In recent years, the health provider landscape has changed dramatically. In response, the pharmaceutical industry has accepted the need for a new approach to doing business – Key Account Excellence.
Achieving it, however, can be a challenge. It’s a transformative process that requires companies to refocus their energies and resources. To help, Rubica has developed a structured Key Account Excellence programme and framework (Fig.1), drawing on over 20 years’ experience as an organisational change consultancy to some of the sector’s major players.
The framework’s first principle is the Prioritisation of Accounts (Fig.1). Fundamental to that is ensuring that you have a thorough understanding of your key customers and their needs, which we explore in this article.
The challenge: How well do you really know your customers?
Well enough to prioritise your key accounts and develop plans that will maximise opportunities and deliver worthwhile results for you, the customer and their patients?
Achieving that level of awareness demands a comprehensive understanding of the customer and a detailed knowledge of their goals and priorities.
Both are vital if you are going to have an account plan that is aligned to your customer. Fail to do this and your activity can be weighted too much towards your own commercial interests or too much towards the customer’s needs. Either way, the likeliest winners will be the customer or your competitors.
Painting a complete picture
It is imperative that Key Account Managers gain a solid, overall understanding of their accounts in order to determine which deserve the majority of their time, effort and resources. The first step is to carry out an holistic analysis. The understanding this provides allows you to categorise accounts in terms of their long, short and medium-term potential, and prioritise those that really matter. And will give you the confidence to ‘deprioritise’ them, when that’s the right thing to do.
Understanding customer goals
Building on your holistic analysis, understanding customer ambitions is the foundation for creating a pragmatic account plan. Without it, any input is likely to be irrelevant or even counterproductive. If a Key Account Manager is spending the majority of their time with their top five accounts, they need a plan that will accelerate the desired activity.
Too much information
Few sectors are as data-heavy as pharmaceuticals. Sales targets, activity targets, competitors targets – the list can feel endless. To grasp the current account situation and the underlying trends requires the analysis of an immense volume of relevant information.
The unavoidable number crunching, of growth targets or competitor data for example, has to be complemented by broader knowledge. For instance, is the customer meeting their NICE targets? If not, why? How come your competitors are getting preference?
A realistic and holistic view, incorporating priorities, constraints and stakeholder influences, will identify your key accounts. An accurate understanding of their ambitions will help the development of an account plan to drive sales and advocacy.
A confident Key Account Manager will doubtless be able to handle such an analysis in their stride. For others, the task can be overwhelming. Faced with spreadsheet after spreadsheet from business intelligence, they may miss underlying trends such as competitor activity or market movements. Deluged with internal company data, they may focus on easily understood sales information, rather than the factors that will deliver a competitive edge.
It is tempting to turn to a single source, perhaps a doctor they know, and bombard them with questions. The result, apart from probably alienating a friendly contact, is a view that is at best partial and, at worst, misleading.
Getting the balance right
- Understand the hard data (and more). Understanding the facts and figures is a skill and Key Account Managers must be given time to acquire it. Mastering the data, however, is just the start. It can tell you when you are trailing a competitor but not why or what to do about it. That needs a broader approach.
- Not just the usual suspects. Don’t expect the complete answer from a single stakeholder, however well-positioned or trusted. Build other relationships. Look for different perspectives. To take just one example, a ward nurse who collects infusions from the pharmacy could have invaluable insights into capacity issues.
The same applies to evaluating account goals. A hospital’s website may state that it aims to see patients within two weeks. The reality, given internal priorities that limit capacity, is nearer 16 weeks. Always double-check and have multiple conversations.
Use every available source of relevant information, from the internet and desk research to records of clinical commissioning groups, hospital, pharmacy and public meetings.
- Be prepared. Have your questions for key stakeholders ready in advance of your conversations and base them on whatever you need to understand the requirements of the account. And never make assumptions based on previous experience. No two accounts are the same.
Talk to a range of customers who are relevant to your therapeutic area, and make sure that you really engage with them. It pays to check whether they have responsibilities outside their day-to-day role, perhaps on a prescribing committee or a clinical or managerial network. If you discover that a customer is Chair of the Rheumatology Society, for example, acknowledging the fact can add a deeper dimension to your conversation.
- Tell the complete story. To fully understand an account, you need a detailed view of the end-to-end patient pathway. What are the key touchpoints? Where are the blockages to be overcome? Can you see opportunities for helping the customer move forward?
- Be realistic. Don’t imagine that you have the one key for solving the customer’s major challenges. What you can offer is practical support. Providing a drug that reduces patient visits may free up the capacity they need to take a critical step towards their goals.