting with HCPs — they discovered something surprising: Digital was not only a successful engagement alternative, but for the growing number of HCPs who are digital natives, it was actually the preferred way to communicate.

According to recent Veeva Pulse data, which provides a global and local view of field rep activities captured in Veeva CRM across the industry, digital engagement has led to longer discussions and more frequent rep-to-HCP interactions. When combined with the personal relationship, they offer new opportunities — and value — for HCPs in launches moving forward.

Driving greater impact through digital

While the rapid adoption of digital was primarily driven by COVID-19, companies are finding that they can better serve HCPs through a mix of in-person and digital engagement. HCPs are appreciating the convenience and flexibility that digital channels provide, while field teams are expanding their reach to doctors that they wouldn’t have had access to in previous years.

As a result of longer meetings and more field email, content consumption has also increased since the pandemic. In virtual meetings, for example, we’re finding that content is being used 85% of the time, whereas in face-to-face meetings it is used only one-third of the time. Physicians continue to have high levels of interest in clinical data, and companies can help support patient care through more personalized and targeted digital content.

A framework for launch success

Fortunately, the industry has benefited from the learnings experienced over the past year that position companies to operate with more resiliency and speed in the years to come. To help companies rewrite their existing launch playbooks, we’ve developed a four-step framework for launching using a digital-first strategy.

The constant with all launches is to start early — roughly 24 months in advance — with the goal of being positioned for field execution start three months ahead of your launch date. Until then, you’ll want to make sure you:

  1. Build your “launchpad”: This step encompasses three core elements: first, you’ll need to create the frameworks to integrate plans and prioritize actions; second, you must establish the analytics and performance insight functions to integrate multiple data sources; and finally, you’ll need to use that data to better understand your customer, and drive agile and empowered decision-making using intuitive tracking tools to focus on the right indicators to demonstrate launch progress.
  1. Prepare your market: During this step, the focus is on how best to coordinate with and align around scientific experts to uncover new opportunities, adapt plans, respond to customers faster, and orchestrate meaningful interactions. Key actions include identifying key opinion leaders (KOLs), getting HCP feedback on the product, and organizing your clinical content to ensure its compliant and easily managed throughout production and distribution.  
  1. Demonstrate your value: Three months prior to launch is when you leap into action and mobilize the field to establish the foundation for customer relationships. You’ll want to make sure to digitize your account plans, create content that supports your key value propositions, and promote digital services for patients to change behaviors and achieve desired outcomes. To simplify the process of getting more information to HCPs faster, consider using digital channels not just for outbound engagement, but for inbound as well.
  1. Go to market: At this point, you should have received market authorization and the initial phase of market access. Now you have to focus on driving awareness with HCPs and understand where your product may serve as the best option to treat their patients. In addition to designing your go-to-market model, make sure to optimize your remote engagement channels, deploy AI-based call planning, leverage marketing automation, and host digital events to build momentum around your product.

Ultimately, success will depend upon the fact that your data and insights are swift, all players engage with digital channels, and you have integrated platforms and information to ensure seamless orchestration across all touch points. A customer-centric approach is also key — make sure to leverage engagement data to improve HCP targeting and continuously increase your understanding of customers’ channel preferences.

Digital leads the way forward

A number of factors are complicating launches today. Companies are experiencing market saturation and hyper-specialization. They are being asked to quantifiably demonstrate the value of the new products they are bringing to market. Payers are increasingly influencing treatment decisions, which is muddying the definition of the customer. And then there’s still COVID-19 itself.

To launch successfully, you need to leverage all the in-person and digital channels available to give your company the best chance of reaching its launch projections and driving differentiation in the market.

What’s truly different about digital launches is all the data that becomes available, from channel preference and customer reach to engagement history and content consumption. Use it to optimize engagement and reach customers at the right time, with the right content, in the right channels.

A well-executed launch is ultimately helping accelerate patient access to critical products that allow them to live healthier, longer lives. Seen in that light, going digital can be a key driver of improved patient care and better health outcomes.

To learn more about driving successful digital engagement, join us at Veeva Summit Connect on June 10.

Dan Rizzo is the global head of commercial business consulting at Veeva. He and his team are responsible for working with Veeva’s customers to accelerate digital engagement and business transformation.

Aaron Bean leads Veeva’s European consulting practice based in London. He specializes in commercial innovation, effectiveness, and digital transformation.