Let’s start with a simple maths problem.
2+2 = ?
The answer is of course 4. But in business we spend every day trying to make it worth much more than that. The aim being that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. So 2+2 = 5, at least.
Sometimes, though, things go wrong. And despite a huge effort, we end up with less than we hoped for. 2+2 = 3. Damn.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the business world faced a panic situation. For several weeks, 2+2 = 3 as the immediate fallout happened. In pharma, that meant that sales calls were cancelled, patients dropped out of clinical trials and progress was halted on key projects.
As managers, most of our efforts in the early stages were about getting back to business continuity. To plug the gaps. To try and ensure, at the very least, 2+2 = 4.
The hybrid opportunity
Now that 2+2 = 4 has been achieved, we’re refocussing on how 2+2 = 5 is possible again. But whilst this might look like the same formula we started with, the reality is that post-Covid is a different world - and we’re not going back to how things used to be. The components that make up our formula are new, and the opportunities available are new too. 2+2 is in fact redundant.
In the new world, we’re going back to a mix of online and offline. It’s a hybrid model. But instead of simply combining digital with face-to-face, we have an opportunity to mix a new recipe.
To illustrate this, take a step to the scary world outside pharma for a moment. The dominant tech players - from Facebook to Uber to TikTok to Airbnb - all have business models based on a Web 2.0 model. The old Web 1.0, the days of simply digitising existing content, still exist, but they certainly don’t dominate like they once did (remember GeoCities, anyone?).
The dominant generation of digital companies all have the same basic ingredients - websites, urls, buttons, etc - but the models involved are totally different.
For the same reason, we need to realise that our opportunity in the post-Covid world is not simply to replicate what existed before, but reimagine what could be. In fact, whilst the reservations and limitations which plagued earlier digital transformations are in remission, we’ve never had a better chance.
7 model components that work
So let’s get out of our comfort zone and take a look at what components will redefine a hybrid model for this new age.
First, let’s ditch the old world for good. Across Health’s recent survey showed that only 45% of sales teams believed that they had sufficient knowledge of all the opportunities offered by digital, and that was even before the pandemic.
What are the hybrid models that are greater than the sum of their parts? Well, there is of course no one-size-fits-all plan, yet the smartest companies will be ensuring the following hybrid components are in place:
By now, your listening capabilities should be fully upgraded and online. Customers are facing major upheaval and if your ear isn’t close to the ground, you will never be able to create new solutions that fit. Naturally, technology provides the most objective and extensive solutions to tracking large volumes of customers: social listening, visualising customer journeys and real-time analytics are the minimum standard.
Good listening shouldn’t then result in a single one-size solution that fits the majority. To do so would be a waste. Instead, use technology at the front end to provide individualized knowledge and solutions, at scale, upending the traditional bespoke-vs-volume trade-off. Mass customization was never possible in the analogue era: now you can automatically adapt according to not just the preferences of your customer but their local situation and needs.
Virtualisation enables AI systems, particularly those which can direct your field staff, to really sing. And they get smarter with more exposure, every day. But don’t just lazily opt for ‘next best action’ systems; pursue far smarter options such as OKRA which empower teams through not just accuracy but also through providing a range of recommendations and enabling the rep to select their own path forward.
Transparent and explainable
All commercial strategies should be clear - not just in their design but also in their execution. Again, OKRA comes out trumps with the use of a hybrid explainability engine to ensure sales and marketing staff can see, question, understand and challenge every recommendation.
A leading cohort of companies had already woken up to the myriad advantages of a digital health strategy pre-Covid. These initiatives are not just useful for delivering patient outcomes but for feedback loops that inform further design and even R&D. Investments range anywhere from using wearables to developing entire products (like Teva’s Digihaler) - but for commercial managers, closing the loops should be relatively straightforward and far easier in a majority-digital world like the one we now face.
McKinsey identifies a new paradigm in B2B sales which takes Customer Experience to a higher level: buyers in recent surveys are citing a strong preference for self-service, with suppliers’ mobile apps more than doubling in importance since 2019. This carries on a pronounced trend of preference for self-service channels across every stage of the customer decision journey.
All of the above will stand you in excellent stead for the next 18 months. But the reality is that good tactics will only go so far: for success beyond that horizon you need to devote efforts to upgrade your pricing and offering (again using AI), ensure that emerging trends and new products are developed in a fully agile manner, and that business models enabling a more patient-oriented care model (including prevention and self-management) are your new playground.
Seize the day
The hybrid model which will persist over the next period is one that we have already spent many weeks discussing. However, recognise that as we look to engage with customers in this blended way, we need to upgrade our ambitions and become web 2.0 companies. That also means a rejuvenation of the tools we rely on to see the job through. One-dimensional AI solutions and a one-size-fits-all approach are no longer acceptable.
So, as lockdowns are eased, make sure you design systems and processes that create a symbiotic relationship where humans and machines work together, a virtuous circle where each side empowers one another and the customer is the one who reaps the benefit.
 Across Health (2019). Multichannel Rep Technology is Omnipresent pg. 15 - Across Health Multichannel Maturometer 2019 [online]
Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/AcrossHealth/across-health-multichannel-maturometer-2019-159376162 [Accessed 27 July 2020]
 McKinsey & Company (2020). COVID-19 and commercial pharma: Navigating an uneven recovery (2020) [online]
Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/covid-19-and-commercial-pharma-navigating-an-uneven-recovery?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=86f78251b28d48128022abf5f50e2382&hctky=10052817&hdpid=cc9701e4-14cd-4a08-9df8-952d51cae717 [Accessed 27 July 2020]