Pharmaceutical companies have been successful for decades with a siloed marketing strategy. Rep-led field engagement, television advertising, and digital marketing have all been planned, executed, and measured separately, but customer expectations are changing fast. With the pandemic and the shift to mobile devices, customers are demanding more convenient and seamless ways to interact with pharma companies. Omnichannel aims to orchestrate every customer touchpoint according to a data-driven strategy, with the goal of improving the customer experience. Achieving that level of sophistication and coordination isn’t easy, and marketing leaders from major pharma companies shared their perspective on making omnichannel work at the Pharma Marketing Network’s HCP Engagement Summit on March 9.

Building momentum for the shift to omnichannel starts with leaders. Executive buy-in is a critical component of building the case for change, according to Abigail Canlas, Director of Consumer & Digital Strategy for Nephrology Marketing at Otsuka. To break down the silos that have long characterized pharma marketing organizations, leaders need to articulate a unified omnichannel vision. Canlas said, “It’s all about vision and making sure that it continues to be talked about: this is what we’re trying to accomplish, this is what we can do.”

Amy Turnquist, Principal in North Highland’s Life Sciences practice and the moderator of the discussion, asked how the panelists were building the culture needed for omnichannel transformation. Below the executive level, omnichannel sponsors need to build a culture that includes the voices of all stakeholders but avoids falling into ‘collaboration gridlock.’ This is a difficult balance to strike, said Corinne Yaouanq-Lyngberg, Director of Omnichannel Strategic Enablement at Novo Nordisk: “In a collaborative environment, everybody wants to make the safe decision, but you have to understand that ultimately to be agile, to go to market faster, to innovate, you have to be able to fail fast.”

Change agility and allowing for frequent releases of incremental value in the form of minimum viable products (MVPs) are big accelerators for omnichannel initiatives, according to Yael Jones, Senior Director of Digital Marketing at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Jones said companies “need to get much disciplined around experimentation. When you launch an omnichannel initiative where there is so much to learn, it’s especially important to proactively ask: what’s the hypothesis, what do you aim to learn, what does success look like? Then you see whether your hypothesis was proved or disproved; and if disproved, it’s not a fail—because you’ve learned and will optimize as a result.”

Change is only partly about process or technology. At its core, change is about how to bring along the people that power your engagement efforts. Sales reps and the face-to-face interactions they have with healthcare providers (HCPs) remain at the center of pharma marketing, even in the age of omnichannel. Speaking about sales reps, Jones said, “They are the human connection with the HCP. They are the ones that can best drive that value, and that will not change.”

Omnichannel is about providing the rep the information, data, insight, and tools needed to maximize the impact of their person-to-person interactions with the customer. “The customer relationship that the reps have with the HCP is just so key. The reps do have pretty good insight into the needs of that customer. I feel like there’s a lot that we still need to understand and feed back into that engine,” Canlas said. Creating a feedback loop between the rep on the ground and the predictive modeling used to pull customer insights from data can help the reps co-create an omnichannel vision that maximizes value.

Pharma marketers have a lot to focus on when shifting to omnichannel marketing. At its simplest, the way to achieve durable, effective, and adaptable omnichannel is to build top-down organizational alignment and bottom-up buy-in from your field force. There’s a lot of moving parts when you’re trying to orchestrate every customer touchpoint, but it has to start with engaging and empowering your team to change and grow.