Cross-functional collaboration between the medical and commercial field teams continues to be a challenging topic. On the one hand collaboration between the two teams who interact with the same healthcare providers is required, but on the other hand field medical is keenly aware that they have to avoid any suggestion of inappropriate commercial activity and are therefore worried about being too closely affiliated with commercial. Cross-functional collaboration therefore can resemble walking a tightrope.
Our recent webinar in partnership with the Medical Science Liaison Society (1) explored this challenging interplay with two experts, Sital Kotecha, Commercial Excellence Director at Swedish Orphan Biovitrium AB (“Sobi”) and Monocl’s VP of Medical Strategy, Robert Groebel.
Cross-functional collaboration is still a challenge
To collect data about the prevailing sentiment we asked all registrants of the webinar the following question “How effective is the collaboration between medical affairs and commercial at your company?”. The answers showed that 63% of MSLs managers find collaboration “not at all” or “somewhat” effective versus 35% who thought it very effective.
Our experts had different takes on those numbers. While Sital was not surprised given the different objectives and messages the two groups receive, Robert argued that the growing industry- focus on diseases with complex biology, such as oncology and rare diseases, require collaboration to drive patient outcomes and demonstrates t how critically important collaboration is. His expectation therefore was, that a higher percentage of companies would have implemented effective cross-functional collaboration.
Our panel observed that the challenges with cross-functional collaboration starts with the very definition. Is collaboration talking to your colleagues, a weekly meeting or really working together to benefit the patient or something in between? The term means different things to different people.
Sital points to three common challenges:
- Alignment between teams: not just in the classical horizontal “sales reps/KAMs vs MSLs” dimension - but also vertical, i.e. geographically between local, regional and global. Alignment across these dimensions is needed to generate a line of sight into key scientific messages that are delivered by local medical teams versus commercial.
- Development of a set of common objectives for the business in a region that are beyond the specific metrics for the commercial and the medical organizations. To succeed with common objectives there cannot be any doubt about who is accountable.
- A deep understanding of the customer that goes beyond knowing which scientific message the company wants to communicate and really understands the needs of the HCPs. The teams then need to pull together to provide the information to the HCP within the regulatory framework and by focusing on the common objective.
In summary, both the medical and commercial teams need to align and develop joint objectives that allow them to communicate a single message in a seamless way that adds value to the customer.
Best practices for cross-functional collaboration
The discussion around best practices focused on two critical points.
First, Robert pointed out the importance of technology that gives both sides visibility into activities, timing and future planning related to a shared HCP relationships. A common set of data enables the entire team to understand the cadence of engagement and facilitates the decision about next steps in the interaction with the HCP.
At the end of the day we are talking about patient outcome. We have multiple channels and levers we can pull to drive effective patient outcomes. Sometimes they are commercial, sometimes they are medical. A good understanding of the customer and having good tools to facilitate collaboration are important best practices.Robert Groebel, VP of Medical Strategy, Monocl
In addition to visibility, Sital mentioned a simple and therefore easily overlooked way of improving collaboration: regular dialogue that ensures that activities are coordinated and learning is passed on. In this audio clip he discusses an example of efficient dialogue in Sobi’s French country team.
Meeting the expert’s need …
Addressing an expert’s need is at the heart of cross-functional collaboration and responsible for both teams’ broad objective: making a difference for patients. Here is Robert Groebel talking about how mission-critical it is to understand the needs of the HCPs and then to figure out how commercial and medical can collaborate to meet them.
Sital recommends asking the customer what they need even before the medical plan is drawn up and then develop the plan as much a possible based on that input.
… in times of virtual engagement
Virtual only engagement, which in many cases results in less access to experts, has made it even more vital to learn as much as possible about them, not just their needs but also the totality of their activities to be able to deliver value during rare and often short interactions.
It was reinforced that technology has an important role to play in facilitating not just engagement with experts but also collaboration with colleagues, both medical and commercial. Technology should never be rate limiting, e.g. team members should not be required to consult various sources such as websites, emails, CRM, Excel sheets or calls to have a productive conversation. While integration of information in one platform is important, there is another critical aspect: field medical needs an easy way to capture and share insights from their conversations with experts. The days of MSLs generating and distributing PowerPoint presentations for each insight they generate should definitely be a thing of the past.
Collaboration between medical and commercial teams remains challenging. MSLs continue to be unsure what level of collaboration with their commercial colleagues is appropriate and where to draw the line. This has led to siloed efforts that make it difficult to address the needs of HCPs in a coordinated, effective and efficient way and to realize value for the company. The discussion with our panel shows that improving cross-functional collaboration can be achieved by fostering dialogue, aligning teams and messages, setting common objectives and providing the technology and tools to collect and share information efficiently.
You can listen to the entire discussion (approx. 40 minutes) below.
To find out how you can use Monocl Professional and Monocl for CRM to avoid technology becoming a bottleneck, please follow this link to schedule some time with one of our team members.