The Role of Life Sciences Global Teams Evolves in a Digital World

06.22.16   |   Strategy & Innovation

Originally Published in MedAdNews – June 2016

There’s much being written about how the digital world has impacted life sciences. However, maximizing that impact globally is something that still needs to be discussed.

Managing for global impact continues to be a challenge for many life sciences companies who are organized for a ‘pre-digital’ environment and there’s a strong need for global marketing and strategy leaders to fix it.

THE CHALLENGE
Many life sciences companies still approach global activity as they did 10 years ago; defining global strategies that set the stage for local planning. They are still coordinating tactics, mainly congresses, PR and advocacy, publications, market research, sales aid materials and the occasional global websites. All the “rest” is left to the local market affiliates, including all sales and promotional activities.

In a world that is limited to face-to-face selling, the decentralized division of labor works fine because affiliates can adapt global materials to their markets. It proves to be inadequate for the more complex, multi-channel environment we currently inhabit. This is something we have observed consistently in our work with numerous global teams.

Decentralized organizations leave much of their “digital” activity to local affiliates which results in sub-optimizing digital’s potential for all markets. There are several reasons this happens.

First, unlike local print or face-to-face selling, digital knows no geographic boundaries. Customers can search for whatever digital materials affiliates create. Companies that leave their global digital ecosystem unattended end up with numerous disconnected digital assets, different branding and, ultimately a poor customer experience.

Secondly, digital activities lend themselves to significant economies of scale. They become more efficient to implement with widespread adoption. This is certainly true for digital infrastructure such as content management, marketing automation and digital analytics. It’s also true for other digital activities such as global digital media planning and buying.

A decentralized approach requires markets to make investments on their own, which really means they don’t make them at all because they choose to prioritize their scarce funds on “turnkey” tactics. They end up engaging in simplistic digital activities that are cheap and easy to implement, but not always very effective. It also may mean defaulting to face-to-face sales force support, because this is safe and proven.

Finally, digital innovation (all innovation, for that matter) accelerates as the perceived risks of innovation decrease and the perceived benefits increase. When affiliates work in isolation, they’re forced to climb that learning curve on their own, without the shared learning of a global enterprise. As a consequence, markets have a perverse incentive not to digitally innovate which results in uneven performance across markets and few best practices.

THE SOLUTION
Interconnectedness, scale economies and shared learning, along with the growing stakes of digital stagnation – explain why senior leadership must expand their remits of their global team to compete in today’s digital environment

Beyond coordinating strategy and isolated international tactics, global teams must take wider responsibility for developing globally coordinated customer experiences, supplying the infrastructure to deliver those experiences and the learning environment to nurture innovation and best practice. While larger markets can tackle these responsibilities independently, smaller markets cannot, and the reality is that all markets, regardless of size, benefit from a globally coordinated approach.

Making the shift to a globally coordinated approach implies three significant changes to the traditional set-up.

First, global teams must take on a wider role in the planning and implementation of customer experience, and the development of customer engagement capabilities. They must explicitly deliver a globally integrated customer experience strategy and digital ecosystem, taking care to avoid disconnected assets.

Secondly, it’s crucial for senior management to think differently about budget allocation. It would be beneficial to allocate greater funds to global teams in order to plan reusable customer experiences and implement enterprise-wide infrastructure. This would lead to development of enhanced programs and tools, and drive shared learning and competence development. Reciprocally, local market funds should be focused on local adaption or implementing market-specific programs.

Finally, senior management must explicitly measure capability, development and maturation. Teams need to have a clear sense of how mature they are now and what the next level of sophistication means.

A PATH FORWARD
Change must begin by recognition of the problem, a clear vision for change and an alignment on a new organizational approach. This requires expanding the remit of existing global or regional business functions and creating new functions that may exist (such as global digital strategy and digital operations).

There is no perfect formula for organizational change but rather a spectrum of options available. All options come with advantages and disadvantages for different sized companies, with different strengths profiles and different stages of maturity. Once a clear organizational vision is in place, global teams can make their impact.

Ultimately, by embracing an expanded role for global teams will life sciences brands will be able to achieve their full potential online. Organizations can achieve consistent digital excellence across markets if they embrace what “global” means in a digital world.

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