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Key Account Excellence – is this the missing piece?

07th April 2020

Sarah Taylor, Rubica’s Commercial Capability Lead talks to Pharmafield on why having a reasoned approach to Key Account Excellence is crucial.

As the health provider landscape undergoes radical change and traditional ways of doing business lose traction, Key Account Excellence is now widely accepted as the way forward for the pharmaceutical industry. However, many companies have found it challenging to implement this way of doing business.

From years of experience of working with pharmaceutical companies, we have developed five practical and proven principles for achieving Key Account Excellence.

The first of these principles is Prioritisation of Accounts – an analytical process that enables teams to identify accounts that are ripe for a much closer, mutually beneficial relationship. It can also pinpoint areas in which you can work with them more productively, where, for example, there’s a match between your products and their patients’ needs. The choice of a key account should always be one that benefits your company, your customer, and their patients. Also, it shouldn’t look to change the way you work with every customer, even if you could.

The missing piece

Despite its importance, our research of pharmaceutical companies has identified a key challenge when it comes to the Prioritisation of Accounts: establishing a clear understanding of why an account has been prioritised i.e. a clear rationale:

  • 36% were not agreed on the key factors that indicate a customer’s readiness for a changed relationship.
  • 33% of the companies surveyed were not confident that their account teams were focused on the right accounts.
  • 15% of individuals felt a clear rationale would improve the way they prioritised their time and effort in key accounts.

The value of a clear rationale

A clear rationale is imperative for three main reasons:

  1. Changing customer relationships involves a serious investment of time, energy and resources. You can’t afford to do it for every account, so you need to be sure of focusing on the accounts that present the greatest opportunities.
  2. Key Account Excellence demands cross-functional team support. Engagement and commitment at every level are essential and a convincingly argued case will help you to persuade everyone to play their part.The breaking down of silos matters. For 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.
  3. A clear rationale will support practical decisions about a key account – identifying needs and opportunities that are currently unmet and setting a direction for future activity.A recent example of this was when one customer facing team, after reviewing their business plan, recognised the need to scale down their ambitions for a key account and settle on a more achievable goal. A solid rationale enabled them to assign the required team roles and responsibilities and set clear action points. With everyone clear about what was required of them, they could move the account in the right direction.

Winning hearts and minds

We are talking about a way of working that focuses on getting closer to the needs and ambitions of key healthcare professionals. But what about your internal stakeholders? They are the people who are going to make it happen and it’s vital that you do everything necessary to gain their enthusiastic support.

Key Account Excellence requires a change in behaviour and change often encounters resistance. 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 mind-set and way of working.

In implementing a major change like Key Account Excellence, it can be tempting to adopt a top-down directive and simply impose the new way of working. The response, however, is likely to be half-hearted at best, and you really need engagement and commitment.

To win everyone’s confidence and support, you have to convince them of the necessity for change and get them involved, exploring, clarifying and passing comment.

Inspire confidence and change behaviour

Be precise. A generalised commercial ambition is not good enough. “We want more doctors to trial our products!” Yes, but why these accounts and why change the way you service them?

Paint a picture of key accounts that’s information-rich and grounded in reality, not assumptions. Explain the outcomes you expect from evolving relationships.

Articulating and sharing your rationale will prepare people to change their ways of working. It will help them to move away from a reliance on traditional success metrics and tactics and focus on different outcomes.

It can also fundamentally shape beliefs and self-belief. And that matters. They need to see the potential for real change and feel they can make a difference, even if they have worked on the same account for years.

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 exploring 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. And signpost it clearly, so that they know where to leave comments.

Your team’s investment of time and energy in the changes will encourage a more positive and engaged way of working. Greater understanding will help them to notice when things are going well and, if they are not, to raise concerns or suggest changes. And remaining flexible is a key element of maintaining Key Account Excellence.

Top takeaways

  1. To achieve Key Account Excellence, you need a clear rationale for prioritising certain accounts.
  2. It will help you to determine exactly where to focus your energies and resources.
  3. It will also help you to gain the support of your whole team in adopting a new approach to customer relationships.
  4. Getting the rationale right is only the first step on your journey towards Key Account Excellence.

To read the full article in Pharmafield magazine, click here.

Related resources on Key Account Excellence