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pharmaceutical product launch
November 10, 2020

5 Steps for a Winning Virtual Product Launch

pharmaceutical product launch

“‘Can you launch a drug virtually?’ I’ve done it six times since March.”

For self-proclaimed “professional drug launcher” Courtney Ness, this is less of a brag and more of an incentive. Succeeding in the current circumstances means finding new ways to navigate this now-virtual world.

But Ness is a living testament—it is possible.

Ness is the founder of Field Factor Training and was recently featured on the Adapter’s Advantage podcast. In her interview, podcast host Mark Magnacca, Allego President and Co-Founder, discussed the ways training techniques have evolved to accommodate virtual product launch, remote sales pitches, and issues facing pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic. Here are five takeaways from that conversation.

#1 Lay the Framework for Future Success

“Don’t overthink it. Be fearless and just do it. Go on your gut.”

Ness is one of many people brought into the launch process as drug tests and studies gain momentum. Once the drug or medical device is ready to hit the market, it’s too late to start planning your sales approach and marketing materials. That’s why Ness stresses the importance of developing a game plan early.

The idea is not to allow the particulars to bog down the process, but to create the framework you’ll build upon once the product launches.

“The timeline moves very, very quickly,” Ness emphasizes on more than one occasion. Sometimes, your FDA approval can come weeks before you’re anticipating it, so your salesforce needs to be trained, optimized, and ready to mobilize from day one. As she puts it, you don’t always have time to mull over every little decision—whether it’s the design of the pamphlets, or the specific phrasing in the initial messaging.

#2 Train and Iterate Rapidly

“When the press release hits, the doctors start calling the companies, ‘When and how can I get this product?’ And then it trickles all the way down to the patients, and then the patients are calling the physicians. So there’s a lot of pressure to really know the product, the other products in the class, the other competitors.”

Ness’ recommendation to “go with your gut” isn’t applicable in all regards. When it comes to the actual product, information is paramount.

Equipping your sales teams with in-depth, specialized knowledge of the drug’s effects, potential interactions, and therapeutic area can go a long way for their success. To that end, your sales team’s expertise will allow them to:

  • Key into certain conversational trends
  • Prove their competence to gain your clients’ trust
  • Provide answers that speak directly to and resonate with the doctors’ concerns

As a consultant and training specialist, Ness prepares sales teams for more successful conversations by bridging this existing gap in knowledge.

When she first started as a training manager at the biotechnology company Genzyme, she found herself creating a lot of the resources and materials from scratch—they didn’t really exist elsewhere. By building a solid curriculum from a clinical perspective, she was able to prepare her salesforces for these difficult conversations.

To Ness, this curriculum is more of a road map than a bible. She recalls instances where, part way into a launch, they would completely retrain the entire team because of consistent success for reps with a specific background (and not so much for others). The first six months are absolutely critical for any product, Ness explains, and so is the process of sharing, learning, and adapting accordingly.

#3 Optimize and Open Channels of Communication

“You have to have high channels of communication with your team, no matter what geography they’re in because, again, you’re going into a zone that is unknown.”

Ness speaks at length about the importance of communication, especially in the absence of tangible market research. When you don’t have facts and figures to point to for reassurance, you have to rely on the qualitative data and feedback you receive daily—comments from potential clients, questions from customers, and most tellingly, the number of successful sales. As Ness puts it, “What’s working? What’s not working? That ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.”

From there, you can share these best practices with your team every step of the way. Ness goes on to stress the value of “getting everybody on the team sharing and talking, so that we are moving forward as a company with our mission.”

Podcast host Mark Magnacca, Allego President and Co-Founder, notes how accurate her use of the word “mission” is in describing a product launch. He compares a large-scale sales initiative to an actual military operation: every piece of information could hold the answer that changes everything. Sometimes, it’s the smallest shift in strategy—marketing, branding, even simple word choice—that suddenly clicks with the doctors and allows the product to really take off.

If you’re not paying attention to the little things, you could miss the key that unlocks your product’s success.

#4 Seek New Lead Acquisition Strategies

“We’ve got, quite frankly, 65,000 sales representatives just in biotech and pharma, and they’re all trying to get face to face with the doctor right now. So what is your company doing differently that sets you apart? … It’s got to be a proactive response.”

Now that your usual clients—doctors, pharmaceutical reps, CEOs—are suddenly unavailable, how do you get yourself and your product in front of them? As Ness suggests, you have to think and work a little differently than your peers.

She describes two specific tactics in more detail:

  • Consistent follow-ups – It’s much easier to ignore someone’s requests from a distance. Without the luxury of in-person visits and meetings, Ness asks, “What is a follow-up mode of communication or technology that would be your second step to that person?” Take that next step instead of settling for an initial unanswered email or voicemail.
  • Different ways of getting in touch – Just off the top of her head, Ness cites reaching out via text or phone call, getting their email from one of their published papers, or even pinging them on Twitter. Leverage connections within your professional network to make an introduction, if that puts you on their radar. Sometimes you have to get creative. Just make sure you continue to follow all compliance regulations, Ness warns.

#5 Introduce Technology on Your Terms

“You, as the organization, have to bring that technology to your people because you want them to learn your way, right? Your brand. You want them to be focused on you… So how do you make it specific to your organization?”

Ness speaks to how much information is available because of the recent advancements in technology—YouTube series, sales podcasts, influencers—but stresses the importance of introducing these tools in the right way.

As the paradigm shifts towards a technologically reliant environment, companies must adapt their implementation strategies. For many large corporations, the company leaders place the responsibility to succeed on the individuals. Ness rejects this old way of thinking in favor of creating safe spaces to practice.

“I think that we’ve got to be more open when we launch into opportunities,” she explains, “to train our people by saying, ‘You know what… This is a safe zone for you to swim in and play in and talk in. And no one’s trying to get you.’”

Ness and Magnacca discuss the importance of practicing these sales pitches in front of the compliance department to correct any errors and missteps immediately. Without the opportunity to practice their messaging in a safe environment, Ness continues, your salesforce will be “practicing” in crucial conversations with potential clients.

Give them the space to slip up internally, so they’re prepared to succeed externally.

Innovate, Adapt, Execute

“I want to give companies in this space true, high-quality training because you really do have to adapt to the current market.”

As virtual drug launches become the new norm, this ever-changing landscape is going to continue to evolve. In tandem with an increasingly digital workforce, it’s important to stay in the conversation with clients and in front of your competition. Soon, adaptation might not just be an advantage, but a necessity for success and survival.

Learn More

For more insights into virtual sales training, product launches, resources, and more, listen to the entire conversation: Adapter’s Advantage Podcast | Episode 11: Courtney Ness.

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