Gone are the days when sales reps would rely solely on face-to-face meetings with healthcare providers for detailing. But while the pandemic spurred an industry-wide adoption of virtual interactions, new research suggests the most successful approach involves both in-person and remote detailing.

New data from Syneos Health’s AnswerSuite, which provides data and insights on HCPs across different therapeutic areas, shows that in-person detailing dropped significantly during the pandemic and was replaced with remote detailing. But in-person detailing has started to rise again recently as more reps take on a hybrid approach.

Prior to COVID-19, companies had just begun exploring digital transformation, but it hadn’t been fully adopted by sales reps yet, said Cameron Thompson, EVP of business intelligence and product lead at AnswerSuite.

“With COVID-19, [detailing] went from 100% face-to-face down to 0%,” Thompson explained. “So what we found is that once people woke up in that new environment, the most advanced pharmaceutical companies actually took on this cutting-edge view of accelerating their digital, non-face-to-face interactions.”

With restrictions easing, in-person detailing has risen to about 62% as of July 2021, according to the data. But it’s likely not going to return to the 89% it had maintained in July 2019, said Deanne Melloy, EVP of deployment solutions at Syneos Health.

“Face-to-face detailing isn’t going away,” Melloy explained. “However, it’s probably not going back to pre-COVID levels anytime soon – and where we see success now is when you incorporate the digital with a hybrid opportunity.”

That hybrid approach might look something like a face-to-face interaction kicking things off, then continuing with both. Melloy added that a successful hybrid approach also requires more coordination between sales and marketing verticals.

“If you think about budgets within pharma companies, marketing has a budget and sales teams have budgets, and it’s now a matter of making sure they’re maximizing that promotional mix with this hybrid approach,” Melloy said. “The best efforts are going to be those that are coordinated between the two groups and making sure that they are working with each other in complete alignment.

“I would say it’s a new way of marketing,” she continued. “We always talk about post-COVID as a new way of face-to-face customer interactions; I also think it’s a whole new way of marketing as well.”

Melloy noted that more data from AnswerSuite, which examines trends across different therapeutic areas, will help understand what specific hybrid approaches work best for each specialty as the industry explores the new way of detailing. With that information, “we go back to our clients and say, ‘Here’s the type of engagement we think will have a bigger benefit than if you do only face-to-face or only digital,’” Melloy explained.

“So that’s been the transformation that’s been going on, and I think it is something that’s here to stay,” she continued. “We don’t know what the post-COVID world is going to look like, but we are taking the lessons that we’ve learned during these recent COVID challenges and looking for more innovations based on the data that we’re getting.”