How AI Helps Solve the Challenges Facing SMB Pharmaceutical Companies

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woman pharmacist working with vials in tech

COVID-19 ushered in major shifts in the way that healthcare professionals (HCPs) interact with life sciences companies, but how have emerging biopharma companies adapted to this new reality? The core challenges small- to mid-sized (SMB) companies face — limited resources and overburdened staff tasked with a wide span of responsibilities — have not changed. Yet suddenly, there is growing demand for advanced technology solutions that empower leaner commercial teams to reach more HCPs efficiently.

The life sciences industry has been trying to find the right ratio of sales reps to HCPs for decades. Today, there are about 60,000 pharmaceutical sales reps in the U.S., down from 100,000 in the mid-2000s. Working with a smaller sales force is new to many large pharmaceutical companies but it’s the norm for SMB organizations. For them, it has always been critical to take a strategic approach to HCP engagement, prioritizing interactions with the most influential HCPs. Now, smart use of digital channels can also help increase reach – especially to no-see doctors who have limited access regardless of the pandemic – while making room for targeted in-person visits with those HCPs who prefer a face-to-face engagement.

A digital-first approach to sales and marketing, in fact, empowers SMBs to compete at any level and scale. Intelligent omnichannel engagement, which goes hand-in-hand with digital technologies, continues to be a crucial strategy for life sciences companies of all sizes, particularly among emerging biotechs that need to make the most of their resources. With more channels to leverage, sales and marketing teams can coordinate a more relevant, personalized relationship with HCPs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows companies to do this faster and more accurately than ever before.

At Aktana, the volume, and quality, of digital engagements increased dramatically throughout the pandemic, resulting in a three-fold increase in rep-sent emails from Q2/Q3 2019. These communications produced a 14% higher open rate compared to the same time in 2020, despite the jump in volume. Post-pandemic, 87% of HCPs say they want to keep at least a combination of digital and in-person engagement as the primary interaction with the pharmaceutical world. In the new normal, AI is the key.

Critical AI Considerations for SMBs

There is a misconception, pervasive with small-to-mid-sized companies, that they do not have a high-quality database or robust ‘enough’ infrastructure to take advantage of advanced AI technology. But not all AI is created equal. Look for an AI solution that is flexible and built using open APIs, and therefore, can seamlessly plug in to any existing CRM or marketing automation system to make your existing toolkit smarter. The beauty of AI is that it continuously learns, and the results continue to get better with the addition of more data. Equally important, AI solutions should be easy to use and easy to deploy so they can scale as quickly as the company does. Using an AI solution that is prevalent throughout the industry also helps makes future system integration easy.

Deciding on the right AI solution to adopt is only the first step on the path to intelligent omnichannel customer engagement. Before deployment, the implementation team must carefully map out company objectives and unique customer considerations, such as an HCP’s bandwidth for “information overwhelm.” The inherent limitations of each channel must be carefully examined as well. For example, how many virtual visits can a rep reasonably accomplish in a week? AI can help companies automate —and learn from—these tradeoffs to continually optimize customer engagement.

Content is another key consideration. Life sciences companies created nearly 50% more digital content from the spring in 2019 to the spring in 2020. The speed and frequency of communication that digital enables have highlighted the shortage of compliant content. And as AI is embraced across more brands, therapeutic areas, geographic regions, and organizations, it will turbo-charge the demands for content. Evolving consumer expectations and preferences around digital will also push the industry towards new content formats, such as a surge in personalized videos and AI-driven self-serve digital portals. AI-powered insights will play a critical role in helping companies refine, iterate, and adapt for the future.

An intelligent customer engagement platform will deliver relevant HCP insights direct to sales and marketing for a coordinated and high-impact commercialization strategy. This is the only path forward in a newly minted digital-first pharmaceutical world. Ultimately, leveraging new AI technologies allows SMB leaders to both focus on day-to-day execution and keep an eye on their company’s future, setting them up for long-term success in a dynamic, technology-driven market.

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