Pharma companies’ route to a digitized go-to-market model

As COVID-19 accelerates the digitization of healthcare, we suggest five key steps to enable pharmaceutical companies to transform their market engagement


Digital technologies and interactions are transforming healthcare at an accelerating pace. Until recently, most touchpoints between physicians and pharma companies depended on face-to-face interaction, which often required field forces to drive hundreds of time-consuming kilometers for meetings with doctors.

In the past few years, however, new remote digital tools such as video conferences or platforms for medical practitioners have expanded opportunities for virtual interaction with healthcare providers. COVID-19 has increased the pressure on pharma companies, as social distancing and isolation measures mean that traditional face-to-face meetings between doctors and sales representatives or medical science liaisons (MSL) will be restricted for the foreseeable future.

In this “new normal”, PwC Strategy& conducted a survey in June 2020 of 100 doctors in Germany about the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare interactions, their willingness to use virtual communication channels, and their receptiveness to digital solutions for patients. The survey compared respondents’ interactions with patients and pharma companies before and during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, we asked respondents to set out their expectations for the next 12 to 18 months.

Our findings indicate that less face-to-face contact and more virtual interaction will on average allow pharma companies either to reassign or scale down an expected 10-15 percent of their field forces. This extra capacity can be deployed to expand digital infrastructure and operations, the extent of which will depend on a company’s area of specialization. We anticipate that mass-market players might reduce their field forces by up to 30 percent over the coming years. At the same time, companies producing specialty drugs and therapies may reduce their field forces by less than the industry average.

Pharma companies that fail to keep pace with increasingly digitally savvy healthcare providers (HCPs) will forfeit first-mover advantage in an intensely competitive and fast-growing market (See Strategy& report “Driving the future of health”). To strengthen their share of voice, companies need to integrate face-to-face interaction with well-orchestrated digital channel activities. These include optimized “push marketing”, where a product is actively promoted to physicians, increasing their understanding of the drug and the likelihood of prescription; and “pull marketing”, where physicians seek more information on the product from field forces and other channels. By integrating face-to-face and digital interactions, pharma companies will deepen contact with potentially high-value physicians and broaden the overall range of targeted HCPs.

Based on our survey and our work with clients, we believe that the future go-to-market (GTM) model for pharma companies will be shaped by three key characteristics. It will be:

  • More digital: Digital launches and digital channels such as video conferences will be integrated with face-to-face interactions and drive balanced push-and-pull offerings
  • More targeted: Increased digital interactions will allow more frequent and more individualized contact with physicians for more customized offerings
  • More efficient: Digitization will enable operating and resource models to be optimized in line with digital GTM strategies

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Dr. Thomas Solbach

Dr. Thomas Solbach

Partner, Strategy& Germany