The Omni Advantage: A concise roadmap for change, for the people

Sales & Marketing
Mehrnaz Campbell

The book launch for pharma industry veteran and award-winning businesswoman Merhnaz Campbell’s The Omni Advantage: Accelerating the Behavioural Change with Omnichannel in Pharma Sales Engagement took place last week, on Thursday 18th January, expert contributors to the publication coming together with Campbell for an in-depth interview led by presenter Zara Janjua.

The Omni Advantage identifies the problems that have emerged in the pharmaceutical industry’s ‘lunge’ towards digital tools and omnichannel implementations, and also provides advice on how to get such sales performance back in shape in this age of digital transformation.

Ahead of the book launch, pharmaphorum spoke with its author and Cheemia CEO, Mehrnaz Campbell, to discuss the premise behind the book and what she hopes readers will gain by working through its pages. It quickly becomes evident that The Omni Advantage is not a book intended to be passively consumed. Instead, as the blurb reveals, it provides, “a concise roadmap to rebuilding confidence, enhancing quality, and fostering genuine engagement in an industry poised for meaningful change.”

Omnichannel: All about the people

Omnichannel is, of course, a hot topic, frequently on the lips of many a marketer. McKinsey & Co have defined omnichannel marketing as a set of seamlessly integrated channels that meet customer preferences and needs across different channels. So, what made Campbell consider writing a full-length book on the subject?

“I think everybody looks at omnichannel from different angles, from marketing, from medical, from pharmacovigilance, from the tech side,” Campbell explained. “The challenge pharma companies are having is, when it comes to digital transformation, everybody is focusing on processes and the tech, but they're not thinking about the people.”

Campbell began journeying to remote working well before the pandemic, Cheemia engaging healthcare professionals and growing pharmaceutical brands before lockdowns were even spoken of.

“When the pandemic happened, everybody was trying to figure this out, but they [were] focusing on the processes, […] on the platform, forgetting about the people,” she exclaimed.

And so it was that Campbell put a course together, providing field teams with a step-by-step guide: the results were quite something, with companies able to change field team behaviour within six weeks. pharmaphorum asked Campbell what she thought was behind that shift.

“I think a lot of field teams are really confident selling face-to-face, but to suddenly [say], ‘You're going to sell remotely,’ they feel scared,” Campbell reasoned. “In our course, we were not telling people, ‘You shouldn't feel scared.’ You should feel scared, it is scary. We know what it feels like to be rejected 50 times a day. [Instead,] we said, ‘These are the strategies that are helping us and working for us, so give it a go.’”

“[You need to look] internally to see […] the personas and preferences of the field team,” Campbell urged. “This is what you need to do to really engage the hearts and minds of your field team so they use the digital channels and content that you give them, and, together, get rid of these silo mentalities and barriers between medical, sales, marketing, commercial, and then together work to provide a better, more relevant content for HCPs so, in turn, they can care for the patients.”

A practical handbook for pharma sales behavioural change

By Campbell’s own description, The Omni Advantage is, “written more like a reference handbook.”

“I give [readers] an implementation roadmap, and there are downloadable PDFs they can download and find out where they are now, [and] where they want to be in a year or three- or five-years’ time,” she explained. “[They] then identify the gaps that they've got, based on the knowledge I shared with them in this book, and assign budget and responsibility and track what they're going to do to address this gap. Because what's the point of investing in something and not getting the return on it?”

Wise words, indeed. But why should readers not yet in possession of The Omni Advantage hop on the bandwagon?

Well, during the book launch – held online, with panellists dialling in from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, and Belgium – contributor Paul Simms, CEO of Impatient Health, called The Omni Advantage “an important book”, while James Harper, founder and MD of 28b, whose own speciality is in enabling and empowering field teams through CRM and CLM, noted how “delighted” he was to be asked to contribute – a sentiment which Florent Edouard, SVP and global head of commercial excellence for Grünenthal, also shared.

Meanwhile, Paul Tunnah, founder of pharmaphorum and chief content officer and managing director of Healthware Group, now part of EVERSANA, was also present for the launch and a contributor to the book. He previously commented that it “cuts to the core of why, despite all the recent technological advances and digitalisation driven by the pandemic, pharma has not yet reached omnichannel nirvana – and what the industry can do to get there.”

Koen Janssens, associate director of field force effectiveness at Norgine and a further contributor, referenced the “chemistry” that commercial field forces need to bring to an interaction with the customer, and how Campbell’s book makes it clear that such face-to-face chemistry can be recreated in a remote engagement setting.

In that online discussion, Campbell – who splits her time between Pennsylvania in the US and Scotland, fully living the flexibility that a remote working lifestyle permits – shared what she thinks is the secret to her success.

“I guess if you do something you really love and [are] passionate about, you just keep going,” Campbell said. “It just doesn’t feel like work. Obviously, I didn’t do it on my own. I have an amazing team who share the same values and passion. Together, we achieved this.”

Again, it comes down to the people.

The Omni Advantage is all about people because technology is amazing,” she continued. “Platforms are necessary to achieve that. Until you get people on board, you won’t be able to gain the advantage the technology offers you. That’s what made me want to go and develop this project. I think, although it was my idea, I involved other people along the journey, and together, we achieved something that I think is much more powerful than what I initially intended.”

From broken bones to the success of an outside-the-box idea

It was – by a perhaps not-so-cruel twist of fate– a personal accident in 2016 that led Campbell down the winding route to not only publication, but remote working in the first instance.

“Eight years ago, I was taking part in a charity bike ride from London to Paris,” she told listeners. “I was doing that with a bunch of my colleagues from Takeda. I was 10 miles short of arriving in Paris. It's like over four days, and I fell off my bike. I just somersaulted across my handlebars, landed on my shoulder, and broke my arm and my shoulder in several places. As you can imagine, I couldn't continue doing the ride, which I was pretty annoyed [about]. They put me and my bike in the van and were driving behind the pack towards Paris.

“I was determined I wasn't going to cross the line in a van. I wanted to cross the line on my bike. When we got to Paris, I asked them to let me get out and insisted I […] go on my bike. Because I couldn't use my arm, a couple of ride captains were holding my cycling shirt, flanking me to use my shirt as a brake. I crossed the line, went and had a celebration with my colleagues, had a beer in front of the Eiffel Tower. Then, I went to the hospital.”

It was that ilk of determination, though, that was the catalyst for her entrepreneurial conception.

“I came back to Edinburgh the following day. I was signed [off of] work because, at the time, I was working as a regional account director. My job was field-based; driving was an essential part of my job to be able to get to see customers. After a week, I called my manager and I said, ‘Let me go back to work.’ Although I was signed up for work, I couldn't drive. I said, ‘I can use my head. I can phone people. I can use email’.”

Because Campbell wasn’t driving, she had more time to sit down with her projects and read through documents and really listen to HCP feedback and reflect on things – and this insight and new way of working served both her and her colleagues, as well as the company at large, very well indeed.

“The success was so much that [the] project led to the brand becoming a market leader in the UK,” Campbell said. “It made me realise that was my first journey to remote working […] If you can do that from your sickbed in Edinburgh, you [can] influence business from anywhere in the world. The idea of setting up Cheemia and moving to America came as a result of that accident.”

Not getting distracted by the shiny things, a checklist

In short, then, The Omni Advantage is about how the field teams, how the people in pharma sales and marketing, can embrace the digital technology and optimally perform.

“I wrote the book for the pharma leaders who maybe have invested in technology and platform, but they're finding the field team are not engaging with it,” Campbell explained. “They want better engagement with HCPs. They really want to add value to HCPs. Everything in the book is based on tried and tested practical experiences. It's based on research. At the end of each chapter, there's a checklist so you can check to see where you're on that journey.”

The first five chapters are about how industry got into this situation in the first place. Then, the following five chapters tackle how industry can get out of that situation.

“At the end of the day, we're all going to be patients one day,” Campbell contemplated. “We're all going to be carers. I think we have that power within us to do something so much bigger than us. I think we have an opportunity to create a really positive reputation for our industry by uniting to actually deliver value to HCPs. Because, until we deliver value to HCPs, the patients won't be able to get the optimum care that they want.”

Publishing, like omnichannel, takes a team

Returning to the importance of people and the personas within the field teams when it comes to successful omnichannel implementation, that notion transferred and unfolded within the publication process of Campbell’s book itself. To this end, presenter Zara Janjua spoke with the contributors; firstly, with Paul Simms, who posited that AI – which has been on a buzzword pedestal for quite some time now – will perhaps “hit the brakes for a moment” within 2024.

“I think all technologies really follow a hype cycle and people are forgetful,” he explained. “Maybe it's hard to remember, but I remember very clearly the Internet itself hitting this very same hype cycle. In the early 2000s, it was almost an embarrassment to be working in a digital domain because the Internet itself had hit that trough of disillusionment. It took a few years to get going again and for us to really believe that this is a strong way forward. I think that as AI hits the enterprise buffer zone, it's going to have a bit of a struggle and it's not quite as plain sailing.”

Meanwhile, James Harper commented on industry’s tendency to get distracted by the shiny and the new.

“[It’s about] being humble and recognising that, sometimes, the brilliant basics aren't in place as a foundation for that new technology, whether that be good data, good, clean data that you can use in your Generative AI or [LLMs].”

“Mehrnaz and I are very much on the same page when it comes to the hearts and minds [of], and winning over, the field team and bringing them along on the journey so that content is used. Then maybe we could look at the bright, shiny new technology.”

Presenter Janjua asked what the quick wins are in this respect.

“The mindset, skillset, toolset approach is a really solid approach,” Harper replied. “Our biggest win that we can do is convince the field team through showing them the evidence, proving it to them, pilots, sharing successes; [showing] that, actually, it is a true customer relationship management tool. If used correctly, populated with the right data, using closed-loop marketing content that feeds the insights of the customers into the organisation's omnichannel approach […] Using it that way, it enhances what they're doing. It builds upon the effort they put into the field.”

Building trust, in the field team and for the customer

For Florent Edouard, meanwhile, every person in the pharma industry contributes to the customer experience.

“An HCP, a doctor, [or] a nurse doesn't see us as standalone, different from the others,” he explained. “They see a bunch of people and a bunch of communications coming to them from the pharma industry [and people must be] actively communicating, discussing, engaging, and creating solutions together. We know it can work. It just it has to be seen [that] this is not a rat race. In fact, in pharma, we hire people with brains: let them talk to each other and find solutions for patients.”

“If you take a step back a couple of years, or maybe 10 [or] 15 years back, the commercialisation model was the race for the share of voice,” he continued. “The only way people wanted to commercialise was to have a louder loudspeaker than the others. Sending, at some points, four sales reps to one single customer to detail the same product, just to be louder than the competition? [That] created a bad image, so definitely not trusted.”

“We have always been focused on the marketing message, ‘Take that and then prescribe’,” he went on. “We need to change that paradigm. If we don't change it, the customers, the HCPs and the patients, are going to change it for us. They will turn to someone else to get any kind of information. I really think that's why we are failing at creating that trust.”

The importance of storytelling and its language

Presenter Janjua asked Paul Tunnah his thoughts on what is most important when it comes to successful pharma sales: in short, it was the transformative power of storytelling.

“The things that stick in my mind are stories and experiences,” he said. “When we talk about storytelling, we might think of books or films, or any kind of media that's really good at doing this […] It's a way of really getting us to think about things and capture memories that's very powerful. In our industry, of course, it's very easy to go, ‘Ah, yes, but we're a serious industry.’ It's all about clinical data. It's all about KPIs. This is business. It's not simple storytelling. [Yet,] those same principles apply.

“If we can take the clinical data behind a drug and we can wrap a story around that will help an HCP think, ‘This is the difference I can make. This is how I'm going to feel if I can help a patient.’ Or a sales rep, when we're trying to do digital transformation, get them thinking, ‘How am I going to feel if I succeed and I'm doing my job better and I'm making a real difference?’ That's the power of storytelling.”

However, the language used for that storytelling is of importance, too.

“One of the challenges here is the language we use and even words like ‘omnichannel’,” explained Tunnah. “We've had omnichannel, multichannel, digital transformation: a lot of these words speak to the technology itself. The starting point is to immediately go to that. Now, there is some amazing technology out there […] there're amazing people, amazing consultancies and agencies, but you have to take people on that journey.

“Again, if you think of a parallel of what we're trying to do as an industry when we engage with perhaps healthcare professionals or patients, we are trying to change their behaviour in the right way because we believe a certain product can make a difference and can improve the outcomes. Look at external marketing, for example. We spend so much time trying to understand our customers [that] when you then put that in the context of what we do internally within a company, we probably don't exert the same rigour.”

“Take that same rigour to your internal teams, particularly the sales teams, [and] get them to understand what the benefit is, how it fits into their story,” urged Tunnah. “That's how you put them in the centre of this and make them the heroes.”

“Are we losing the art of storytelling?” asked Tunnah. “I think, to start with [the] question directly, begin with [asking] what the messages [are you’re] trying to get across, whether that's internal or external. The art of storytelling is then how you wrap that up in a way that is relevant to your audience […] You have this lovely two-circle Venn diagram that overlaps with relevance being that bit in the middle.

“Thirty years ago, we had no digital channels. We had mail. We had meetings. We had to think really hard about the story. Now, we've got billions of different channels. I do worry that we are losing some of that. My impassioned plea to everyone in the industry is don't lose the art of storytelling because it's so powerful. It's what connects people.”

From theory and technology to the hearts and minds of people

Lastly, presenter Janjua spoke with Koen Janssens, who had taken his Norgine field teams through Campbell’s Cheemia ReSET training platform – with some pretty amazing results.

“More theoretical models on how to remotely engage with our HCPs […] as some other speakers also said […] didn't catch the hearts and minds of the people,” explained Janssens. “It was just a theoretical model that explained what you have to do technically, what you have to set up, but it didn't really engage them. There was no real story behind the whole idea. When we saw Cheemia ReSET […] I think the reason it really talked to the heart and soul of the people is because it had been developed by people that are doing the field job on a daily basis.”

“We saw after that training […] that people, when it was a remote call, they were much better prepared for their call because they knew this is an opportunity to […] start again the relationship, pick it up again,” he continued. “We also teach them to be very human […] It really is about engaging people and reproducing the face-to-face chemistry.”

“Start by doing some remote engagement calls with your colleagues,” Janssens suggested. “When you go one step further, start doing it with the HCPs you have a good connection with, [who] you have a good relationship with. Have a laugh. Make it a humorous contact […] We just said to people, practice, practice, practice, just as you have to do it in normal sales conversations. Have that distance role play with some of your colleagues and have sincere feedback, honest feedback.”

“When you're communicating to HCPs, the key thing is not omnichannel, it's about engagement,” Campbell added. “The engagement is being engaged with them on their agenda, not ours. It's about delivering something that is relevant to them at the time they need it and then using the channel that they prefer […] When we understand them and connect with them, then they trust us.”

The author concluded:

“I think the book helped me to tell the fullest story of why we're in this situation to the leaders who are trying to achieve the outcomes, but they're struggling to achieve it, because they're putting the emphasis on the wrong thing,” Campbell mused. “I think it's acknowledging that we all got distracted by the shiny stuff – AI technology is really exciting. Without people, [though,] we won't be able to realise the potential that they have.”

The Omni Advantage is now available to purchase from Amazon.

Campbell has kindly permitted pharmaphorum to share one of the chapters from The Omni Advantage. Below is Chapter 6, which kicks off the book’s second half and includes a contribution from Paul Tunnah.



 Buckle up! We’re now going to talk about how we’re going to accelerate change.  

Previously, we have explored ‘why’ the field teams are reluctant to embrace digital tools and tech. In this chapter, I want to focus more on ‘what’ organisations need to do and ‘how’ to engage the hearts and minds of the field teams in a way where they feel that the organisation and their managers understand them.

Henry Ford said, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ This is a simple yet powerful quote, and accordingly, pharma needs to do something different. This means that you (yes, you) need to look at this with a different mindset to that which you have employed thus far. Ask yourself these questions, and if you don’t know the answers, you need to invest time to find them:

  1. Do you understand the pain points and challenges your field team face?
  2. How did you gather these insights?
  3. How did you validate the severity of their pain?
  4. How do you show to the field force that you understand them and their pain?

When I was a student nurse, I lived with a friend of mine, who was a trainee GP at the time. During the winter months, she was seeing many patients who had the flu daily, and was advising them to rest and stay hydrated, reassuring them they would be just fine. She expected them to just get on with it. It was not a big deal, after all.

Do you see the problem here? She was seeing so many patients every day that she was treating them on autopilot.

One day, I came home to find her lying on the sofa, looking pretty unwell. Since I was trained as a nurse, I checked to see how she was feeling and how this was affecting her. It turned out she had the flu: she was suffering from aches and pains and was totally congested. She felt very poorly indeed. In fact, she burst out, ‘Please shoot me!’ I chuckled and told her to stop being dramatic. She said, ‘I did not realise how bad this could be. I will promise to be so much nicer to my patients from now on, and show empathy when they complain about their symptoms.’

Getting the flu helped her to connect with her patients and their suffering because she was now feeling it for herself.

Similarly, when your field teams are overwhelmed, scared, and uncomfortable with technology, telling them to ‘be positive’, ‘get up’, and ‘get on with it’ will create disconnect. To engage with them on a personal level, you need to first either experience their pain, or understand and connect to their pain and how this affects them, and acknowledge that it is not their fault that they feel this way.

Furthermore, the field teams’ behavioural shift needs to start with a shift in mindset and a willingness to try, fail, learn, and try again. Henry Ford (also) said, ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right,’ and that couldn’t be truer for the field team’s use of digital tools for engagement. Mindset matters, and confidence grows through trial-and-error.

I encourage the individuals and teams I manage to come up with new solutions. I tell them, ‘Ask for forgiveness, not for permission,’ because I want to encourage them to make decisions and grow in confidence. They often tell me that when they first hear this from me, they don’t believe it; only after they experience this or see someone else ask for forgiveness do they really believe that I am serious and that I mean it.

To create a learning culture, you need to create a safe environment that allows field teams to test, fail, and learn. To make this culture shift believable, you need to have real stories that support this vision, and you need first-line managers and middle managers to echo this ethos and support it.

If you want to teach your teenager to drive, you cannot expect to send them to an afternoon of driving lessons and them to become a competent driver by the time they get home. Using digital tools, like driving, is a practical skill that takes time for individuals to get their heads around. Some learn the concepts quicker than others, but generally speaking, it takes time to master the skills and become truly competent.

Changing behaviours requires effort and is not easy, but the first big step in the change process is understanding the ‘why’ across the organisation. The ‘why’ needs to be communicated by the leadership through compelling stories and narratives that evoke emotions and inspire everyone to unite behind it. Don’t assume they already know it because you have communicated it once before; communication is not about the message that has been sent, but the message that has been received. The field team will change if there is a perceived direct benefit in doing so for them, so if this hasn’t happened yet, you can guarantee that the team hasn’t got the memo yet.

What motivated our team at Cheemia to use a mix of channels? Well, it started with us accepting the fact that HCPs’ preferences have changed. The HCPs are already using multiple channels, so we just needed to understand the fact that if we increase our ability to reach key influential customers that impact formularies, policy, and guidelines through the use of a mix of channels, the team will hit the sales targets and get maximum sales bonuses. Moreover, we communicate with our client’s marketing and medical teams regularly to articulate the different scenarios our field team encounters. We make suggestions for content creation for each scenario in mind of addressing the HCPs’ pain points and challenges, and then marketing and medical go off and use this information to provide us with approved templates and content. Through this process, the field team feels valued, involved, and motivated to use the content immediately, because they have asked for it specifically, and in return for marketing’s efforts, the field team provides immediate feedback to marketing.

The nature of the communication between the field team and marketing is agile, evolving, and focused on identifying challenges, testing and trying concepts, and figuring out what resonates with and engages HCPs. Marketing is not telling the field force what to do, and there is an adult-to-adult dialogue that involves articulating challenges and scenarios and developing solutions together. Marketing is asking the field team, ‘What else do you need? How can we help you add value or address HCPs’ challenges? What meetings should we invest in? Who are the key target audiences and target accounts that most benefit from this proposition?’ and in turn the field professionals are giving valuable insight.

There is much that can be learned from this collaborative approach.

The ultimate nirvana for pharma is for it to be able to capture the same level of understanding and knowledge about HCPs that Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix have for their consumers. To achieve this, pharma needs to do something differently as an industry: leadership needs to communicate to the field teams the role the field teams must play in this journey if they are to reach deeper customer understanding.

Some pharma companies are taking a giant leap to empower field teams and move towards a customer centric approach by creating a single point of contact for HCPs in the field. Roche and Grünenthal are experimenting with new operating models to provide a single point of field contact to enhance the customer experience, and this hybrid model, in some cases, is a combination of KAM and MSL roles focusing on improving the customer relationship. 

The field teams are most proficient at managing customer relationships, but they need to have the support of the whole organisation behind them if they are to become truly customer centric.

Here is what Paul Tunnah, Founder of pharmaphorum and, latterly, Chief Content Officer and MD at Healthware Group, has to say about empowering the field force to be the heroes in the transformation story.

The question is: why we haven’t achieved this already? After all, we have been talking about the concept of the orchestrator rep for at least a decade, but so few companies have managed to really join the dots in delivering on this.

In digital transformation, the ‘PPT’ framework is often referenced as a way of considering the key elements of change: People, Process, and Technology. It’s been around since the 1960s, and the elements are, in my view, quite deliberately listed in that order, with the most important one (people) coming first.

The reality of life sciences and, indeed, many other industries is that companies try to drive change the other way round. Business leaders get excited by the new technology coming through, and the (often exaggerated—check out the Gartner Hype Cycle9 for more on this) talk is about how it can revolutionise their results. So, they rush headlong into implementation programs that focus on rolling out this shiny new tech around the world. Then, the attention turns to the ‘process’ element as they rapidly craft new ways of working that fit around these new systems. Too often, the ‘people’ element amounts to simply passing on the initial sales pitch about how awesome this new tech is and how it’s going to transform the company in an amazing way.

With this approach, the end users (in this case, the field teams) are often left wondering where all this change came from, why they should disrupt what they are already doing (which they believe is already working well), and, most critically, ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM). If incentives are still aligned with previous ways of working and the associated KPIs, the answer in their mind to the WIIFM question is often ‘not much’.

In order to shift this oft-repeated approach (which is doomed to failure from the outset), we need to apply exactly the same rigour and attention to the internal ‘customers’ of digital transformation, especially the field force, as we do to our engagement with external customers when trying to shift behaviour and prescribe habits around a new brand. We cannot just tell the field force the story of how exciting this change is going to be and expect them to take our word for it; we need to make the field force the central heroes in this story.

Before discussing how to do this, let’s step back to consider the key elements of a good story. If you think about your favourite book or film, it’s probably hard to put your finger on exactly why that’s the case. Indeed, there are many elements to a good story, but some of the main ones are interesting characters, challenges, triumphs, and, perhaps most critically, experiences and emotions you can personally relate to (i.e., relevance).

For the field force to see themselves as the central characters—the heroes—of this story, we need to consider all these elements. From the outset, the key challenges that we are trying to overcome (not just for the business, but for them as individuals) need to be communicated.

The only way to do this is to gather their input at the start of the process, before designing and implementing the processes and technology. This not only has the advantage of securing critical input around where they see the challenges on the ground and what they need to overcome them, but also makes them feel part of the transformation (in this analogy, the story) and helps gain their buy-in, simply by engaging them upfront.

Once done, this also enables a much better articulation of the ‘triumphs’ that can be achieved both at the organisational level and for them as individuals. If we have on-the-ground input regarding what the challenges are, what the solutions might be, what tools they need to deliver success, and how we should be measuring success in this new world, then we’re arming ourselves for a good outcome.

If you put this back into the context of external customer engagement, this is exactly the process we tend to follow. Think about the amount of time that is spent on HCP, payer, and patient research, message testing, advisory boards, insights into channel preferences, and so on. If we’re willing to invest such time and money into the engagement approach for one brand, why not also do the same for an enterprise-level digital transformation that can drive better results for all brands?

Just like any brand campaign, this process doesn’t stop once we’ve gathered input from the field force and launched the transformation. Instead, it needs to be an ongoing program of iterative feedback and adjustment, to ensure continued adaptation and improvement.

As I’ve outlined, input from the field force is a critical and often-overlooked element of success, but to really ‘shift gears’ and drive organisational change, they are not the only characters in the story. Ultimately, the field force is the frontline custodian of the relationship with the customers, so any approach has to work for these customers, too—that is, the HCPs, the payers, and, indeed, the patients.

Similarly, the multitude of ‘central’ roles involved in coordinating customer engagement, whether via the field force or directly, must also be consulted in the process—and this needs to be done across internal silos.

Am I suggesting that a commercial digital transformation aimed at empowering sales reps needs to also consult medical, corporate comms, compliance, and so forth? Absolutely, yes! For our external customers (HCPs, payers, and patients), the internal silos of a pharmaceutical company are meaningless. They simply want the right information at the right time, whether about the brand, a broader disease area, or the company. In the context of making the ‘story’ that we tell them meaningful, impactful, and relevant, they need to see a single, cohesive narrative, irrespective of whether it is told by the field force or home base, and regardless of which function is telling it.

To draw a direct parallel with the world of films, ask any Star Wars fan what they think of the eighth film in the series, The Last Jedi, and you will get very mixed opinions. When George Lucas wrote the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), he had in mind the entire story arc for the first six films. Yet remarkably, when Disney came to develop films seven to nine, they didn’t seem to have this, with different directors taking things in their own direction one film at a time. This is a rare mistake for Hollywood, but not for our world of pharmaceuticals, where the corporate, medical, and commercial stories don’t always knit together so seamlessly.

Engage early, internally, externally, and across silos if you want to implement a system that tells a cohesive story to your own teams and your customers and that will deliver success.

Finally, every good film has an amazing trailer (and every good book has a good blurb on the back cover). The most memorable movie trailers give us glimpses of the story that will unfold, often at the most dramatic moments, accompanied by music that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and sometimes (although this was a lot more prevalent pre-2000) a well-known voice narrating some key points. A good trailer builds the excitement ahead of the launch, and senior leaders need to do the same thing if they want to transform their field professionals: they need to convey early on what is coming, how we expect it to have an impact, and how everyone will be included in delivering its success. Early communication from leadership, including C-level, is needed to ensure the teams are aware of the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’—and the ‘WIIFM’. This is critical.

To come back to the start of this section: remember, it’s People, Process, and Technology, in that order. The processes and technologies need be built around the desires and beliefs of the people they will serve, internally and externally. This is the missing piece of the puzzle. It’s why at the industry level, we’ve not yet seen the promised transformation of field forces.

It’s also more than ‘change management’, which is a term that’s never sat quite right with me, perhaps because it implies forcing through change or dealing with inevitable resistance to it. But if the ‘people’ bit is done well, it’s much more than that; it’s ‘change empowerment’—and it takes a village to make it happen, all helping to tell the same story.

If we continue doing what we have always done, we will not be able to create a personalised customer experience. So, we need to shift gears to achieve our shared vision for the future. This vision needs to be communicated in a way that evokes emotions, engages hearts and minds, and creates a supportive culture that cultivates change and growth across the organisation.

Leadership cannot do this alone. Field teams cannot do this alone. We are in this together.