Welcome to the time warp - the evolution of commercial leadership roles in LifeSciences

22 Sep 2020

Welcome to the time warp - the evolution of commercial leadership roles in LifeSciences

As the COVID-19 crisis accelerates change in LifeSciences, the leaders that will thrive will need to have very particular characteristics.

The LifeSciences sector is facing its greatest and most important challenge, and opportunity, in modern history. This crisis has accelerated changes that had been long in the pipeline, bringing plans forward at an unprecedented speed.

Commercial leadership, capabilities and processes and systems have had to be re-evaluated almost instantly. Months later, industry leaders continue to be under fierce and unrelenting, once-in-a-lifetime pressure. It is revealing those who can lead well through disruption, and those who are likely to struggle to lead the transformation required.

Less real contact, more virtual interaction

Removal of face-to-face contact with customers and intermediaries is the real industry game-changer. The knock-on effects are numerous and widespread.

LifeSciences companies had to adopt new customer experience strategies almost overnight, and this meant a rapid redirect of their investment as sales opportunities like medical conferences evaporate.

“The challenge is to deliver exceptional virtual engagement, with the right content, via the most effective channels”, mentions Hubert Lindenblatt. For example, direct messages from commercial teams to HCPs by email or other digital means are on the increase, as is the adoption of CRM systems.

McKinsey’s research explains further, “Beyond channels of interaction and the role of technology, different content and value propositions will be needed during and after the recovery. Careful consideration is needed to determine how to best meet the needs of patients, individual HCPs, and HCP practices/ institutions as HCPs and health systems transition to recovery.”

Speeding the digital transformation

Of course, many of today’s changes were already in motion across the sector. Especially the LifeSciences digital transformation. But now, long-term, multi-year digital plans are being executed in months or even weeks.

As Colin Sims, Executive Vice President - Strategy at Kyowa Kirin International, explained in our Observe magazine, the pace of change, especially for Pharma will be the equivalent of a 15-year journey reduced to a matter of months, which will be all the more dramatic for an industry he believes has significantly lagged other sectors when it comes to embracing technology in its working practices.

The new world has also thrown up other challenges too. Now there is the need to focus on customer needs beyond the product, such as broader education around disease areas and facilitating opportunities for scientific exchange and collaboration with peers.

Silvia Eggenweiler quotes the recent Reuters/omnipresence survey. “The winning organisations will create a culture that improves the customer experience and creates a competitive edge in changing the planning process, how they allocate resources, how they execute omnichannel, how they remove silos and move towards a more unified, agile digital approach.”

But in this new virtualised, disrupted environment, what about the leaders? Who will be likely to thrive?

Leadership demands have changed

Leaders directing LifeSciences commercial efforts now have to lead change almost daily, and you have to ask, do those leaders have the capability and mind-set to do so?

They have new agendas, new priorities, and new demands, all against a backdrop of virtual, or at least semi-virtual, working.

For example, leaders will likely be playing the trainer and coach more often, or at least setting a good example adopting new ways of working. As a recent EY report underlined, “One of the challenges of adapting to a digital model is training the salesforce on how to use the technology and still engage with their target physicians.”

More than ever, leaders need to empower others as independent working remains a medium-term reality, whilst remaining sensitive to the individual stresses of lockdown. Senior commercial leaders will certainly need to be technologically savvy too, and be able to translate that technology into the needs and experiences of their customers.

Undoubtedly, the old-fashioned way of promoting “the good sales rep” to leadership position just because they are a good sales rep is very much over.

Think differently about mind-set

Our recent survey of nearly 2000 board members, executives and senior managers from every major market, in association with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, underlined the need to think differently about hiring. Our conclusions are especially relevant as Covid-crisis turns to Covid-recovery.

We found that there is a distinct type of leader that thrives in the face of the kind of disruption we are experiencing.

Key to this, it is the leadership mind-set that separates the confident leader from the less so.

That mind-set is typically adaptable and agile as leaders move from managing crises to resetting strategies and then leading transformation, as the below illustrates.

  • In the crisis: driven, determined, courageous, and decisive at speed
  • Resetting the strategy: visionary, curious, investigative, inclusive problem-solvers
  • Leading organisational transformation: game changers, value creators, entrepreneurs, risk-takers

“Top leaders have all these characteristics, but importantly, will use them at the right time, making the right impact with the right audience,” concludes Veronika Ulbort. “Our LeaderFit assessment method can identify if your next hire or promotion does measure up and be capable of transformational leadership.”

The new landscape has indeed asked huge questions about what kind of commercial leadership is required by the LifeSciences industry right now. If you would like to discuss your talent and leadership issues in the light of Corona, please do not hesitate to get in touch.