Have you noticed that your customer-facing employees have a more difficult time “connecting the dots” when executing against larger organized customers? This idiom describes one’s ability to understand the relationship between different ideas, experiences, and trends and is critical to strategic planning and effective field force execution.

Life sciences leaders and learning organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the need to develop an account management mindset for all customer-facing roles. The skills needed to plan and execute differently require revisiting current learning curriculums and coaching methodology. Unfortunately, few organizations approach the need for account management in an integrated manner.

As a result of our work with numerous companies in the biotech/pharmaceutical industries, we have accumulated a library of lessons learned. To create an Account Management Mindset within your organization, please review the top 10 lessons learned below:

  1. Focus on marketplace knowledge first
    Start by ensuring customer-facing employees obtain baseline knowledge on the various healthcare stakeholders and business models impacting prescribing decisions. This includes expanding knowledge in topics such as: Accountable Care Organizations, Integrated Delivery Networks, Pharmacy Benefit Managers, Oncology Care, and other evolving business models.
  2. Analyze the healthcare ecosystem
    Each geographic marketplace is unique. It is critical for customer-facing individuals and account teams to identify and align on who the dominant healthcare stakeholders are (organizations or individuals), as well as the over-riding healthcare policies that impact prescribing decisions. Account teams that follow a process to analyze the current state and can anticipate changes (e.g., stakeholder consolidations, mergers, or new players entering the market) are able to plan and execute more effectively.
  3. Delve deeper with account profiling skill development
    One basic principle of Account Management is that each account is different with unique clinical, business, and organizational drivers. It is important to systematically profile each account to uncover the customer’s drivers.  This process will assist in determining how your company’s portfolio and priorities align. Customer engagement discovery skills are key to uncovering these unique drivers.  More importantly, sharing information across all customer-facing roles ensures deeper understanding and opportunity identification.
  4. Enhance data analysis and business acumen capabilities
    Business acumen is defined as “drawing sound conclusions from information and then taking the appropriate action steps.” Learning professionals need to include data analysis skill development and coaching in a comprehensive account management curriculum.
  5. Build relationships and customer engagement skills
    With larger organized customers and multiple people calling on the same account, customer-facing employees need additional learning and support to improve  relationship skills.  Internally, across account teams, employees should be focused on teamwork and collaboration for shared goals.  Externally, employees need skills in stakeholder mapping and advancing business-to-business relationships to help yield higher levels of trusted partnership.
  6. Clearly define the Account Planning Process
    An organization that provides specific guidance to their employees on how to develop and execute coordinated account plans in a compliant manner will increase accountability for achieving results.
  7. Consider creating an Account Leadership Development Program (ALD)
    A “best-in-class” ALD identifies, develops, prepares, and eventually moves talent into critical account management roles.  The program design should also include foundational knowledge and advanced negotiation, customer engagement, and field collaboration skill development.
  8. Develop account management leadership and coaching skills
    Field managers require skills to coach individuals who call upon more complex accounts with multiple stakeholders. Leadership development programs need to be retooled with a primary focus on building sophisticated account management coaching and business acumen skills.
  9. Utilize a variety of learning methodologies
    Create a learning culture that deploys assets through self-paced, virtual, and leader-led delivery methods. This blended approach will allow for real-time application with existing customer challenges while limiting time away from the field, keeping costs down, and strengthening practical account management skills.
  10. Take time to measure success
    Measuring training and event success should be moved beyond program-level evaluations. Competency-based assessments are useful to determine the extent to which an individual can demonstrate specific account management behaviors. In addition, individualized development plans should be updated on an ongoing basis. Specific quantitative and qualitative measures, along with key performance indicators should be identified to measure behavior change.

The “connect the dots” strategy for creating an effective Account Management mindset begins when leaders and/or learning organizations first recognize the need for this important shift.  It will be important to identify the overall company vision and the specific learning needs for various customer-facing roles by evaluating existing assets and developing an overall account management learning curriculum.  Moving from strategy to effective execution requires a comprehensive approach.  By leveraging these top ten (10) lessons learned, your organization can take positive steps to enhance skills, develop talent, and achieve results.

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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