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Pharma sales reps trying to wedge a foot in the door with doctors face a stark new reality. With more digital interactions than ever before—and no post-pandemic turnaround in sight—physicians can unsubscribe and opt out of pharma outreach with a simple click.

The new normal leaves sales reps asking how they can build relationships with physicians. Start by delivering high quality, peer-reviewed scientific content, say Pfizer and partners Tangent 90 and the New England Journal of Medicine group.

“The industry as a whole is moving toward a higher degree of scientific interaction. That’s where we’ve seen a shift over the past 14 to 15 months,” said Darren Feenan, Pfizer’s global experience lead for customer-facing digital. “The science is the bedrock for those conversations, and scientific peer-reviewed content is critical to that.”

RELATED: Satisfaction not guaranteed: Doctors disappointed in pharma’s digital pandemic efforts, survey says

It’s not just digital that’s causing the shift, either. Busier doctors are part of it, too. Whether because of the extra burden of COVID-19 protocols or pent-up appointment demand, physicians don’t have time to engage with less-than-premium content.

Pfizer works with Tangent 90’s compliant content-sharing and tracking system to engage physicians—and keep them coming back. In fact, there’s a magic number for relationship-building.

“Without the right content, engagement in digital is extremely difficult,” Tangent CEO Jan van den Burg said. “Not just for the first contact, but importantly for the follow-on dialogue. We’ve seen that somewhere between the second and third remote engagement, it becomes a given and will then progress over time.”

Pfizer initially tapped Tangent 90 to help decipher why it was having difficulty getting doctors in Europe to opt in to digital communication. During tests to find out, Tangent discovered that scientific journal articles drove some of the best engagement rates and, even better, opened the door to future contact.

RELATED: Pharma’s digital promos to doctors keep surging as spending priorities shift

Click-through rates and website visits have increased exponentially with the content change, Pfizer’s Feenan said. One recent high-value educational webinar, for instance, resulted in one-third of its attendees agreeing to future contact.

Driving the willingness to opt in, which Feenan called “a really personal thing to do,” is the “value the customer sees in the utility and the content being shared.”

Rob Stuart, managing director, sales and marketing at NEJM Group, agreed. Quality peer-reviewed content has always been important but became even more critical during the pandemic.

NEJM typically gets 5,000 submissions every year, but publishes fewer than 5%. During the pandemic, however, the group published more than 500 additional pieces of content around COVID-19, essentially publishing two journals of content every week.

Physicians “really don’t have time to wade through everything in their inbox, so finding that high quality peer-reviewed evidence is what they really need,” Stuart said.

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