One idiom used to describe how BioPharma customer-facing roles demonstrate their business acumen regarding the evolving US healthcare marketplace is “connecting the dots.” This expression describes one’s ability to understand the relationship between different ideas, experiences, and trends. “Connecting the dots” can also be referenced as creating an account management mindset for all customer-facing roles to uncover how various stakeholders influence treatment decisions and to then share this information with the intent of executing effective strategy(ies) and achieving results.

What is your organization doing to develop business acumen and to create an account management mindset? Unfortunately, few organizations approach the need to develop account management in an integrated manner.

As a result of our work with numerous companies in the BioPharma industry, we have accumulated a library of lessons learned. Listed below are the top 10 best practices to create an Account Management Mindset within your organization:

  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 on 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 align and identify the dominant healthcare stakeholders (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 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. Strong business acumen includes the ability to “draw sound conclusions from available information and then take 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 partnerships.
  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 (ALDP). A “best-in-class” ALDP 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 need the skills to coach individuals who call upon more complex accounts with multiple stakeholders. Leadership development programs should 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 and utilizes assets through self-paced, virtual, and leader-led delivery methods. This blended approach will allow for real-time application to 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 in determining the extent to which an individual can demonstrate specific account management behaviors. In addition, individualized development plans should be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. Specific quantitative and qualitative measures, along with key performance indicators, should be identified and monitored to measure behavior change.
The “connecting the dots” strategy for creating an effective Account Management mindset begins when leaders and/or learning organizations first recognize the need for this shift.  It is 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 execution requires a comprehensive approach.  By leveraging these top ten lessons learned, your organization can begin to take positive steps toward enhancing skills, developing talent, and achieving 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.