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Key account management strategy in Pharma

09th May 2020
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Informed by Rubica’s 20+ years of award-winning experience in pharma, this article will share some essentials for building and delivering a pharma key account management strategy that delivers optimum results.   

What is key account management in the pharmaceutical industry?

At Rubica excellence in Key Account Management is when sales, access and medical expertise work together to have relationship-creating conversations and activity with customer networks. However, in reality customer conversations invariably focus on price and features – a conversation that any other pharma company can replicate.

A key account management strategy should act as the cornerstone for achieving excellence in Key Account Management. It should guide a team to repeatedly deliver beyond the pill value to customers and their patients(making for longer-term, more sustainable customer relationships), whilst still ensuring the company hits its targets.

What is the role of the key account manager in a pharma company?

Achieving excellence in Key Account Management ultimately demands cross-functional team working. Initially it is the job of the Key Account Manager to work closely with the customer – understanding their need/problem, and then working collaboratively with the cross-functional team to establish and execute the best way of working/solution that meets the customers requirement and ultimately delivers real value.

Developing and executing a pharma key account management strategy

To support a pharma key account management strategy and encourage value adding conversations with customers, here are some fundamentals to address…

1. Prioritise accounts

Working in this ‘value adding’ way with every customer isn’t feasible as it requires substantial effort and resources. It is important to prioritise accounts that are ripe for a much closer, mutually beneficial relationship – a relationship that’ll benefit your company, your customer and their patients.

33% of people surveyed were not confident that their account teams were focused on the right accounts.

For an account team to effectively prioritise, encourage a holistic analysis of each account. This will categorise accounts into their long, short and medium-term potential and therefore prioritise those that really matter.

Watch out! When encouraging the prioritisation of accounts, reinforce that ‘deprioritising’ some accounts is ok and the right thing to do – ensure your behaviours and those of other leaders reinforce this.

2. Establish a clear rationale

Delivering real value to a customer demands cross-functional support – it can’t sit with just one individual.

Example: We recently worked with a customer facing team where an internal medical professional was better placed to develop the relationship. They were able to correct a misunderstanding of the clinical data which was concerning the customer. Someone in a more commercial role could not have had that conversation.

To establish and mobilise this cross-functional way of working, a clear rationale for ‘why this account’ has been prioritised is crucial. This rationale provides a convincingly argued case for ‘why we are focusing effort here’ i.e. the opportunity that exists. This will persuade everyone to play their part in leveraging that opportunity.

Delivering a clear rationale to mobilise a cross-functional team, requires a change in behaviour and mind-set. To encourage this change, demonstrate best practice examples – it will inspire and encourage replication.

Watch out! The litmus test for a good rationale is it should create focus on the needs and opportunities that are currently unmet and set the direction for future account activity.

3. Win hearts and minds

Internal stakeholders are going to be the people that make this way of working happen, so it’s vital everything is done to gain their enthusiastic support.

Historically, those who work directly with customers have been given the marketing strategy, segments and accounts and told where to concentrate their efforts. Now they need to adopt a whole new mindset and way of working.

In implementing this change to a pharma key account management strategy, it can be tempting to adopt a top-down directive approach – imposing this new way of working. The response however is likely to be half-hearted at best – at a time when you need engagement and commitment.

To encourage adoption, articulate the necessity for the change – pinning it to the overarching business strategy and explaining the outcomes everyone will experience by evolving customer relationships in this way. As part of this provide plenty of opportunities for the audience to explore, clarify and pass comment on what is being pursued – maximising involvement.

Watch out! Articulating and sharing your rationale will prepare people to change their ways of working.

4. Inspire confidence 

This new way of working will create a sense of uncertainty in many and perhaps resistance. People need to see the potential for real change, feel they can do it and make a difference, even if they have worked on the same account for years.

To encourage the adoption of this way of working, make it a conversation. Encourage a wider and deeper engagement with the proposed changes. Make it clear that you value honest opinions and listen to what they say. Open dialogue is part of the change process, not just a briefing.

Local workshops are a good platform for people to explore the intended changes. Critical thinking exercises allow people to interrogate the proposals. Include a semi-formal mechanism to gather feedback, positive or negative, from the cross-functional or local team. Also signpost it clearly, so that they know where to leave comments.

Learn more about developing and executing a pharma key account management strategy

Rubica has spent 20+ years working alongside and within pharmaceutical companies, to support their evolution to a new way of working with customers. If you want to revolutionise how your team approaches pharma key account management get in touch, or download our guide ‘The Future of Key Account Management‘.

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The Future of Key Account Management

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