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KAM for pharma

August 21, 2019
Life sciences

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The fervour around the adoption of Key Account Management (KAM) in the pharma industry has been considerable. It has become such a buzz phrase that it almost seems an industry construct. But it’s not. KAM principles translate across all business sectors. Pharma should reconsider the view that a specific KAM model is necessary to meet its unique challenges and learn from best practice across all sectors.

The last ten years have seen an evolution in the NHS commercial environment; one that most have responded to by redesigning their approach to incorporate KAM principles. It certainly makes sense. However a nod to KAM and a rebranding of pharma reps is not the same as a strategy that delivers true Key Account Management. The right tools and training must be in place if the promise of highly targeted, differential engagement of KAM is to be realised. The danger in not adopting a radically altered approach is that reps get lost in tactical and product-focused numbers games instead of delivering a customer-centred engagement strategy.

Many have not moved beyond the ‘clinical sell’ to tailor their approach to specific customer challenges and the individual pressure points of diverse stakeholders within an account. Most importantly, reps often rely on connections and the strength of existing relationships to try and drive business. Instead, organisations should adopt a structured approach that identifies ‘key accounts’, plans engagement around establishing mutual benefits and responds to the key decision-makers who control the budget and, ultimately, are instrumental in getting a solution accepted.

These classic mistakes in the delivery of KAM are not exclusive to pharma, but have clear ramifications for stakeholder engagement. While there will be a diversity of customers along the commercial pathway of every industry, there are particular challenges for pharma in managing engagement across the triumvirate of prescribers, payers and patients. The trick is to develop robust processes that acknowledge and respond to the nuances of a commercial pathway while equipping account managers with planning tools that help them identify key decision-makers and maximise opportunities.

How to develop KAM capabilities

To successfully adopt true Key Account Management, pharma must move away from tactical selling and enhance internal capabilities to deliver customer-centred strategic account management. Sounds great, but how is this achieved? Looking to proven best practice in other industries can offer answers. Implementing the following six steps will ensure that your account management capabilities will be fit both to navigate the complexities of the current NHS pathways and ensure that organisational capacities are optimised for the future. It’s important to note that not all customers will be Key Accounts. For KAM to work in practice it’s crucial to be really clear about which accounts are key.

Step #1: Establish the skill set required

Step 1 is to determine which account management capabilities are central to driving success. This will help to develop a robust infrastructure for KAM excellence and provide a platform for training design, coaching support, performance management and future recruitment. Through examining best practice in other verticals, the following seven core capabilities for Account Managers have been identified:

  • Effective management of stakeholder relationships
  • Strong market and business instincts
  • Excellent product knowledge and ability to ‘sell the proposition’
  • Ability to devise creative solutions
  • The confidence to communicate effectively and garner influence
  • Ability to identify opportunities for growth
  • Determination to close the deal

Establishing the required capabilities will underpin your KAM programme. This should form the first stage of designing a KAM programme and can be easily adapted to reflect market and industry nuances.

Step #2: Gap analysis of current capability

The next step is to assess the capability levels in your organisation. The framework established in step one will form a basis to allow you to evaluate existing capabilities and identify any skills gaps. Online assessment tools can be utilised effectively to help benchmark against industry best practice. Some organisations go further and employ ‘Best Practice’ databases that collate data from a wide range of sectors to establish standard assessment criteria.

Step #3: Assess your current development needs

Once you know which capabilities are required and have assessed the current levels in your organisation, the next step is to identify KAM capability gaps and development needs. To prioritise these effectively, you must establish your strategic goals and understand how they align with your proposition. Identifying who you will need to engage with externally is central to ensuring success. The considerations of both your key accounts and internal stakeholders will help mould your plans.

Step #4: Develop capabilities to drive success

The next step is crucial: to put a programme in place that addresses any capability gaps identified as priority. This is all-encompassing and requires an understanding of the learning needs and how these can be addressed through a robust programme of training. Key to this is developing a strong understanding of how the Patient Pathway and the Commercial Pathway align to drive mutual, long-term benefit for all parties. Understanding a customer’s challenges will form the bedrock of training to ensure stakeholder engagement is targeted, customer-centric and differential. Ultimately this will form the basis of effective KAM.

Step #5: Secure internal stakeholder buy-in

This thread runs throughout the programme. It is often forgotten, yet identifying, engaging and mobilising internal champions is vital to success. Evidence across industries suggests that without key individuals to help develop, deliver and embed a programme internally, most fail.

Step #6: Establishing the right metrics for success

Establishing clear outcomes that can be measured effectively isn’t easy but will reap rewards. Ensure metrics work for the indicators that matter to your programme. They should measure both the learning achieved by individuals key to driving the success of the programme and the overall impact of the programme. Metrics must recognise the long-term value of KAM, which can at times be at odds with easily measurable short-term gains. Working with a partner experienced in delivering programmes and establishing the right metrics for success can help ensure these are established from the outset.

Strategic KAM for pharma

In a challenging commercial environment such as the NHS, with pressure on resources from both increased demand and investments in advanced treatments, adopting true strategic KAM model is crucial to drive success. When combined with innovations that provide true solutions to customers challenges, KAM can deliver excellent results. A company’s ability to make the transition to a true KAM model that is strategic and customer-centred, rather than product focused is critical. While pharma’s model will undoubtedly be nuanced, the fundamentals of KAM are replicable across all sectors. Success is ultimately dependent on learning from best practice to develop the right capabilities. Developing truly strategic KAM will reap rewards.

David Southern is MD of Spirit Access and Gary Lunt, director, Customer Attuned.

Source: Pharma Times

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