Is Life Sciences CRM Stuck in the Sales Force Era?


The current generation of life sciences customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) platforms were launched years ago. The promise of these new cloud-based platforms was to help life sciences manufacturers adapt to customer engagement models that had just begun to emerge in the industry. The promise rested on 2 main pillars – (1) moving the legacy technologies into the cloud where innovation and deployments could be faster and (2) harmonization of a multitude of systems and processes used across regions and affiliates in different countries would make the landscape more adaptable to whatever new realities came forth.


Although progress has clearly been achieved by these platforms on both these dimensions, the actual adaptation to the increasing complexity of modern customer engagement remains a distant goal. In the era of changing healthcare Sales, MSL, and KAM roles are much more challenging today. Compared to the field force and office visit dominated era, these roles need greater empowerment to be effective. In the era of digital transformation, rich digital content and services are expected by customers; however, these are still slow to come through. Furthermore, operations in critical enabling facets such as generating insights from data are too complex. Ultimately, customer journeys are still disjointed and dissatisfactory.


In addition, leading CRM/SFA platform providers who built for the sales force era are aggressively seeking new investments in proprietary tools and extensions to address each of these needs. This trend is in conflict with the very potential of cloud-based SaaS technologies to minimize upfront investments and switching costs, and to drive a level of economic accountability.


Life sciences CIOs, CMOs, CCOs, and CFOs must ask whether these investments are delivering on the promise of taking customer engagement to the next level. Are cloudification and harmonization enough of a return? Is it a competitive edge?


Over the last decade, customer engagement strategies within life sciences manufacturers have faced a number of big shifts. The healthcare system has seen an increased number of decision makers in treatment, including patients themselves, as well as an accelerating level of institutionalization of provider practices along with declining access to manufacturers for sales activities. At the same time, digital avenues have proliferated with customers having come to expect high-quality content and services digitally although the digital journeys take very different forms in different cultures. The change in the steady business model of blockbuster, primary care products led portfolios has also put pressure on margins even as the evolving customer engagement expectations and landscape require greater investments in innovation.

Evolution of Life Sciences Customer Engagement


Just as the industry has been working to adapt to these changes in their business, their sales force era CRM/SFA partners have been focusing on expanding their scope horizontally by offering proprietary tools and extensions to replace existing CLM, content management, and data technology suppliers. This expansion has meant that the industry has become more and more dependent on fewer and fewer platforms, limiting the pace of innovation to meet the modern needs. As a result, challenges for the users, the operations, and ultimately the customers for whom all these are being done are only growing.​

Only 33%

of a sales rep’s time is spent actively engaged with a customer and add-on-tools.

- EPG Health Media, Pharmaceutical industry: HCP engagement Report 2015

Only 64%

of sales reps face challenges in accessing multichannel technologies.

- 2017 Digital Savvy Healthcare Sales Rep Report, Indegene

Declining value to users:

The introduction of tablets as the primary device for life sciences CRM users has had advantages such as convenient content sharing and call recording capabilities, these platforms have not delivered capabilities that allow field professionals to effectively analyze their performance, create and modify customer plans, provide feedback on target customers, or efficiently execute their increased administrative work. Today, most users must use a second device for performance management, planning, and administrative work.

Furthermore, instead of providing greater empowerment to users in their now more complex roles, modern requirements are being addressed using cumbersome workarounds at best. And while there has been some incorporation of multichannel activities such as triggered email, remote meetings, webinars, and event registration, modern capabilities for relationship building, performance improvement, and knowledge sharing have not been provided. Even simple integration with primary calendars of users, email systems, and other important tools such as office productivity suites remain an unattained goal. Other innovations such as being able to access tools via smartphones with the availability of voice-activated assistant technology have not yet reached these platforms further reducing value for the majority of users. Daily active usage has therefore been declined or plateaued.

Only 22%

of sales reps surveyed say that they make full use of their company’s CRM and add-on tools.

0.5 million

average spend to create a digital sales aidin the US in 2017.

- August 2017 TGAS Advisors, Brand Marketing Database

Increasing complexity and cost for operations:

Life sciences CRM/SFA platform providers typically lack the experience in key operational areas that enable the platform to function efficiently and meet their real purpose of helping engage customers. Case in point are the operations for digital content design, development, production, and global distribution. The current practice of leaving these challenges up to the manufacturer to solve often using services led by a third-party or an agency has shown many limitations. Resulting content follows inconsistent standards, does not achieve optimal reuse of across communication channels let alone geographies, and there is hardly any emphasis on producing content that has a high likelihood of being relevant to the customers based on historical data on their preferences.

Similarly, operations for data management and insight generation suffer from this same syndrome. The costs involved are reaching a level of unsustainability and more importantly the complexity is creating slowdowns that will simply not be able to support data-driven customer journeys in a digital age.


Limited innovation for customers:

Significant innovations that truly impact the healthcare provider customers have been few since the days of digital detail aids and rep-generated-compliant email. This is even more apparent when comparing to other industries which are rapidly adopting new technologies like artificial intelligence, voice interfaces, even augmented reality, and fundamentally transforming customer experiences. Not only that, to address digital engagement needs and opportunities on the patient customer side, which continues to gain significance for all health industries, manufacturers are having to look for completely new infrastructures. While patient-focused programs will need to correctly manage various requirements such as data privacy guidelines, an ideal customer engagement platform for the modern era should allow manufacturers to manage both provider and patient engagement so as to cover the full customer spectrum strategically.

In Conclusion

While today’s life sciences CRMs and SFA platforms have become easier and faster to deploy and have somewhat facilitated harmonization of global systems and processes, it is time for innovations that are rooted in the realities of the post sales force era. At a time when the industry must invest in more effective, more strategic customer engagement initiatives, modern solutions must provide greater value and empowerment to sales, MSL, and KAM roles. Modern solutions must help simplify the enabling content and data operations. They must help unlock value of other investments in the digital enterprise ecosystem and ultimately must improve customer journeys for both provider and patient customers; to do otherwise would be falling short and unstrategic.