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Six steps to key account management strategy in pharma

27th June 2020
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Informed by our 20+ years of award-winning experience in pharma, this article will provide you with 6 proven steps for achieving excellent key account management in pharma.   

What is key account management in pharma and why isn’t it working?  

All pharma companies recognise the importance and power of effective key account management. It is an ideal that has been pursued for decades. But the jury is out on how close pharma companies have got to achieving excellence.

When excellence in key account management is achieved, an organisation is seen as a ‘value adder’ or ‘business partner’ in the eyes of its customers (see Fig.1) and strong, meaningful and more sustainable relationships exist.

Yet our data shows many customers see pharma companies as just a ‘product provider’ or ‘commodity broker’, with the conversation predominantly focusing on price or features – things that often don’t offer useful differentiation, and are easily interchangeable from one pharma company to the next.

What needs to be different to achieve excellent pharma key account management?

In the pursuit of excellent key account management, many pharma companies focus first on programmes that train or upskill their Key Account Managers. The intention being to equip them with what’s needed to have ‘value adding’ conversations and shift the organisation up the customer perception ladder (Fig.1). The reality is these interventions are often insufficient on their own.

The companies that we’ve seen being most successful in moving up the ladder (Fig.1), are those who encompass, consider and mobilise all areas of their organisation (not just those in customer facing roles), taking a holistic view of how the organisation works and thinks. Galbraith’s STAR model (Fig.2) gives a helpful frame to think about these inter-related areas.

When taking this approach to the journey towards excellence in key account management, leaders and their teams should consider their key account management strategy and areas like:

  • Strategy – building a strategy that is informed by real customer insight and perspective, which should then inform the brand plan and account segmentation – ensuring it is truly focused on account needs.
  • Structure – the mobilisation of key account managers alongside the core account team. This includes market access, medical liaison and the salesforce along with ‘back office’ functions like finance and HR to ensure account needs are best met.
  • People – building the habit cross-functional working, where everyone in the core account team understands and works together to meet the need/opportunity of a prioritised account.
  • Processes – processes that enable effective and seamless cross-functional working e.g. responsive, dynamic account planning and account reviews.
  • Performance measures – measures that encourage and reinforce the behaviours you are seeking – avoiding a ‘carrot or stick’ approach.

Six ways to achieve excellence in pharma key account management

  • No. 1: Prioritise accounts – encourage teams to apply a filtering process which enables them to identify key customers who are open to a closer and mutually beneficial relationship. The team should be asking questions like:
    • Can we productively support this customer even better?
    • Do our products and services have a particular match with the patients’ needs?

Ultimately the accounts that are prioritised should always be one where there’s benefit for all three parties – the organisation, customer and patient.

Watch out!
Emphasise to teams that they shouldn’t look to change the way they work with all their customers – this will be impossible to maintain. The idea is to prioritise effort. It may even be that some valuable accounts can be maintained and improved without any radical changes to the relationship or even by reducing effort or engaging in a different way. For more on this read ‘So you seriously want to be Key Account Excellent?’

  • No. 2: Turn information into insight – Once priority accounts have been identified, encourage the team to really drill down into that account – pinpointing and understanding the potential opportunities that will best support the account and your organisation.

Watch out!: As part of this process it’s important to not only understand ‘what is happening?’ but to uncover ‘why is it happening?’. On building this firm understanding the team will find it easier to pinpoint real opportunities within the account and the best way to unlock them.

  • No. 3: Defining the prime opportunity –  Informed by the account team’s insights, encourage them to define the best opportunity to pursue, which aligns to the brand strategy. From here, account goals and the plan can be developed – these will align and mobilise the whole team behind the defined prime opportunity.
  • No. 4: Customer engagement – Informed by the prime opportunity, map out which stakeholders could influence or enable its fulfilment. Then support them to understand what tactics could be employed to encourage those stakeholders’ advocacy and buy-in for the opportunity being pursued.

Watch out!: Ensure account teams are clear on the expected outcomes and the plan that’ll help them get there.

  • No. 5: Deliver value – Informed by the account plan, encourage account teams to review and outline what has been achieved to-date and how.
  • No. 6: Continuously improve – Ensure the key learnings from the ‘deliver value’ step are captured and taken note of. These are hugely valuable as they’ll enable the team to scale up and further improve patient care within that and other accounts. For more on this read our case study on Sanofi UK.

Watch out!: The learnings from ideas 1-5 should be seen as an active learning ground. Encourage account teams to adopt a ‘continuous improvement’ mindset so they actively evolve what and how they work with key customers. The quality of critical thinking involved in ‘planning’ is the point, NOT just the ‘plan’ as a deliverable. This will sustain the points of differentiation that have been established to-date.

Learn more about excellent pharma key account management

Rubica has spent 20+ years working alongside and within pharmaceuticals companies, to support their evolution to a new way of working with customers. If you want to revolutionise how your team approaches key account management in pharma 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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