When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold early in 2020, we had to rapidly adjust to a new way of engaging with HCPs.

According to global data from Veeva CRM, the use of virtual meetings for rep-to-HCP engagement increased eightfold between January and October 2020. While the figure isn’t that surprising, it still demonstrates the scale of change in the industry over the past year, some of which we’ve perhaps always wanted.

However, with vaccinations now being rolled out across the world, will virtual meetings remain the norm in 2021 (and beyond), or will we see a return to the pre-Covid state of affairs where face-to-face was king?

A blended approach?

Of course, there’s a reason face-to-face meetings had long been the norm prior to Covid. More than anything, they’re a tradition that has stood the test of time, and which hadn’t (until recently) been disrupted by external or digital forces. People are able to read body language and reactions in a face-to-face meeting, more so than in a video or phone call. The willingness to travel for a meeting can also establish a level of trust between parties.

Yet, in a world where a global pandemic has effectively thrust digital adoption on HCPs, entrenched behaviours are being challenged.

As we’re only in the early stages of vaccination roll-out, it’s fair to predict that the majority of meetings will continue to be held virtually for the first half of 2021. Beyond that, a mixed channel approach – embracing video, face-to-face, phone and email – appears a reasonable expectation for the latter part of the year, and into early 2022.

Figures from Veeva seem to support this. Its APAC Veeva Pulse Data showed that face-to-face meetings dropped dramatically in the top five therapeutic areas – respiratory, cancer, infection, diabetes and cardiovascular – between February and April 2020, before increasing back to pre-Covid numbers by July. However, use of Veeva CRM Engage Meeting, Veeva’s video conferencing software, increased significantly over the same period.

Maximising HCP interactions in 2021

With this in mind, pharma brands will need to consider how their interactions with HCPs may evolve throughout the course of 2021. Successful HCP engagement will ultimately hinge on establishing channel preferences and delivering content that is both relevant and compliant.

As alluded to above, tools such as Veeva CRM Engage Meeting have grown in popularity over the past 12 months, giving reps a seamless and compliant means of presenting the same content to HCPs as they would in a face-to-face meeting.

Virtual meetings also save time that would otherwise be spent travelling to a traditional meeting, while increasing the length of the meeting itself. Veeva Pulse data shows that the average duration of sales calls rose from an average of three minutes to 19 minutes in 2020, with virtual meetings extending the amount of time that reps were able to spend with HCPs and build quality relationships.

Pharma reps should nevertheless be driven by HCPs’ preferred channels, rather than their own. If data isn’t available at an individual HCP level, understanding preferences at a geographic, practice or specialty level should be enough to inform a long-term engagement strategy. Comparing the average length of face-to-face and virtual meetings will also offer some useful insights.

With Veeva stats revealing that over 30% of HCPs have joined a meeting from a mobile device since March 2020, due consideration must also be given to screen size. Content that was initially designed for a digital sales aid won’t often translate to a smartphone or tablet, so reps should be ready to adjust their content according to HCPs’ device preferences.

By staying in tune with the needs of HCPs, reps should be well-equipped to navigate a year that could shape the pharmaceutical landscape for years to come.

As a Veeva Certified agency, we have the in-house expertise to help clients get the most out of Veeva CRM Engage Meeting, so please get in touch if you’re looking to explore virtual meetings in 2021.