From Sales Rep Dependence to Data-Driven Digital Tactics – Is Your Marketing Mix Evolving?

David Newman
EVP Business Development
MNG Health

Even before COVID-19 came along, interactions between healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharma reps were on the decline. Caught between the increasing burden of administrative tasks and the pressure to see more patients, HCPs are spending less and less of their time with sales reps.

According to Decision Resources Group’s 2019 ePharma Physician Report, the percentage of physicians regularly seeing sales reps in person has fallen to just 50%.1 The same report indicated that 39% of physicians had not interacted with a single sales rep in the last six months. Throw COVID into the mix and HCP/rep interactions have nearly ground to a halt, leaving many sales forces across the industry idle. A recent WSJ article cited a 50% reduction in global in-person visits by pharma from January to April2 (see Figure 1) and another survey by Sermo demonstrated that US in-person visits were down ~90% (see Figure 2). Further, Sermo’s data predicts that even after the COVID crisis is over, that access will not revert to pre-crisis levels—ever.3

So, what is a pharma marketer to do? Sales force productivity is down and shows no signs of improving. Meanwhile, the COVID crisis has given all of us a real-world illustration of how quickly a sales model built on a foundation of live sales rep interactions can come unraveled. While the evolution of the traditional drug rep role is still to be seen, it does leave marketing teams in need of effective cross-channel alternatives, now and into the future.

Direct mail, programmatic advertisements, and email are all tried and true non-personal tactics and warrant inclusion in every promotional plan. Traditional broadcast email campaigns can make a cost-effective adjunct to sales force efforts but are often used as a “blunt instrument”—going to many HCPs for whom the content is irrelevant, filling up their email inboxes unnecessarily, and potentially spoiling email as a tool altogether. This approach can often miss the mark and create negative impressions. However, utilized in a highly targeted, customized fashion, these types of email programs complement digital media plans exceptionally well. What pharma marketers increasingly need are tactics that emulate the sales activity of top-performing reps—conversationally communicating the right message to the right customer at just the right time.

Enter the intelligent, data-driven email campaign. Rather than delivering messages based on segmentation fixed from before the program’s launch, intelligently triggered email campaigns use specific events, behaviors, and market trends (e.g., disease diagnosis, therapy initiation via claims data, etc.) to deliver personalized, contextually relevant email communications to HCPs at scale. In other words, these campaigns leverage pharma’s “big data” to drive real-time personalization decisions within promotional email campaigns, providing HCPs with crucial information when it is needed. When orchestrated with sales rep touchpoints—as a supplement, complement, or both—intelligently triggered emails become a powerful instrument of HCP engagement.

At MNG Health, we believe data-driven email campaigns are particularly effective because:

  1. Our platform is “always on”—continually analyzing new outreach opportunities, so messages are delivered automatically, at the time when they will be most relevant and impactful.
  2. Message content is personalized, with different key messages sent depending on the HCP’s circumstance and preferences.
  3. A HCP’s willingness or ability to meet with sales reps are not factors in these types of programs, as they can be delivered directly.
  4. Dynamic, data-driven messages are more impactful due to their contextual relevance and tend to have higher open rates than traditional campaigns.
  5. Finally, pharma sales reps can be notified of the message delivery via their existing CRM tool and follow up directly—that is, when they gain access again.

COVID or no COVID, promotional tactics that supplement traditional sales force efforts are only going to become more and more necessary. Intelligent, data-driven emails can be a great way to bridge the personal promotion gap both now and into the future. With so many data options available, today is the best time to launch this type of program. Stay tuned for an upcoming article that will discuss data and optimal trigger options.

MNG Health is a multichannel marketing company with over twenty years of experience that specializes in data-driven tactics designed to reach and engage target HCPs throughout the customer journey – spanning non-personal promotion, peer-to-peer interactions, and advisory platforms.


1. Decision Resources Group. 2019 ePharma Physician® Report Finds U.S. Physicians Increasingly Too Busy to See Pharma Sales Reps. The Decision Resources Group News. Accessed July 1, 2020.

2. Loftus P, Hopkins JS. Drugmakers Overhaul the Sales Pitch Amid Coronavirus Lockdowns: Pharmaceutical sales reps, unable to visit doctor’s offices due to Covid-19, are launching new drugs virtually. The Wall Street Journal Online. Accessed July 1, 2020.

3. Cohen O, Fox B, Mills N, Wright P. COVID-19 and commercial pharma: Navigating an uneven recovery. McKinsey & Company: Our Insights. Accessed July 1, 2020.