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Transforming Life sciences commercial operations with Agile

3 Nov 2022

The life sciences industry is at the cusp of change - customers increasingly expect always-on and always-personalized communication. The right message at the right time to the customers can drive favorable outcomes. But to meet these shifting customer expectations, organizations must move away from legacy methodologies that slow down the communication turnaround time, bridge their functional siloes, and shorten their response time. Hence the need for agile to transform life sciences commercial operations.

At the Indegene Digital Summit 2022, industry experts from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Amgen, and Bayer Pharmaceuticals shared their insights on how agile is gaining traction in the commercial space and why brand leaders must consider going agile to transform their commercial operations.

The key highlights from the session are summarized below.

“We’re nothing if we’re not Agile” - Chad LaCrosse, VP, Head of US Commercial Brand and Commercial Operations IT at AbbVie

The macro-environment for life sciences brands is changing rapidly. This implies that brands need to generate different kinds of content and use different tools such as Scrum methodologies and Kanban boards. This is where agile can help. Agile can bring changes not just to methodologies or tools but also enable new operating models that allow organizations and brand teams to connect new roles and unlock new capabilities.

Close-knit and small teams with access to data, workflows, and analytics work better when it comes to Agile methodologies. Since agile methods need rapid response times and almost real-time resolution of errors, teams that have established service level agreements at a small scale are able to turn around requirements much better. With Agile, organizations have seen top-line growth attributed to just digital channels and promotions – as data and related downstream activities are rapidly managed. Organizations that have embraced Agile methodologies saw faster data insights (40% faster) and email creation (20 times faster).

But agile does not work for all brands and all markets. Products just after launch work better with Agile methodologies as opposed to complex, traditional brands. Hence, it is recommended to consider the digital responsiveness of brands. Brands that have higher digital engagements and more mature audience interaction with digital channels tend to respond better to agile methodologies. Various other factors also play a critical role in ensuring success while implementing agile for commercial operations transformation. Some of these include:

  • Agile methods need long-term commitment and cannot be tweaked without deliberation
  • Organizational change management and merging agile both top-down and bottom-up within the workforce, including leadership support and marketing ownership
  • Combining global methodologies with local marketing
  • Creating a balanced approach between agencies and brand teams

But what does Agile mean for the life sciences marketer?

“Agile is a new operating model, not just a new methodology” – Brian Cantwell, VP, Digital Strategy and Operations at Bayer Pharmaceuticals

For marketers, Agile can be a little overwhelming – but can be addressed by testing and learning quickly and starting small. Agile in small pods or niche teams work much better for brand marketers rather than operating at scale. It brings out quality and optimization of existing marketing channels – giving them freedom of time and creativity.

The very purpose of bringing Agile approaches into the organization is to improve quality and reduce marketing costs at the same time. Brian Cantwell suggests that it can even bring up to a 50% reduction in overall marketing costs if done right.

Marketers who are used to a project management role find this approach a bit challenging, but adapting to change is vital, and in fact, the differential that brings out better marketing execution. The Agile way allows marketing teams to step back from day-to-day project management and focus on data, insights, and strategies.

Work in shorter brand plans instead of annual cycles and define metrics accordingly – Gunjan Thiagarajah, VP, Marketing Inflammation at Amgen

Marketers need to be more thoughtful about the strategic imperatives of brand communications and what it means for the Agile approach. Involving middle management in marketing is as important as senior leadership – as this creates ownership and customer focus. Marketers who view the approach as a strategic enabler are quicker to drive their communication out to the market better.

With the uptake of Agile across life sciences, marketers must embrace this change as it improves metrics beyond marketing – such as engagement, employee satisfaction, and career development.

What must life sciences brands do to get started?

Any brand team trying to build focus and rapid outputs must test the Agile methodology in their commercial transformation vision. Think about how customers engage with content, bring in a data-latched approach and use this to continually evolve. And most importantly, define short-time frame goals and resolution frameworks that have stakeholder alignments and team agreements. Remember, it is not important to have all the technology enablers like modular content, real-time analytics, and integrated MarTech – what is more important is just getting started with Agile. Once teams improve their focus on commercial and marketing strategic priorities, they can generate relevant and rapid outputs with Agile methods. Immediate gains are made in content operations and costs.

Simplification of content and operations for our marketers is one of the biggest gains for us from agile – Nathan Bowmaker, Head of Global Commercial Operations at AstraZeneca

Being fit-for-purpose and defining the problem are key considerations before jumping onto the Agile bandwagon. But what is more important is how teams define their goals and what the output looks like – and working backward with processes and technologies.

Ultimately, working with a group of Agile experts and trained professionals is vital when embarking on your transformation journey. Understanding the end goal as well as kicking off smaller projects and gaining quick wins is a good starting point for all brand teams testing out Agile.