Deploying a Digital-First Field Team for Hybrid Engagement


The healthcare professional (HCP) of today is a
digital citizen with greater control, changing needs,
and evolving expectations. Individual HCPs have
varying preferences, and certain segments are now
turning first to digital channels as key sources of
information. As such, life sciences companies must
be flexible in how they engage with HCPs based on
customer preference and business need.

The explosion in digital engagement brought on
by COVID-19 has shown doctors a convenient
and efficient way to engage with reps remotely.

As a result, nearly 90% of HCPs now want to meet
reps through hybrid or all virtual methods.1

Field forces are now under pressure to deliver
consumer-grade digital experiences to complement
face-to-face interaction. But considering many
reps have spent the bulk of their careers engaging
in person, they face a challenge when it comes to
capitalizing on these new methods of engagement.
Here’s how and when to use a digital-led
engagement model to complement existing
in-person communication.


All stakeholders benefit from the ability to blend in-person and digital engagement,
including HCPs and life science organizations. Many companies report seeing:

Improved customer experience
Providing the option for
both remote and physical
engagement means
companies can meet
customers on their terms.

Expanded access
Reducing the reliance for
physical access creates
greater flexibility in how and
when reps access HCPs.

Greater personalization
Digital engagement means
more data, providing
opportunities to create a
more tailored and impactful

Higher productivity
Field forces can use time
saved travelling to increase
the volume and reach of

When digital-led engagement makes sense

With HCPs’ growing preference for virtual engagement,
some companies are starting to experiment with teams
of reps specializing in digital that sit alongside traditional
or hybrid reps. The focus of these digital teams could be
based on customer need (e.g., HCPs who predominantly
prefer digital interaction) or on business need (e.g., in cases
where efficiency is needed at certain stages of the product

However, ‘digital first’ does not, and should not, be the
mantra for every interaction with customers. Delivering an
exceptional customer experience is only achieved when reps
continue to focus on nurturing HCP relationships—offering
the right content, through the right channel, at the right time
to have the biggest impact. What is ‘right’ must consider both
customer as well as business requirements.

Thus, the answer to the ‘right channel’ is not always going to
be a digital one. Here’s how to figure out when, where, and
how to use digital engagement:

1. Reflect on any existing insights on customer preference:
Before meeting with the customer, assess initial data on
known preferences or segmentation to route customers
first to either a digital rep or a field rep from an adjacent
team for a face-to-face meeting.

2. Balance with business need: Once the lead has been
qualified and scored through the first meeting, use a
pre-defined set of criteria to decide on the optimal
customer routing, considering factors such as customer
preference, customer value, or product lifecycle stage.
Questions to help tailor this framework for your own
specific needs can include:

  • Should lower-value customers be engaged with
    predominantly through digital channels regardless of
    preference, in order to increase the potential of our
  • Do we lean towards digital engagement for mature
    products, moving towards loss of exclusivity, in order
    to drive efficiency?
  • Will we use face-to-face meetings more heavily
    for new launches, new HCP relationships, or highervalue
  • What are the triggers within a digital engagement
    flow that would mean we should move that customer
    into an engagement model with more face-to-face

3. Optimize engagement: As your understanding of
preference grows, you can further narrow down the
customer’s preferred channel (e.g., if engaging remotely,
is there a preference for outbound or inbound calls,
click-to-chat options, or webinars?).


Digital reps are data-driven, technology-enabled salespeople who have mastery of channel optimization and content
personalization. Here are the skills and behaviors required by these individuals:


These reps will leverage technology,
data, and customer insights to drive
evidence-based actions.


Content forms the foundation of
great customer engagement, as it
is the vehicle for your message and
value to be delivered. Digital reps will
leverage a wide arsenal of content
to drive personalized experiences.


The digital rep will be an expert
orchestrator across all channels,
have a strong understanding
of relevant use cases, and an
ability to integrate and automate
their approach.

Structuring a digital engagement team

The dynamics of integrating a team of digital specialists into
the field force are different from operating traditional teams,
and there are some important considerations when designing
the right model. This includes the scope and strategy for
the team, desired skills and capabilities, ways of working with
other field force teams, and performance measurement.

First and foremost, there must be a leadership-backed
strategy for the digital team, as well as clear buy-in and
alignment with the organizational needs, brand strategy,
and the desire to build digital capabilities.

Also make sure to articulate a clear vision and definition of
the team’s role and responsibilities. For example:

  • Will the digitally focused team be deployed to support the entire product portfolio or only mature products?
  • Will this model be used for both commercial and medical field forces?
  • Will it be territory-bound or geography-agnostic?

Once the strategic intent and scope has been decided,
it’s time to make decisions about workflow and integration.
For example:

  • What’s the best way to integrate the digital team with existing teams in terms of lines of reporting and management structure?
  • Will they have sole ownership over a certain set of customers or shared responsibilities?
  • How will hand-offs and interactions with other field teams work?

Another consideration is whether to outsource or build the
skills and capabilities in house. This is not a simple question
to answer, and it will likely end up being a mixture of both to
ensure fresh skills injection as well as continuity.

Finally, with the build of the new team comes the need
to measure performance and optimize the team moving
forward. Think about:

  • How to measure the quality of customer engagement and experience delivered
  • When and how to communicate and share insights with existing teams
  • How to assess the performance across digital and traditional teams for certain customer segments to inform future engagement strategy

The ideal would be moving away from measuring success
purely on digital reach and frequency, and focus instead
on producing actionable insights based on metrics around
customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as HCP content,
channel, and engagement preferences.


Key decisions must be made on
how to create and structure a
digital team, ensuring it meets the
organization’s strategy and goals.

Hybrid engagement for better outcomes

Capitalizing on digital capabilities is becoming pivotal
to driving exceptional customer engagement across all
industries. One way of doing this is through building and
embedding a digitally led field team that sits alongside and
works in harmony with traditional field teams.

These skills can be used to complement physical, in-person
interaction, and to create sustainability and scale for wider
coverage of customer bases. When executed effectively, this
blend of engagement will optimize customer engagement,
drive more efficient use of field teams, and ultimately, provide
better outcomes for patients.

Key takeaways

Individual HCPs have differing needs and
expectations, but increasingly these involve the
desire for consumer-grade digital experiences
to complement face-to-face interaction.

Most of the field force will need to
remain hybrid, but in certain circumstances,
teams of digital-only specialists can be used to
increase impact and efficiency.

Success in digital interactions will provide
a clear point of differentiation, delivering
improvement in customer satisfaction as well
as internal productivity. But this will only be
achieved by building the right people, process,
and technology capabilities.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach,
and regardless of the channel and method
of engagement, a personal touch will
always be required to deliver an exceptional
customer experience.

Nick MacLeod
Business Consultant

Fowey Harvey
Business Consultant

1 “Is COVID-19 altering how pharma engages with HCPs?” Accenture, August 2020.