DFUs for Medical Sales Reps in a Post-Lockdown Environment
The life of a pharmaceutical sales rep looks very different today from two years ago. Back then face-to-face sales meetings were standard practice across the NHS. COVID-19 and its attendant restrictions on in-person meetings put paid to this. One GP told us that reps became wary of any kind of contact with GPs during the two lockdowns:
“Our practice continued meetings with reps throughout the pandemic, though at reduced frequency. This was mainly due to reps and their companies assuming practices did not want to/did not have time to have meetings with reps during what was perceived as a busy period for the NHS.“
This perception is echoed by Ewan Crosbie, Associate Director of Silver Fern Research. Given the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic, he acknowledges the need to tread carefully as Pharma reps navigate a post-pandemic course:
"The last 18 months has seen a shift from almost 100% face-to-face interactions, to nothing, before the rise of webinars and virtual 1:1 meetings via Teams/Zoom. Now the possibility of face-to-face is open again, but to what extent will this return? Pharma have invested heavily in the digital options and HCPs have become accustomed to having open access to a multitude of topics, anytime, anywhere. But, there is a very real need for face-to-face interactions.
One of the biggest challenges we’ve seen regarding interactions between HCPs and Pharma is how to strike the balance. How many interactions do you offer? What type of interactions? And how do you approach them? Some claim to have been bombarded by emails, whilst others feel companies have become invisible. This can be due to a rep being furloughed or having been made redundant, or simply not reaching out.”
Pharma Companies and the ‘New Normal’
COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalisation of healthcare services and this has changed both the practice and expectations of healthcare professionals when it comes to in-person sales meetings. Research carried out by Curzon Consulting found that:
- 60% of surgeons think that in-person sales will be restricted, even after the vaccination programme is complete and lockdown restrictions end
- Of the 75% of physicians who opted for in-person sales prior to COVID-19, 47% stated that they would now prefer a virtual meeting or less frequent visits.
Whilst it’s clear that face-to-face meetings won’t disappear entirely, a more hybrid model is beginning to emerge. This will require adaptation on the part of healthcare professionals, the sales force, and companies like LDA Research which conducts ‘Detailed Follow Ups’ (DFUs) on behalf of pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
Adapting to New Expectations
A GP we spoke to about in-person sales said that they had resumed at his practice “as we believe the personal relationship with the rep is more important than meetings showing endless slides for products that are essentially quite similar to their competitors with little difference between them.” In this case value was perceived to lie in a developed, trust-based relationship with individual reps, in contrast to the more impersonal demonstration of products via a screen.
Where personal interaction is replaced by digital interaction, ‘value’ is recognised to reside in the creation of new kinds of digital resources. These include education on remote patient care, information on medical conditions related to COVID-19, and educative content for patients in a digital format.
Working closely with pharmaceutical companies has persuaded Ewan Crosbie (Silver Fern) that the long absence of face-to-face interaction has made HCPs value their medical sales reps more than ever:
“There’s a vast array of webinars that are offering HCPs extensive educational opportunities (almost too many, they have to be quite selective) but now HCPs are ready for them to get back to doing what they were doing. Many of them are ‘Zoom fatigued’. They want some form of face-to face interaction to return, and (re)build their relationships but for it not to be overdone.”
Detailed Follow Ups Post COVID-19
LDA Research is one of a small number of medical market research companies in the UK that provides DFUs for medical device and pharmaceutical companies. We get involved once the sales reps have had meetings with healthcare professionals, and entered details of the interaction on a database. Our job is to contact people on the database in order to check their communication of the agreed messaging with reference to:
- How the product performs against its competitors.
- The impact of the agreed positioning on healthcare buyers.
- Whether the full range of benefits are recognised by healthcare professionals.
DFUs have always been a painstaking, time-consuming task – which is why it's a service many agencies don’t offer. The LDA Research team will continue to work alongside clients to adapt our practices going forward. It is likely that DFUs will evolve to include the relative impact of different communication strategies, and the perceived value attached to different kinds of digital content.
About LDA Research
LDA Research is an international qualitative research provider. Founded in 2011 by Lucy Doorbar, we specialise in providing global intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry and medical device sector. We have dedicated healthcare panels in the UK and US, as well as a network of international associates. The LDA Research team is committed to being the eyes and ears of our clients wherever they need us to be.