A year after the pandemic forced pharma reps to switch suddenly from in-person to virtual sales calls, sales teams across the pharmaceutical industry are considering how to move back to in-person promotion.
As the first wave of the pandemic peaked, in-person selling dropped to just 8% of all promotional activity. The good news, according to the latest study by healthcare consultancy ZoomRx, is that 44 percent of healthcare professionals said face-to-face sales visits are again their preferred option for pharma promotions. Even better news for pharma reps, the same study showed that in-person selling drove 70 percent of the impact on prescribing.
So, What Does the Future Hold for Pharma Field Forces?
With over 60,000 pharma sales representatives in the United States alone, each at an estimated annual cost of over $200,000, there is significant opportunity and pressure to maximize the impact of this $12 billion investment.
It therefore stands to reason that pharma companies should be doing anything they can to optimize every segment of their field forces’ work. One of the biggest opportunities to do so is by embracing big data and artificial intelligence.
In pharma marketing and sales AI is a game changer. In minutes and without the flaws of human error, the technology can: 1) interpret vast quantities of data, responding to insights about ongoing market trends, customer demands, and sales rep performance; and 2) immediately deploy far-reaching strategies based on those insights.
Pharma Companies Are Already Using Data & AI to Optimize Several Selling Activities
In a recently released white paper, Boosting Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing With Artificial Intelligence, global professional services firm ZS highlighted which areas of pharmaceutical sales have the potential for optimization through data and AI. As you can see from the chart above, they note significant potential in business and customer visit planning, from refining call plans to defining routes and coordinating with peers and colleagues. They also note significant potential in post-call responsibilities such as automating follow-up emails and logging activity.
And sure enough, we’ve seen significant research and activity supporting those areas, with solution providers like Aktana, Okra, and Veeva providing powerful optimization opportunities for these pre- and post-call activities. We’ve also seen leading Pharma companies invest heavily in this area in their own right. Novartis, for example, has created the ACTalya algorithm tool for its sales force, which refreshes overnight and provides its 10,000 reps with insights about how to best interact with healthcare providers—whether to meet in person or send an email instead, for instance. These process optimizations are already significantly enhancing the value of field forces’ work and improving the health care providers’ experiences with pharmaceutical companies.
But They’re Missing a Key Opportunity: Optimizing Human Interaction
There are only two areas that ZS identifies as too challenging for AI optimization: product detail and discussion, and meeting with office staff. These are the two areas that involve actual, human-to-human conversations, whether in person or virtual, and it’s no big surprise that they have been considered off-limits to AI-based optimization. After all, the standard perspective is that AI optimizes by replacing humans, handling repetitive, rules-based tasks with great speed and accuracy. But when it comes to human-to-human conversations, especially in high-stakes industries like healthcare, where trust is paramount, there’s really no rule book and no way to take the human out of the equation. So the very heart of selling—the intangible but powerful impact of human communication and connection—has been beyond the grasp of AI enhancement.
When it comes to optimizing human-to-human connection it is less about “artificial” intelligence and more about “complementary” intelligence.
The key is to shift your perspective on how AI and humans work together. At Quantified, we believe the human connection is critical, and it should be preserved, nurtured, and enhanced however possible. We also believe in the power of data and AI to do just that, working collaboratively and continuously with people to elevate, rather than replace, the human connection.
Here’s how we approached this at Quantified. We started with people—in this case building the world’s most comprehensive database of human communication scored for its impact by human audiences. Over nearly a decade, we have had diverse audiences evaluate and score videos of people communicating—presentations, keynotes, sales calls, etc.—for impact. Did they trust the communicator? Was the speaker credible, authentic, likeable? Would they buy from them? We then built a model based on the behavioral, social science of human communication and connection. This model identified the 24 key drivers of communication effectiveness across message content, vocal delivery, visual delivery, and the audience perception they create. Our human-trained, deep-learning AI then uses sight, sound, and language to assess over 1,400 behaviors in every communication to precisely quantify how effectively an individual communicates. Having leveraged the power of
this unbiased analysis to identify skills gaps and opportunities for improvement, we pair those insights with our experiential learning platform that provides personalized development plans designed to create lasting behavioral change.
An AI-Superpowered Field Force in Pharma
In terms of optimizing sales conversations, this has powerful implications for both sales leaders and field representatives.
Leaders gain visibility into the link between sales call effectiveness and performance, and they get to pinpoint exactly what makes high-performing reps so successful and guide the rest of the team in developing those critical skills, both individually and as a team.
Representatives get real-time, personalized, and precise feedback in the flow of training or actual calls—like a ride-along communication coach. They get to learn the skills that drive high-performers’ success, and they get to watch trends and progress in their communication skills and sales performance as they learn at their own pace using proven behavioral change strategies.
Human interaction is the cornerstone of pharmaceutical sales—there’s no doubt about that. But just because we can’t (and shouldn’t) replace the human connection, that doesn’t mean we can’t optimize it. To learn more about how Quantified is doing just that, we invite you to request a demo today, and one of our experts will be in touch to walk you through our platform and process.