Blake Schiller
Blake Schiller

How do you feel? Seriously, how do you feel? A confluence of economic, political, societal and educational disruptions—to name a few—are present in everyone’s life at the moment. Now, more than ever, the question of “how you feel” is incredibly relevant. We, as leaders in marketing, advertising and PR, ask this to preserve ourselves and persevere.

We also ask “how do you feel” of others to demonstrate empathy and offer support: to family members, friends and colleagues especially. But have we asked or thought about how customers feel? Conducting market research with customers about the disruptions they’re facing, or combing through analyst observations on the subject isn’t earnestly understanding them.

According to “Consumer.ology,” a book by consumer behavior expert Philip Graves, traditional market research actually violates basic neuroscience on human consciousness and lacks the empathy necessary to uncover the authentic truth within customers.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '20 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine (view PDF version)

Instead, at imre Health, we champion taking a moment to listen. To understand customers by mining the head, the heart and the gut. Traditional insights and strategy rely too heavily on the head—the rational being. But customer beliefs and decisions are also unconsciously emotional (the heart) and instinctive (the gut). The customer-type most in need of marketing, advertising and PR leaders who listen are healthcare professionals. Is there an economic sector more disrupted than the practice of healthcare? I’ll wait.

Consider this: An April PCC survey found that primary care physicians are facing more challenges than ever amid COVID-19:

  • 51 percent of primary-care providers are uncertain about their financial future.
  • 80 percent have added new platforms that require extra training.
  • 84 percent are experiencing severe and continuous stress.

These are new realities every specialty faces, and as a result, the practice of medicine is rapidly changing at scale. One byproduct of these dynamics are permanently closing doors to Pharma and Biotech sales forces. Time is the commodity HCPs are after, and according to findings shared by pharmaphorum, they don’t have it for traditional sales forces any longer.

  • 30-40 percent of specialists don’t want to have any engagement with the pharmaceutical industry any longer.
  • In primary care settings, fewer than 50 percent of general practitioners want to see a representative, even by video.

Even where opportunities exist to engage HCPs, the perception is that the industry is doing it poorly. Simply put, Pharma and Biotech are not evolving at the same pace as the practice of medicine.

  • 42 percent of providers cannot think of a pharma manufacturer that has effective virtual/digital selling capabilities, according to research shared by Ipsos in April.

Bottom line: traditional selling models in Pharma and Biotech are eroding because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Realistically, they may never look the same, as the practice of healthcare adjusts to “new normal” in lieu of manufacturers. Similarly, non-personal promotion or digital models aren’t gaining traction because HCP customer attention cannot be afforded to industry platforms that are increasingly fragmented. Now, more than any other time, commercial executives in Pharma and Biotech must reimagine the future of engagement with HCP customers to drive relationships and sales.

So, what’s being done? At imre Health we keep hearing the question, “How can we deploy our sales force more effectively in a virtual setting?” or “How do I connect patients with critical resources like samples or education if my reps can’t call on offices?” Those are Blockbuster questions. Not “blockbuster drugs”; I’m talking about Blockbuster, the VHS rental company infamous for not innovating when it needed to. Kicking itself for allowing Netflix to enter and disrupt the market. The hallmark of these questions, and companies who fail to innovate, is inward rational thinking. Instead, we need to ask ourselves a Netflix question, with a reimagined future that’s empathetic toward customers. It sounds something like this, “How do I create value for my customers through my brand/company by not being disruptive to the evolving practice of medicine.”

At imre Health, our reimagined future is simple: we must shift from sales to service. imre Health believes that selling is losing impact, so we must enable brands to maintain relevance through service experiences that drive relationships, create value, and enable persistence. Key to this model is compassionate intelligence, which is emerging as a modern core competency for healthcare sales and marketing executives navigating this new normal, as well as an understanding of the HCP omnichannel and virtual experience. Our goal is to add value to physicians’ practices, eliminate obstacles for them and help improve patient outcomes.

Reimagined services that can bring this to life include direct-to-physician or patient subscription services, applied science medical education delivered through modern mediums, and extending the HCP’s influence to patient homes through virtual care (to name a few).

I ask again: How do you feel? Better yet, how do you feel about the way your brand is showing up in service to customers? Unsure? Optimistic? Pessimistic? We can help you listen and reimagine customer engagement.


Blake Schiller is Executive Vice President at imre Health, the life sciences arm of imre.