Case Study

How Pfizer Germany Increased Sales Force Productivity by 270%

Pfizer's goal is to win the "digital race" in the pharmaceutical industry. This requires not only tools for digitalization but also the right mindset for using them.

As one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer has a central mission: to drive medical progress with new therapies and vaccines in order to prevent diseases, alleviate their effects or even overcome them. Almost 80,000 employees, 2,500 of them in Germany, work on this mission every day in research, production and distribution around the world.

The challenge: Win the digital race in pharma

Pfizer’s goal is to win the “digital race” in the pharmaceutical industry. The upheaval caused by digitalization is massive and affects all stages of the value chain, from research to approval and production to sales. A study published by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs (BMWi) in 2018 attested to a digitization level of just 50% in the pharmaceutical industry.

Pfizer recognized the opportunities for successful digitization in pharmaceutical sales early on and had already invested significant sums in digital tools for its sales force in recent years. These were flanked by various training measures and continuing education programs.

Despite the high level of investment, there was not immediately widespread acceptance of the new, digital sales tools and their usage did not reach the desired level.

A doctor at her desk
Digital interaction with doctors and hospitals was new territory in sales. (Photo: yacobchuk / iStock)

The goal: Digital champion

In 2019, Pfizer Germany’s Cardiovascular Retail division approached TheNextWe to work with us to address the root cause of the problem of under-utilization of the digital tools in sales rep reservations.

“As a pharmaceutical company, we are very interested in the possibilities of digitization, but like all companies, we face challenges when it comes to implementation. That's why we set up the program with TheNextWe.”
Matthias Finkele
Sales Director Cardiovascular Retail & Internal Medicine, Pfizer Germany

The ambitious goal was: “Become a digital champion”. The aim was to increase productivity by increasing the proportion of digital interaction with physicians and hospitals. A collective change from the prevailing reservations to a positive, technology-savvy mindset - so the thinking went - should result in a clear, measurable change. In addition, the desire was to establish an open dialog within the team about difficulties in using the tools.

The solution: A customized program

Together with Pfizer, we quickly developed a program that met this goal: Each participant was accompanied for 12 weeks by a personal coach using the TheNextWe® method. The participants used the TheNextWe app, including the chat function, to be in contact with their coach at all times. During the coaching sessions, they created a personal action plan that contributed to the overarching collective business goal.

A doctor on the phone
All participants had 1:1 conversations with their personal coach. (Photo: alvarez / iStock)

During the coaching discussions, participants were first asked to describe their everyday reality and to identify any reservations they had about digitalization and its potential application within the organization. In the joint dialog, these reservations were resolved and transformed into a positive, functional mindset. As a result, the participants developed their own individual, interactive action plan, which they then implemented in everyday business life with the support of the coaches until the new behavior became second nature.

Measurability was ensured on two levels: A detailed survey was integrated within the app. The questions were answered by each participant before and after the program and then analyzed in aggregate to make the change measurable across all participants. In parallel, Pfizer measured - also in aggregated form - the use of the digital tools across the cohort of participants, in particular the number of digitally conducted customer conversations with physicians and hospitals.

The results: Higher acceptance, higher productivity

After four months, all 12-week coaching sessions were completed and the final evaluation revealed extraordinary results:

digital customer conversations

The number of customer conversations conducted digitally increased by 272% during the measurement period. This corresponds to a productivity increase of 39% per month. The result was compared against the cohort of non-participants, for whom there was no significant increase over the same period.

“We conducted a baseline measurement, solicited feedback during coaching, did a final survey and a final workshop, and we saw significant positive development in the process.”
Matthias Finkele
Sales Director Cardiovascular Retail & Internal Medicine, Pfizer Germany

It is worth mentioning that this success was achieved by the end of 2019, well before the start of the pandemic and the accompanying forced acceleration of digitization.

Acceptance of digital customer conversations

The belief “Digital conversations are the future of customer interaction” increased by 31% during the measurement period.

Mindset is crucial

As postulated in the design of the program, the reasons for the very significant increase lay in the dissolution of reservations and the honest confrontation with the perceived difficulties that participants associated with digital sales.

“We have learned that working with digital instruments is not rocket science. It is crucial not only to learn how to work with new tools, but also to really accept the new way of working. Because we have to realize: A cultural change is always associated with many concerns. The key effects that we achieved with TheNextWe: to look at the digital in a positive way. And not just once, but sustainably.”
Peter Albiez
damaliger Country Manager, Pfizer Germany

The reservations in detail

Reservations about the process

Fears and skepticism about the digital sales process were reduced by an average of 23%. This included beliefs such as:

  • „The personal contact is missing.“ ↘ -50%
  • „Interesting conversations are omitted.“ ↘ -30%
  • „Digital interaction is difficult.“ ↘ -32%
  • „The exchange via video is alienating.“ ↘ -44%
Reservations about the tool

Reservations about technology were reduced by an average of 25%. This related to beliefs such as:

  • „I am not so good at selling via video.“ ↘ -24%
  • „I am uncomfortable with the technology.“ ↘ -38%
  • „I do not trust the technology.“ ↘ -32%
Reservations about the customer

Fears of customer rejection were reduced by an average of 29%. Among these were reservations such as:

  • „I may annoy the doctor.“ ↘ -29%
  • „In case of a cancellation I prefer not to ask again.“ ↘ -29%
  • „The digital conversation does not provide added value.“ ↘ -51%
  • „I get fewer appointments.“ ↘ -33%

Impressions of the participants

The program was positively received by the participants across the board. The quality of the coaching was rated on average with 9.6 out of 10 points. One participant summed up his experience as follows:

“I participated in the 12-week TheNextWe Leadership program and achieved fantastic results. We have tried to use digital sales tools in our sales process at Pfizer before, but the focus was more on technology. Now we've also incorporated emotion… As a result, we as specialists were able to conduct significantly more sales meetings together with our sales colleagues and also significantly reduce travel times and costs. As an experienced leader, I was able to add another important new facet to my personal toolbox.”
Dr. Andreas Färber
Sales Manager Customer Accounts, Pfizer Germany

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