Everything’s Digital Thanks to COVID-19: Make Sure You Avoid These Mistakes

by Aug 16, 2020Future-fit

Before COVID-19, 45% of people had never shopped online. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. 

Many life science businesses and managers had not fully embraced digital transformation pre-COVID. 

In April a poll began circulating platforms such as LinkedIn asking:

Who led the digital transformation of your company?


This was of course a humorous call-out with COVID-19 ranking the highest on the poll.


Tom Fishbourne commented on this and shared some of his images from over the years. They highlight the resistance to digital transformation and the organisational shifts that are required along with it. 

You can read that article here.

Since I began working in life science digital transformation since 2014, it’s been frustrating watching many organisations resist the shift to leverage digital channels, technology and evolved customer engagement models. 

But thanks to COVID-19, it seems that every manager wants to drive a digital initiative and make things happen immediately.


This is great — but tread with caution.

It’s positive to see so many decision-makers around the table driving key projects, but like any major transformation, you need to understand the landscape first. 

Otherwise, people who have no hands-on digital experience become the expert in the room. They have a poor understanding of what is different about a digital ecosystem vs a traditional business model. 

If you couldn’t make it happen before COVID-19, it’s not going to happen any faster or better just because you want something to happen now. 

If you’re ready to be a digital-first organisation, there needs to be some fundamental shifts and knowledge gaps filled. 


Digital transformation is not a one-off campaign, but a whole organisational shift.

Including urgent digital channels is imperative. They’re crucial responses to solving the crisis of staying connected with customers and working remotely in our new, COVID world.  

But the work doesn’t end there.

These urgent digital channels are not the same as a digital transformation. There is much work to be done at an organisational level to adopt digital channels and tools effectively for the long-term. 

Digital adoption involves a mindset shift in:

  • How and when you engage with customers (a reinvention of your engagement model)
  • How you measure success
  • Creating an integrated ecosystem that is seamless for customers across all parts of your business 

To achieve this, your operating model needs to change. 

Silos need to be removed. Success parameters should be focused on outcomes, not outputs. Reporting metrics and operating rhythms must be adjusted and aligned, focusing on what the customer experience (cx) means across the whole business. 

Obviously, this can’t be achieved overnight. 

In the digital shift of your life science business, a good place to start is by ensuring that leadership redefines the vision for the next 2-3 years. 

Leaning on Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit 2 suggests that, in everything we do, we should begin with the end in mind. Start with a clear destination. That way, you can make sure the steps you’re taking are in the right direction and ensures alignment of focus (and the WHY) for your team/s. 

Leaders should understand that existing go-to-market models will need to be challenged, and people will need to be open to the new mindsets and skills that they will need to adopt for successful digital adoption.

Let’s take a look at a typical life science example: the industry rapidly moved to deploy virtual calling tools to ensure reps could still call on HCPs when face-to-face calls had to be stopped. 

This was a traditional response that was designed to protect the sales lead model. 

However, a digital-first company would consider what outcomes are trying to be achieved. Managers and marketers would ask what works best for the customer (that the company can deliver on), and consider digital-first solutions to see if these could better meet the needs of the customers.

Focusing on customer pain points would probably have resulted in solutions such as HCP being able to self-book online meetings via calendar booking tools. Regular live & recorded Q&A sessions would have emerged with sales and/or MSLs. 


Understanding and meeting the needs of the customer is what should drive solutions. 

Some pharma companies during COVID diverted a lot of time and resources to standing-up virtual calling with very little return. They chose to deploy virtual calling from a zero base when COVID-19 hit with no prior experience using this channel.

It required a massive diversion of people and money to stand this channel up at speed.

For many, as they had no existing relationship with their customers via this channel and often didn’t have high digital consent numbers, the return has been very low.

This happened because the problem statement was the wrong one. These companies were too focused on solving an internal problem using a traditional business model response, rather than a digital-first thinking response. 

The question that was focused on shouldn’t have been;

how do we ensure our salespeople can continue to interact with our HCP’s?


how can we best serve our customers right now?’ 

Focusing on this question would have resulted in multiple solutions to choose from, which ultimately would have built on the HCP relationship at a time of crisis and opportunity.

A digital-first thinking response would have factored in the likely ROI of virtual calling against other options to choose the best option taking into account time, cost, customer value and impact on other parts of the business. 


At the heart of the digital transformation is human-centred design. 

A structured process that ensures we put the customer at the heart of the problem-solution process, not a legacy model, which typically focuses on the internal business needs without considering the needs of the customer.

If a light bulb has gone off and you want to see digital initiatives prioritised and launched successfully within your organisation, here are 3 tips to consider as you start your digital transformation journey:

1. Trust and lean on your digital experts
2. Stay focused on the WHY to align your teams focus and desire to change
3. Don’t be distracted by the technology, it is only an enablement tool
4. Ensure multiple solutions are considered to any problem before initiating projects (led by customer needs)

Digital transformation is complex. But aligning leadership around a long-term digital-first vision is a great place to start, recognising that you and your team are embracing a shift.

If you’re looking for additional guidance on a life science transformation, we can help with that. 

Schedule a call with Tania to discuss your transformation goals.


Divergent is a life sciences transformation partner; We are your people capability partner, committed to accelerating your organisation’s CX & omnichannel transformation goals. 

Divergent is on a mission to transform life science commercial teams into the powerhouses we know they can be. Too much potential in commercial teams goes to waste – but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Through our Tomorrows Bridge Builders team program & Today-Tomorrow leaders program, Divergent harnesses a team’s potential to help them accelerate the evolution of customer engagement strategies & be equipped for sustained change.