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Distracted boyfriend: the secret of a successful long-distance relationship

By Harriet Cornelius

We’re all familiar with the famous ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme, and its many incarnations.

It certainly lends itself well to the subject of remote meetings and how easy it is to be sidetracked from them. In this version, the audience is the ‘boyfriend’ having his head turned by something other than the meeting in question, ie, the ‘girlfriend’, walking beside him.

In the meme, the perpetrator is caught succumbing to the distraction – something that is unlikely to happen in the relative privacy of a virtual meeting.

To multitask during face-to-face meetings and events, you’d have to risk being caught using your phone under the table. In a virtual setting, it’s simply a case of fixing your expression and opening another browser window.

No-one will ever know. And yes. We’ve all done it. The noise of plentiful distractions will only increase if meeting attendees feel they have less to contribute. So, what do we do to keep our ‘boyfriends’ heads from turning?

Leading by example

We have all been taught that ‘content is king’, that all you need for good comms is creative, engaging and relevant assets. Now, the quality of the content still needs to be high, but it’s not enough by itself. To optimise online meetings and events, you need:

  • The right choice of channel
  • The right use of that channel
  • An engagement method that is specific to that channel.

Take a customer call, for example. The rep is ‘the girlfriend’, the HCP is ‘the boyfriend’ and competitor content, emails, social media and WhatsApp are ‘distractions’.

Compared to the 5-10-minute in-person chats of the past, rep meetings can stretch online meetings to 30 minutes or more. To have more dedicated time may sound like a salesperson’s dream, but reps have reported these meetings to be ineffective – despite great content. HCPs are less engaged, difficult to ‘read’ and the reps can’t be as adaptive as they would be face-to-face.

There have been attempts to get that in- person level of engagement back, including using surveys. But they only get you so far.

Making the right call on the right channel

Channels that are suitable to the needs of the pharma industry are limited. That means we must make the most of what we have – starting with what we know works well.

For example: if, after a meeting, a rep triggers a well-structured, relevant email with the right tone of voice – it could achieve a 35-60% open rate, and 6x the industry average click-throughs.

A conversation is worth a hundred easily forgotten facts. Encouraging a two-way dialogue is also the role of the channel – using high- value questions and surveys, and valuable insights to hold focus. Another option is a chatbot encouraging the HCP to input and answer, so the rep can dynamically tailor the content according to the insights they provide.

These channels can also help us look forward, with in-call tools to analyse engagement and accurately segment HCPs – making each corresponding call even more relevant than the last.

Always keep them wanting more

Do you often find yourself on a call where you’re on your own, talking remotely to a person (or persons) – sometimes unknown – who has unlimited ‘other activities’ available to them? This is almost a description of a radio show. Yet, despite the ample distractions available to their audiences, many radio shows remain relevant and well-loved.

That means there are ‘tricks’ we can learn from them:

  • Direct address: talk to the audience as if you are addressing a specific person. This changes the way you speak, making your tone more personal
  • Use a ‘hook’: You will never get the answer to a radio brainteaser before the next song has played – and there’s a reason for that. Before introducing an activity, such as a survey, use a ‘hook’. This could be a promise of specific data, the answer to a direct query, or hinting they will be asked their opinion later. In-call hooks could become as integral to the sales call as a good opening line – something that encourages them to listen and remain engaged.

The secret to a successful relationship

It isn’t easy to keep our respective partners focused, and it isn’t easy to keep people engaged in the virtual world – especially when we know how easy it is to be distracted ourselves. While jumping on the next new and shiny platform may seem like the best way forward, we should not need constant new channels to hold our interest.

By nurturing the channels we already have and learning from other mediums that do remote comms well, we can ensure that attention remains on us. The secret to a successful relationship? Keep working with what you already have.

Harriet Cornelius is Associate Account Director at Purple Agency

In association with

1st August 2021

From: Marketing

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