Field leaders who are responsible for directing sales, reimbursement, and medical teams face a greater need to “expand their toolkit” in order to provide useful coaching to team members on their account management skills. Today, customer-facing roles need more knowledge about evolving business models, the managed care environment, and the ever present pressures to increase patient outcomes, improve quality, and reduce costs.

To expand their toolkit, it is helpful for leaders to break down and develop the knowledge and skills required for coaching effective account management in the following five (5) areas:

  1. Healthcare Marketplace Knowledge: It is important to provide direct reports with specific knowledge related to the managed care and policy landscape. The objective is to ensure they have the competence and confidence to interact with customers about their clinical, business, and financial challenges.
  2. Customer Business Models: Field leaders need to understand the structures of and trends impacting healthcare business entities, such as Integrated Delivery Networks (IDNs), Accountable Care Organizations, Group Purchasing Organizations, and Pharmacy Benefit Managers to name a few. Field leaders also require the ability to coach others on how these business models influence where and how patient care decisions are made.
  3. Business / Account Planning: Field leaders must be able to coach their teams to identify priorities based on a thorough marketplace analysis. Organizations should support proactive account planning and on-going business reviews. This includes ensuring managers can coach their direct reports on strategic thinking, business acumen, assessment of trade-offs when making decisions, and effective account plan development and maintenance.
  4. Customer Engagement Skills: Depending on their role and customer base, the ability to observe a direct report’s interaction with customers may be limited. When this occurs, a field leader’s coaching role may shift to serve as an advisor for problem solving and facilitating the advancement of stakeholder relationships.
  5. Account Team Collaboration and Coordination: In the life sciences industry, there is a greater need for collaboration, coordination and communication across customer-facing roles to achieve specific account objectives and maximize pull-through wins. Managers must be able to coach their direct reports to overcome personal differences and influence others where there is no direct authority.

The following suggested best practices to “expand your toolkit” may help you become a more effective coach:

  1. Stay current on marketplace knowledge. Regularly dedicate time for personal learning related to marketplace knowledge. Incorporate specific objectives to close knowledge gaps in your own development plans. Modeling behavior by continuously building expertise and knowledge of the evolving healthcare marketplace will motivate others to do the same.
  2. Plan to coach. It is important to step back and plan your coaching efforts. Review important performance data or other information sources prior to a field visit. Map out what you will do prior, during, and following field visits to provide the needed feedback to support your direct report. In addition, leverage a consistent coaching model to assess the current situation, analyze options, set goals, and mutually decide on an action plan going forward.
  3. Enhance your coaching engagement skills. The skills needed for effective customer engagement are often the same as being an effective coach. Consider your ability to listen, question, and provide clear feedback. Make a strong effort to frequently obtain formal and informal feedback on your own listening, questioning, and communications skills. Work to close any gaps that may inhibit your coaching effectiveness.
  4. Make coaching a priority. Leverage formal and informal interactions to build upon your direct reports’ strengths and support his or her account management skill development. Your direct reports will come to expect and value your insights and support.

As the healthcare marketplace continues to evolve, coaching and development practices must also change. Organizations that recognize this need and incorporate account management coaching skills will not only meet their current business challenges, they will certainly succeed at supporting broader talent development efforts, including improved retention and employee engagement.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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