Is Field Sales Over? Re-thinking Go-To-Market for Pharma

by Scott Graham
by Scott Graham

Although various industries embraced digitalization, the pharma sector has been relatively slow to follow this global business trend.

However, pharmaceutical companies were forced to adapt to technology-oriented changes of the last decade, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic had significantly challenged the traditional model of interaction between healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharmaceutical companies. Due to the significant rise in coronavirus cases, the number of pharma sales reps' visits has considerably decreased. This eruption has breached the seemingly rigid model of pharma’s go-to-market strategy and forced the industry to shift to the broad spectrum of digital channels.

The pandemic has emphasized the need for new ways of communicating with medical practitioners. According to the McKinsey survey conducted at the end of 2020, the average number of in-person contacts between HCPs and pharma businesses diminished by 70% in comparison to the times before March 2020 [1]. At the same time, healthcare professionals’ adoption of digital channels has significantly changed. Not only has the Internet begun to play a more important role than before COVID-19 for them, but also, they’ve gotten used to relying on digital tools to look for therapeutic guidelines. According to the statistics, 4 out of 5 healthcare professionals have access to or use a tablet or smartphone for their work [2], and this number is steadily rising.

hcp access

For this reason, there’s no surprise that the same survey conducted by McKinsey shows that 28% of HCPs claimed that they would appreciate perspectives on adapting to more digital and remote ways of working from pharma companies [1]. In the era of the online, healthcare professionals are now viewing the digital channels not just as a short-term necessity but as an opportunity to reimagine the customer experience and improve rep productivity well into the future [3].

Before the advent of the digital era, “sales” and “outside sales” were synonymous. Today, you have to re-think your go-to-market strategies to fit the needs of HCPs and respond best to the changes driven by the pandemic. These new approaches will allow improved market penetration and a more tailored customer approach while highlighting the need to stay up-to-date and grasp the speed of market transformation that is promptly turning digital.

Considering this, is pharma’s field sales really over? What’s the role of digital communication? How should go-to-market strategies change to tailor to healthcare professionals' expectations? Read more and discover how the Pharma sales have changed and why the re-evaluation of go-to-market strategies is crucial for your long-driving business success

New digital circumstances

Imagine your private-professional life before the pandemic. You rarely talk with others via video calls, and there’s a widespread necessity for physical presence in every circumstance - in the office, with the clients, or at conferences.

COVID-19 has raised the stakes around digital access and engagement, reinforcing the fact that the use of digital technologies is a dynamic goal that pharma has to achieve immediately. The beginning of March 2020 marks the shift in our approach to technology. We have gone from using technology just as a convenience to relying on it as a necessity, including how we access healthcare. From patient management to digital medical education, the medical environment has rapidly changed.

Putting things straight, HCPs have gone digital. Since we developed several methods to manage the abundance of online visits generated by the pandemic reality, doctors have become more used to using technology in their medical practice. Additionally, the demand for digital medical care flooded the market with applications for optimizing workflow, appointments, and schedules to make patient management more efficient. All these transitions have accelerated the adaptation of digital channels for doctors’ day-to-day communication – both professionally and privately. 

Nevertheless, healthcare professionals are a vast group that encompasses several age groups of practitioners – including the young generation. “Digital natives” were in close contact with computers and other electronics from their childhood, making technology an indispensable part of their lives. What’s worth mentioning, the older representatives of this group are now close to 40 years old. That’s how ingrained digital technology is in our society today. What does it mean for the pharma sector?

Why does the traditional way not work anymore?

Digital Native Doctors, also known as millennial physicians, are particularly familiar with online channels. As they widely use social media in their private communication, it’s more favorable for them to use it in a professional background. Given that medicine is a rapidly developing field full of novel study results, HCPs demand reliable sources of information that would offer them the expert, up-to-date knowledge necessary for medical practice. 

With HCPs’ preferences so variable and digital-oriented, pharma companies need clear, up-to-date per­spectives on each physician’s interests and wishes so they can gear messages to individual needs and concerns. Thus, from this point of view, the traditional way of interaction between pharma reps and HCPs is no longer valid. Considering the growing population of Digital Native Doctors, you’re obliged to re-evaluate your go-to-market strategies in order to reach medical practitioners efficiently.

According to Quintiles’ Digital & Multichannel Marketing customer survey, pharma executives expressed a reluctance to “risk experimenting with newer digital channels unless traditional channels have failed [2]”. However, in the current online-first, one shouldn’t wait until the previously used methods disappoint. Considering the continuous technological progress the traditional field roles should be adapted to the existing reality.

Is Field Sales Over?

No, the field sales aren't over. However, due to the present-day circumstances, a successful strategy must strive for a channel mix that provides the desired information at a time and place that suits the target audience and situation. All in order to embrace customers’ evolving preferences. To do so requires a perfectly-tailored combination that incorporates face-to-face, real-time conversations between pharma reps and HCPs, and personal digital and non-personal digital interactions.

the future of approach
the real-time communication

There’s still considerable power in face-to-face interactions. According to recent studies, about two-thirds of Americans (68%) say the interactions they would have had in person, but instead had online or over the phone, have generally been useful – but not a replacement for in-person contact [5]. 

By their very nature, real-time communication provides a personalized approach and doesn’t require digital savviness. It is particularly beneficial in the case of reaching a non-digital generation of HCPs, who are still highly accustomed to pharma reps. Nevertheless, concerning their long-term practice, they’re oftentimes used to employ a specific set of products that they adapted in the earlier stage of medical practice. On the contrary, the group that easily acquires new knowledge, including pharmaceutical novelties, consists of young, digital-savvy healthcare professionals. Check out our case study, where we’ve described a beneficial way of reaching the younger generation of doctors.

personal digital

Personal digital includes digital interactions that are also tailored to your target’s interests. This kind of communication embraces personalized emails and virtual (particularly video) meetings. In fact, most leaders (63%) believe that virtual meetings can be as, if not more, effective than in-person meetings [6]. You still keep high personalization while meeting your target audience's expectations through digital. Following the recent data, virtual meetings extended the amount of time that HCPs were able to meet with reps from an average of three minutes to 19 minutes compared to traditional, face-to-face meetings [3].

non-personal digital

What doctors really want is to “learn more”. A recent study found that over 80% of HCPs believe pharma should be funding more educational resources [2]. Moreover, staying up-to-date on the latest clinical studies and networking with their peers occupy a significant amount of their time online. 

Thus, your effective go-to-market strategy in the present-day circumstances cannot omit the expansion of various digital channels. From social media to blogs, you must embrace HCPs evolving preferences through high-quality medical content.

Medical content creation distributed through various channels, such as blogs or social media, will build your business’s credibility and accountability among healthcare professionals, raise your brand’s awareness, and reach new audiences effectively. To reach these tremendous goals, provide materials that are based on the best evidence available while keeping them engaging and compelling. Adopt an Evidence-Based (EBM) approach that will turn your content into comprehensive, credible material, up-to-date with recent studies. Not to mention that it will go in line with the constant development of medicine and technology. Read more about high-quality medical content creation in our e-book.

Multiply the effectiveness of engagement through the expansion of various digital channels – not only social media content but also blogs, insightful videos, and podcasts. You can additionally strengthen your online presence through numerous tools, such as paid ads. Read more about targeting doctors with Google Ads here.

Rely on professionals

field sales are not enough

The healthcare professional of today is digital-savvy. As they’ve adopted digital channels in their everyday life, they naturally expect multichannel communication that combines conventional interactions with the online-oriented. Re-think your go-to-market strategy for pharma and bet on a multitude of communication types – real-life, personal digital, and nonpersonal digital. However, hybrid selling requires customer-centricity. Rely on high-quality medical content that meets HCPs' needs, interests, and expectations.

To reach the high efficiency of your go-to-market strategy, get support from experts who specialize in communication with healthcare professionals. We’re here to help you achieve the tremendous challenges you’re facing while adopting digital channels. Let’s jump-start your long-driving business success.

Let's talk


[1] Mlika, A., Mong, J., Peters, N., Salazar, P., McKinsey, Ready for launch: Reshaping pharma’s strategy in the next normal [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

[2] Doctors & Digital: The Current State of Digital Health, [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

[3] Rizzo, D., How Digital Will Redefine the Role of the Rep in 2021—and Beyond, [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

[4] Murray, L., Pharma sales in the digital era, Quintiles, [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

[5] Pew Research Center, The Internet and the Pandemic, [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

[6] Hubspot, 2021 Sales Enablement Report, [last accessed: 22.04.2022].

exit icon

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics ON OFF

We'd like to set Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Hotjar and HubSpot to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. We collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how this works, please see our Cookies page.

Advertising ON OFF

We’d like to set Facebook Pixel to give you the latest information about Brandmed services by Facebook. For more information on how this works, please see our Cookies page.

Accept Close
We use cookies. Read more on our Cookies page.
Accept Settings
exit icon