Digital acceleration: how big pharma is preparing for a post-COVID era

We recently hosted Salvador Carlucci, Co-Founder and President of Atacana Group, to discuss how Big Pharma is responding to the pandemic. From supply chain disruptions and vaccine trials to the acceleration of digital marketing initiatives and the transformation to a virtual sales culture, Carlucci took us through a host of impacts he’s seen over the past few months and how these trends may continue into a post-COVID-19 era. Read the highlights below.

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Carlucci began with a discussion of how Big Pharma companies are talking about the financial effects of the coronavirus. He highlighted that in Q1 every company had a positive YoY change in net sales except for Pfizer. Additionally, while most pharma companies did not change guidance on their Q1 call, Pfizer withdrew its guidance and Merck communicated an unfavorable impact to revenue of $2.1 Billion. Some of the key themes which Carclucci found in these Q1 Earnings Calls were increased digital marketing at Roche, fully digital salesforces at Sanofi and GSK, and increased telehealth efforts at Novartis and AstraZeneca. Looking at executive commentary on the shift to digital within AlphaSense reveals that Roche, Novartis, and AstraZeneca had the biggest focus on digital in Q1.

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Diving into Roche’s increased investment in the digitization of the pharmaceutical market, Carlucci pointed to five key changes:

  1. Engagement: “Mass field” efforts, which were largely in person, shifted to more targeted, and largely virtual efforts.
  2. Content: Static information shifted to personalized digital content and services.
  3. Content Release: Content releases that had been synchronized with field force cycles shifted to continuous and real-time releases.
  4. Customer Targeting: Sales reps making targeting decisions shifted to targeting decision making supported by advanced analytics.
  5. Conference: Physical conference attendance shifted to virtual and real-time exchange.

For a full analysis of the shifts in the Pharmaceutical Market, watch Salvador Carlucci’s full webcast by visiting our Resources page.

One of the more striking takeaways from Carlucci’s discussion was around the effectiveness of digital meetings by pharma sales reps. While the average face to face meeting in January lasted only 5 minutes, the average virtual meeting in May lasted 30 minutes.

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This increased facetime has many effects. For one, sales reps have to have more detailed meeting plans, as customers will expect more than just a quick pitch to come with the added time. This may prompt some companies to choose to either re-train their sales forces for digital meetings or to hire new digital-oriented sales reps. As Carlucci mentions: “if [a] company is not doing well, field force tends to be one of the first areas that they cut.” While companies have not given many signals as to how their salesforce headcount will be impacted, we will likely see more discussion of this in Q2 earnings calls.

In addition to the change in meeting time highlighted above, digital outreach also became much more prevalent: marketing outreach emails increased 521%. It seems that thus far this deluge of emails has not exhausted healthcare providers, as open rates have remained nearly constant.

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If the overarching theme of Q1 was a shift to digital across every aspect of pharma marketing, sales, and outreach, the biggest question moving forward is whether or not these changes are here to stay.

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The vast majority of the webcast viewers seem to expect a continued, albeit slower, shift to digital post-COVID, but of course, it is impossible to know for sure what the lasting effects of this will be. Log into AlphaSense now to continue to follow these trends and see what themes continue into Big Pharma’s Q2 Earnings Calls.



AlphaSense is a market intelligence platform used by the world’s leading companies and financial institutions. Since 2011, our AI-based technology has helped professionals make smarter business decisions by delivering insights from an extensive universe of public and private content—including company filings, event transcripts, news, trade journals, expert calls, broker reports, and equity research. Our platform is trusted by over 2,000 enterprise customers, including a majority of the S&P 100. Headquartered in New York City, AlphaSense employs over 1,000 people across offices in the U.S., U.K., Finland, Germany, and India.

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