S01 E04

Building Virtual Relationships


Lee Ferreira

Canadian General Manager

Ferring Pharmaceuticals

In our fourth episode, Peter Brenders, Founder & President of Kontollo Health, talks with Lee Ferreira, Canadian General Manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, about building and maintaining relationships in the digital age.



Thank you for downloading the fourth episode of the NPC Podcast from the National Pharmaceutical Congress. This program is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process and people of the pharma industry during the age of Covid. Today, July 29th, 2020, we're continuing the healthcare conversation by answering questions sent by listeners like you.


This program is presented in co-operation with Impres. Impres’ best-in-class commercial solutions drive top-line and bottom-line growth with maximum salesforce, flexibility, speed and efficiency. Learn more about their next-generation commercial model at www.impres.com.


On today’s podcast our guest is Lee Ferreira, General Manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Toronto. Your host for today’s podcast is Peter Brenders of Kontollo Health.


But first, here’s Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies.




Thanks Liona. This podcast is about getting you informed responses to the many things that we in the life sciences need to know about our business in it’s post-Covid future.

We had a lot of feedback on our comment line about last week’s conversation with Pamela Fralick of Innovative Medicines Canada. You can leave a message anytime at 647-875-9011. What is it going to take for managers in the Life Sciences to get through this crisis? What kind of new training will be needed and what kind of new infrastructure will be required? Those questions were asked by listener Ron Weingust of Toronto. To find answers, your host Peter Brenders chatted with Lee Ferreira of Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Here’s their discussion:



Welcome to the NPC podcast. My name is Peter benders your host. Joining me today, I'm delighted to have Lee Ferriera, the Canadian General Manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

Welcome, Lee.


Thank you, Peter. Happy to be here.


So, let's talk a little bit about the Pharma industry in this Covid world. How has Covid changed the interaction between doctors in the pharmacy pharma industry do you think?


Well, I think that there has been a degree to which things have changed. Absolutely. As a result of Covid-19 I think that we as an industry have had to accelerate probably many of the things we've already known for some time and that is, you know, how do we change the way in which we engage with our healthcare providers in a meaningful way, in a way that we as an industry are seen as true partners, bringing value to both the healthcare provider but more importantly to the patients that we actually serve and that are served by practitioners.

So I think with Covid, it's required us to reassess what those engagements might look like, not only in the height of the pandemic, but also how we move forward in the future, because I think at the core of all of this, things will change. The way we engage, the way we interact has changed but it will continue to change and continue to evolve. I really do feel that there has been some incredible opportunities that have presented, that have been presented to us and to healthcare overall.

Even in the way that practitioners are dealing with their patients on virtual platforms and becoming more comfortable and familiar in what that would look like and we have had to do the same. So, we've had to adjust, we've had to be agile, adaptable, all of the things that are just required as a function of how we are evolving, but as a result of this ever-changing environment.


Do you see the face to face interaction coming back anytime soon?


I think there will still be value to that face to face interaction. The interactions I think that are more predominant right now are virtual interactions. The kind that we're having right now, whether that's by telephone, whether that's virtually through different platforms, whether it be zoom, whether it be WebEx etc, that are available to all of us. And I think what it is providing for all of us is more time and a higher quality of interaction, where we can really determine what the needs are of our healthcare providers which are changing. So, what is the need? What is required right now?

It also means there are less distractions. if you have the agreement from a healthcare provider to give you time, whether it be on the phone, even via email, I really sincerely believe it is now incumbent on us to ensure that we have very clear objectives that we want to achieve. Meaning: what is it that we want to learn from each other? That'll create that greater sense of partnership in terms of how we create that value, but on what it is we need to be bringing to healthcare as an industry and how that's going to change. So, in terms of feedback, you know, from our own customer facing teams, what I'm hearing is the quality of the interaction is actually much better. That they get additional time with physicians, with nurses, with pharmacists that they might not otherwise have received, while they're waiting to go in and see them. And that before they even have that live conversation, in this way or in other formats, they already have an agreement on what it is they want to achieve or discuss.

So, I think there's actually some opportunity here. Do I think face to face will entirely disappear? No. Like many things, there's going to be a balance, or recalibration, or harmonization on what this will look like as we move forward in the future. So, I don't think that it will be gone. But I do think that there's some really good learnings that we've had as a result of our need to adjust during Covid.


You’re listening to an interview with Lee Ferreira, Canadian General Manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

So, you mentioned an interesting point that the quality of the interaction, the quality of the call is improving, is getting better. As it speaks to, I think your team sounds like they're doing impressive call planning and getting that attention down. But I gotta wonder, is that a call with a rep that already has a relationship with their clinician? What about where you don't have a relationship? How does the medical, the commercial team, how do they build a relationship through a virtual platform?


So, this is a great question. And it's one I've even asked my own team because, rightfully so, when those relationships, they exist, that interaction moving to a different platform is much easier. But I do think we have been successful in addressing the needs of those that perhaps we did not have long standing relationships with, but it's by again ensuring that we're bringing some value to the conversation and it may not be be one on one.

So, the way we've looked at broadening how we engage virtually, is to create consultancies virtually, advisory boards virtually, by virtue of doing that. What's happening is we can create a need, whether it be with respect to education, whether it be us also looking at soliciting what other avenues, components, you know, beyond the medicine alone, or medication alone, that we might be discussing is important to them. And then we can look at who those experts are in the field and those experts can then advise us where we should cast additional, whether it's invitations to engage, beyond perhaps relationships that we already have.

So, it's about really understanding the needs within the health healthcare space that we operate within and then how is it that we utilize experts in that field to bring others into that discussion? And that is something I think that has worked exceptionally well.

Personally, I think that many of the new ways that we are interacting and engaging will continue in the future and I think they do have immense opportunity. If you even think from a logistic standpoint, we have time differences across our country and we can now engage larger numbers of healthcare providers in a virtual space and also ensure that everyone's voice is heard.

It's very interesting to see the dynamic occur during, for example, a virtual advisory board and compare that to having advisors potentially in a room face to face. So, there's going to be this recalibration, perhaps you know, you take one opportunity during the course of the year where you bring everyone face to face and then moving forward at specific time intervals to continue that dialogue and ensure we're meeting needs, you can then do things virtually. And you can at that time also look at other opportunities to bring other individuals into that discussion. So, I think that's working exceptionally, exceptionally well.



So, two questions come to mind. Thinking about how productive or how efficient sort of the new operating model is. And the first one is, it can't be all sweetness and light. What's missing? What's lost in this new approach?



Well, two things: number one, we're far from being experts on how to properly conduct or understand what sort of the best practice or best approach is to virtual interactions. So, if you think about it, you're no longer sitting in a room and picking up on cues, whether they be how someone is sensing the conversation is going. You no longer have those optical cues, so you have to be a much better listener, I say. You really have to actively listen and be very curious and ask questions for clarification, I do actually think that that's the case. So, I think we have to adjust and understand that we're not going to have all the cues that we naturally would have in these face-to face interaction.

Having said that, we still have some opportunities where, again, as I said, we can cast a broader net. What I think will be more difficult, even with what I'm suggesting has been some positive outcomes to all of this is your point of where you don't have those existing relationships, it's going to take more innovative thinking how we make things interesting, valuable, relevant. And so that's going to take more time. I don't think we're experts in how we engage virtually. I can even say that from the experience within the organization itself, just in how we interact on our cross functional teams, we are missing something by not having those face to face interactions.

So picking up on cues. Some people when they're in a larger group virtually, tend to be quieter than others that will engage more readily.

So, all of those things we need to become better at what great looks like. We've sort of fallen into all of this. That's what we had to do. We've pivoted in the best way possible. But I think we have a lot still to learn about technology, about how to best use the technology and also to help each other understand what the benefits of that technology are and what we can gain from it.



So let me pick up on a piece you talked about in turns of technology now the new approaches, expanding your reach. So what are the implications of that? Maybe you can help me understand what does that mean in terms of the capacity you have within your team now, or the efficiency that you might have as a company? What are the implications downstream of that?


It's a great question. So, if we're becoming more effective and more efficient in the way we're engaging, perhaps it means that there's, you know, less downtime waiting in offices, less downtime with the travel, because we can create that interaction in a more contracted way.

The way I see this is, it will change and evolve. Perhaps some of the capabilities and competencies that will need to develop in our people, but it may very well enable us to reallocate those dollars that would be used for those parts of more traditional roles and allow us to reinvest those in other aspects of healthcare, again, that are more directed at our patients and what our patients need and how we allow patients to gain better access to medication. So, what I'm thinking is we can reinvest those dollars Peter, into things that are a lot more meaningful to the care, the health and the well-being of patients.



I’m Peter Brenders and you’re listening to the NPC Podcast.

What a great message. We talked about the external field force and how it’s working with its customers, but you also picked up on a point in terms of how you're working internally as a group and how that's changing, how that's evolved. And maybe you can talk a little bit about that for a minute to help us understand how you're learning from both.


So, and I am very fortunate, whether by my own volition or not, I insert myself in many meetings. Part of the difficulty, I can speak personally, from having gone into Covid, like we all have is I really enjoy the interaction that I have with our teams in a very directive way. So, I enjoy that face to face. I enjoy picking up on energy and discussing challenges and solutions and so now we're in this situation where you don't have that ability to really pick up on those cues and get a sense of that, how people are thinking and feeling. And we now find ourselves in cross functional team meetings, all virtually.

One of the things I observed initially, so first of all, we don't have any real rules of engagement around virtual interaction, and I'm talking specifically within our own organization. So that's number one. So, that's something I think that we have to look at. So, if we are going to have this balance between working remotely and working in an office based environment, at least in the, you know, medium to longer term for some of us, then I do think we have to explicitly state what some of the expectations are.

And for me, so one of the things I noticed initially, is that people would not put themselves on camera. And so, everyone knows that if I'm on the team call, they all have to put their cameras on. Now, it's primarily because it's easy, this is not a criticism, but it's easy to get distracted. If you're not on camera, then how, you know, how engaged are you? It's not that the intention is not there to be engaged, but it's really easy if people aren't at least seeing you, that you could be doing other things.

And then the other piece is I feel we always have to be well prepared, plan, have very clear set objectives. But I think it's even more important when we're on virtual calls. So, ensuring everybody knows what our objective is, what do we want to achieve? We haven't even identified what success looks like virtually. That's the other piece.

So, what does success look like? This is what I'm saying that we need to become better at what this looks like, how it should feel when we exit out of a virtual meeting, because it's very easy, again, you don't have anybody around you afterwards, even as a debrief, unless you make some concerted effort to have that done afterwards. It's typically you hold the meeting, and then you move on to the next meeting or you move on to something else. And you don't have people around you as you would, for example, in an office space. You know? “How'd that go? What did you think?”

So, you actually have to make an effort to do those things, even if it's on the telephone or even if you reconnect virtually. So, there are things I think, personally I would like to learn more about what does excellence look like in a virtual reality? Because that's what we're operating in now.



Thanks for that, for those insights, I'm listening as I can to summarize back there, as you talked about being prepared for calls and what you've learned in your internal meetings. Sounds an awful lot like what you've helped, what you're helping to train everyone to do with their external meetings. And you're getting that new efficiency, which allows you to reinvest back into other new forms of care for the patients and for the provider network.

But at the end, the summary I think, was one thing you said: you need to bring value to the conversation. And so in this conversation, I found it extremely valuable myself. You've been listening to Lee Ferreira, the Canadian General Manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals. I hope you found this event informative.


Thanks to Lee and Peter for that exchange. The takeaway message comes from Lee. She said: to get through this challenge you need to cast a broader net. Well, that’s what we’re doing with this podcast. It’s now available on Sticher, Google Podcasts, Apple iTunes and every place you look for podcasts. Subscribe at pharmacongress.info and never miss an episode.

Wednesday, October 21st is the date of the 14th National Pharmaceutical Congress. This year it will be a series of weekly webinars, featuring compelling speakers and subjects of vital interest. Watch the website for details at pharmacongress.info.

And please keep those questions coming. Email them to health@chronicle.org or call our comment line. Leave your name, a call-back number and the question you’d like to ask. We use the best questions on future NPC podcasts. Call 647-875-9011.

Next week’s guest will be Christine Lennon, the new General Manager at Incyte Biosciences Canada in Montreal. The NPC Podcast was presented in co-operation with Impres: Canada’s next generation commercial partner. Learn more at www.impres.com.

In Toronto, I’m Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies. Your producer is Jeremy Visser. The announcer is Liona Freud. Have a good week and stay safe.