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Spearheading: Creating a step change in Key Account performance

27th November 2023

To accelerate progress or achieve a step change in Key Accounts, organisations typically invest in developing capabilities.  Training, structural changes and revised role descriptions are all leant upon in an attempt reinvent how we work with Key Accounts and in turn maximise impact and drive commercial results.

But a few months on, how much has shifted?  Can you see, hear and feel things being different?

In our experience, the answer is often “no”.  Despite best efforts, people still seem stuck in the same old patterns, and little appears to have shifted.

As a leader this can be increasingly frustrating – raising questions around why people aren’t ‘getting it’ when they’ve been given all the information they need.

The reality is that typical interventions won’t cut it if the organisation is still operating in traditional ways.  It’s like layering wallpaper over old mould.  It doesn’t settle and ultimately starts to flake.

Spearheading – a proven way to accelerate a change in Key Accounts

For the desired capabilities to actually ‘live’, an organisational approach should ideally be adopted i.e. we can’t just change ways of working in one part of the organisation and expect it to succeed. It needs to be seen as an organisational change – shifting everything from ways of working to measures of success to reinforce the capabilities that are sought.

But, (sticking with the wallpaper analogy), stripping everything back to the bare wall and starting afresh is rarely an option – particularly when there is pressure from the top to deliver against targets and provide demonstrable results quickly.  Change typically must be introduced incrementally, and it is a ‘slow’ process.

So how can we cut through the problem with a ‘fast’ process?  How can we simultaneously gain the buy-in of the wider organisational team to new ways of working, whilst delivering tangible, significant short-term impacts to the account and the brand?  The answer is spearheading.

Spearheading enables a cross-functional team to accelerate an account opportunity at pace, boosting performance and short-term impact in strategic or high potential accounts and at the same time growing cross-organisational conviction about this collaborative way of working.

Putting spearheading into action

  1. Identify the opportunity or challenge you want to accelerate.  It could be an initiative to partner with an HCS on a strategic opportunity, or it could be a more immediate account or brand-related need, e.g. adjusting a pathway to unblock a bottleneck in a high-potential account.
  2. The account team, in consultation with the HCS, defines the problem statement and a hypothesis.  What is happening? Why is this a problem? How is it manifesting locally? How is it affecting patients, the health service, access to medicine? How could an intervention help?
  3. Gather data as evidence of the problem, gain early buy-in from internal and external stakeholders to the hypothesis and seek conviction that this is worth pursuing.
  4. Bring together a cross-functional account team to define the initiative, including its goals; desired impacts and hard-and-soft indicators that you are on track to achieve them; critical success factors for achieving the impacts; and the organisational capabilities needed. Also have a clear definition of the ‘what happens next?’ plan, with milestones, key deliverables and (crucially) clear roles and responsibilities for pulling through the opportunity.
  5. Kick off the project, but ensure it is consistently monitored so it pulls through the benefits. Coach and mentor the account team to monitor the indicators and highlight ‘red flags’ if it looks like the impacts are not going to be realised. That way course correcting action can be put in place to protect the investment.

So, what does spearheading give you?  Short-term commercial results… Hard evidence of the short-term account and brand impact that can be obtained by a cross-organisational approach… The opportunity to blueprint new ways of ‘fast’ working that can be a gate-opener for long-term, strategic partnering opportunities with HCPs.

Case studies that show spearheading in action

Serving a population health need

Global pharmaceutical company

Delivering excellence to customers

A case study on how we helped Sanofi shift mind-sets and ways of working to a more customer-centric approach.


Adopting a customer-centric way of working

A case study on how we helped Novartis encourage teams in high-potential markets to adopt a more customer-centric way of working.

All case studies