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Most of us are coming round to the idea that the past will not return, ever. Whatever we have is what is being termed as ‘New Normal’. If this is so, then we should better get used to it and adjusted to it as soon as possible.

In a way it makes sense. We had hope against hope for a year and a half since COVID19 started. We tried lockdown, we tried many other things which came to mind, but nothing has worked as effectively as we wanted it to be. More literature is coming out now which suggests that COVID will stay with us like many other diseases, such a typhoid, malaria, flu and so on. People will keep catching it, some will survive, some may not survive. It is the same with other endemic diseases which live with us. Probably, there is no point in keeping ourselves on the edge all the time.

Let us see what Pharma has done so far, and whether it is adjusting to the new reality or not.

The first effort by Pharma companies in Pakistan was to exploit the exemption clause and continue working as normally as they could. It did happen on the production and support side and mostly continued that way. Business was different. The hospitals and clinics shut down, the street GPs closed shops and visits were banned at places where doctors were still available. The Pharma companies had to ask their sales teams to stay home till further orders.

Marketing and Sales Management were asked to activate themselves and come up with plans to stay in the news. They designed various activities, most of which used digital media. Series of messages were designed to be delivered to customers via WhatsApp mostly. Next were LinkedIn and Facebook platforms. Regular posts were seen from active companies. They are still doing it because a certain focus has been achieved. I am not sure if it could be measured what value of business it has generated other than creating impression on fellow Pharma colleagues and companies.

As soon as the movement began, Pharma companies tried to find ways to get to customers. Several ways were adopted, including but not limited to, fumigation of clinics by sales teams at no cost.

Some pharma companies got windfall business by selling various drugs which were touted as ‘Cure for COVID’ in quick succession. Hydroxychloroquine, Dexamethasone, Ivermectin, Azithromycin, Remdesivir and Tocilizumab. All old stocks were sold, and shortages led to black marketing of these products, some herbs like ‘Sana Makki’ and small devices like Pulse Oximeter. In some cases, prices rose for several times.

There was more normalization. Clinics and hospitals reopened and near normal activities started. Even some large-scale gatherings of medical community were planned and executed. More are planned and let us see if these would be executed or not.

As part of adjustment to new normal, we should start by identifying what has changed actually. Following points may help.

Online has come in

From food to clothes to groceries to accessories, everything is available online. Doctor consultation is available online through video call. Nearly every doctor has included online consultation to her/his clinical business.

How do Pharma companies approach a doctor who is practicing online only? Of course, online. It means that the promotional messages and tools will have to be adapted. The frequency of contact will also be redesigned.

Pharmaceutical selling has always been personal, face-to-face kind. It is therefore targeted to customers and the salesperson has the flexibility to change the message as per individual customer and situation. Online contact deprives of this flexibility. Only the same message may be transmitted to everyone.

The contact time has also reduced online. Because only so much can be done, therefore, selling activity gets lesser priority and time. The selling is squeezed from both sides; message flexibility is gone and contact time is reduced to the extent the customer wishes.

In face-to-face selling, the salespersons judge the mood of customer and tailor their talk accordingly. If the customer is not paying enough attention, the salesperson may try to create attention-getting measures. Online contact is beyond control. Let us say the customer chooses to look at your promotional message at a time when he/she is tired and unreceptive. The message may fail create any impact at all.

The above challenges are tangible and real. However, Pharma companies are still thinking that everything shall go back to previous times, which it will not. If everything could go back to ‘Old Normal’, the world would not talk about the ‘New Normal’. For example, a certain portion of medical practice shall remain online due to its flexibility and freedom for physicians and patients both. Online shopping and home delivery of medicine shall also stay in the New Normal.

To be Continued……

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