March 16, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Its Effect on Pharmaceutical Marketing and Sales

Pharma marketing blog header

Executive Summary
With the rapid onset of coronavirus in the United States, many pharma companies are being forced to prepare for a scenario in which their reps cannot visit providers and patients are limited in their ability to visit their healthcare professionals (HCP). The CDC has gone as far as recommending the use of telemedicine and patient portals as primary channels for HCPs and patients to interact. Unique challenges now exist, but there are also opportunities to help adjust to the changes in healthcare marketing and sales that COVID-19 is causing. This POV will address those challenges and also elaborate on the opportunities pharma marketers have to help their healthcare customers, as well as patients, and build relationships with both audiences for the future, once this health crisis has passed.

Health and life sciences (HLS) companies are realizing that, due to COVID-19 and its impact on people and health systems, they are going to have to find new ways to engage with their customers. In-person engagement is still the current standard that pharma companies use to interact with their provider customers. Furthermore, many companies assume that patients can visit their providers to continue to get the services and treatment that they need. These standard practices are changing because of COVID-19 and will likely continue to change, as this is a behavioral trigger point for the industry.

There is an immediate need to change the way that HLS companies interact with HCPs and consumers due to COVID-19. However, these changes will also position these organizations for a successful future as the current environment becomes the new norm. HLS companies need to reevaluate their marketing and sales strategies for the new barriers their customers are facing while implementing and leveraging key technology solutions to facilitate virtual engagement.

To succeed in accomplishing the opportunity and the market changes now present to us, a dual approach of strategic re-evaluation and the addition of new technology systems is necessary.

1. Marketing Strategy: Change the types of messaging you use and the channels you choose to communicate with your customers.

2. Technology: Leverage technology that facilitates person-to-person interaction without in-person contact.


HCP Marketing Strategies: Understand the new drivers and barriers that exist for HLS marketers’ customers and how we may need to change the way that we message and the channels we leverage. Understand, for HCPs, the different pressures and impacts that HCP specialties will experience.

impact of COVID-19

The outbreak is affecting different HCPs differently, and it’s important to understand the different pressures and barriers that exist for each kind of specialty. Some, like immunologists, for example, are directly affected since they treat COVID-19. Oncologists do not directly treat, but their patients are at high risk for contracting the disease. Psychiatrists and even primary care providers will see an influx of panic and their patients struggling to cope with the chaos and uncertainty. Based on the different barriers that may exist for HCPs, there are three core challenges that can be addressed using marketing strategy.

1. New Barriers — HCPs are under new pressures within a taxed healthcare system. Their supply chains are disrupted; their treatment protocol has changed; and levels of risk have increased.

  • Consideration: Instead of filling the gap in personal sales rep visits with “Buy My Drug” messaging, provide HCPs with the tools to facilitate self-service channels.
  • Marketing Solution: Be proactive with your messaging and help HCPs understand the new best channels to reach out to for information. Look to leverage access messaging and messaging on the changes to the provider-patient relationship.
  • Sales Rep Solution: Actively introduce your current call plan to Veeva Engage or Veeva Engage-enabled reps. Inform them this is now how they will communicate with their rep. Also, look to leverage Veeva Engage Portal as a self-service resource for product information.

2. Ongoing Care — The patient population at large still has acute and chronic illnesses and they still need medications and medical attention.

  • Consideration: People will still need access and information to medications and healthcare services, and pharma marketers need to ensure those are still available while reducing the increased risk associated with care due to COVID-19.
  • Marketing Solution: Develop messaging, partner with telemedicine services, and leverage pharmacy delivery networks to ensure your patients get the care they need.
  • Sales Rep Solution: Reps can continue to provide information and resources that HCPs value through Veeva Approved Email and Veeva Engage.

3. Limited Access — Many patients still need to visit providers’ offices to refill their prescriptions or get a co-pay card.

  • Consideration: Most HCPs are accustomed to seeing their patients in the office.
  • Marketing Solution: Consider taking your existing co-pay cards and digitizing them, or create a digital channel so patients can request that prescriptions be shipped to them. Also evaluate telemedicine opportunities with respect to relevant disease states.
  • Sales Rep Solution: Leverage Veeva Engage Portal as a tool that HCPs can use to find resources on access on their own time. Use approved email to drive communication about digital co-pay cards.

Consumer Marketing Strategies: In addition to challenges we face with marketing to HCPs, there are also three core challenges that consumers face that can be addressed through marketing/sales strategies:

1. Lack of Clarity — Patients are uncertain about how they should interact with their HCPs and where to find information during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Consideration: Digital channels should be enlisted to leverage new messaging.
  • Solution: Tell consumers what you are doing to help them with their illnesses in a time of uncertainty or a lack of access to healthcare.

2. Unforeseen Impact — There are certain types of patients who are indirectly affected by COVID-19.

  • Consideration: For some patients with certain mental illnesses and high anxiety levels, global crises like this can be a powerful trigger.
  • Solution: For products in the CNS space, provide messaging around resources that can help your patients in times of uncertainty.

3. Limited Access — Patients have limited access to providers.

  • Consideration: There are many digital channels that can be leveraged to fill in the gaps.
  • Solution: Provide messaging through digital channels where patients or their caregivers can find information from sources other than their HCPs. Ensure they are aware that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is recommending the use of telehealth where possible, and that many health plans have waived telehealth and other fees temporarily.

Technology Recommendations for Connecting With HCPs
The changes to marketing strategy needed during this crisis are highly dependent on marketers’ ability to “power-up” the use of data to inform each interaction with the HCP. Fortunately, there are already numerous integrated technologies that exist for HCPs and consumers that can facilitate continued engagement without requiring an in-person interaction. These technologies can automate targeted, specific messaging on emerging channels and platforms, and gauge the success of each strategy, and they are necessary to accommodate changes in consumer and HCP behavior and drive new marketing strategies.

Veeva provides numerous technologies that will enable continued success with your provider customers.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud can be used to get personalized messaging to your customers to rapidly inform them of changes and new channels for interaction.

Telemedicine tools, partners, and services can help provide a new channel for patients to reach out for information.


Veeva Engage Meetings

  • Solution: A tool that allows reps to have virtual meetings with HCPs, show a presentation and closed-loop marketing (CLM) content, and meet 1-to-1 or 1-to-few.
  • Use Case: A rep uses Veeva CRM and Veeva CRM Approved Email to reach out to an HCP who needs to understand the side effects for a product and set up a meeting that runs through CLM content on side effects.

Veeva is currently waiving six months of licensing costs for Veeva Engage.

Veeva Engage Portal

  •  Solution: A way to share a personalized link with an HCP in order to visit a portal and log in to see specific content (presentation, PDF, etc.)
  • Use Case: A rep sends an approved email to an HCP that includes a link to the Veeva Engage Portal. The HCP views a presentation (CLM content) and the rep can see what they looked at and clicked on.

Veeva Approved Email With Veeva Suggestions

  • Solution: A tool for leveraging pre-defined, MLR-approved email content to change the way reps interact with HCPs from personal to digital. Most companies leverage this with Veeva, but now may need to rely on this and phone calls instead of in-person meetings.
  • Use Case: A rep sends an approved email to an HCP that includes a link to the Veeva Engage Portal. The HCP views a presentation (CLM content) and the rep can see what they looked at and clicked on.

Licensing and Implementation for Veeva Products

  • Work closely with your IT department, Veeva partner and MLR teams to quick-start implementation, which can be accomplished in a matter of days.
  • Reps must be trained to professionally and compliantly leverage each Veeva tool.

Other Considerations

Call Planning — Reps’ possible inability to visit a hospital or group practice means that call planning must
be re-evaluated.

Training — Reps need to be trained on how to properly leverage Veeva Engage and need change management to succeed.

Ongoing Success — This will likely be the new standard for engagement, and organizations will have to restructure their sales operations and strategies.

Other Technologies Available

  • Call Centers for HCPs and Consumers
  • Marketing Orchestration Systems (e.g., Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Adobe Experience)
  • Telemedicine Partners
  • Digital Co-Pay

The outbreak of the coronavirus/COVID-19 is causing structural and operational changes to the way healthcare and pharma marketing functions in the United States. Changes will likely have a long-lasting impact on how pharma brands approach their marketing strategies. Pharma companies must look to new technologies and change their marketing strategies in order to adapt to this new landscape. Not only will these new marketing strategies, and technologies like telemedicine, help sustain the day-to-day functioning of these companies, but this will likely cause a new precedent to be set with customers for the long term.

  • HCPs will hit a behavioral trigger point at which they realize they don’t need to interact with in-person reps. Pharma companies who leverage Veeva Engage Meetings have the infrastructure to continue to sell and market
    in that world.
  • Patients will have a new understanding of ways to interact with their HCPs other than in-person visits, opening up new opportunities for interaction and support from pharma and healthcare companies through tools like telemedicine.

Intouch can help you succeed during the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic through both the brand and at the enterprise level. Intouch is here for you, and with our No Challenge Too Big to Cure mindset, we can navigate these new hurdles together to ensure lines of communication between pharma marketers, HCPs and consumers remain open, and we come out stronger and more agile on the other side. Reach out to us for additional information and assistance.

©Intouch Group 2020

Authors: Dylan Herman-Dunphy, Engagement Manager; Elizabeth Witcher, Senior Strategic Planner; Jeff Ceitlin, SVP-Customer Engagement Solutions