To win in the marketplace, Life Sciences companies must effectively achieve results and develop access with large organized customers – whether they are larger integrated hospital systems or regional/national payers. Leading the charge for customer engagement efforts are Account Managers (AMs). The same skills that make someone a successful sales representative, or even a district manager, do not necessarily lead to success as a AM. Instead, AMs need broader industry experience and must possess the skills to navigate a diverse set of stakeholders. Internally, AMs play a critical role influencing other customer-facing roles and must do so without authority. Therefore, life sciences companies cannot afford to let new AMs learn on-the-job – with such big accounts at risk.

The same purposeful development efforts used to create sales leadership should be dedicated to Account Management Development Programs (AMDs). Only a few pharma companies are at the cutting edge and taking the required steps to put in place formal AM development programs. At Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, “We saw this critical need and realized a strong partnership between Market Access Leaders and L&D with our Account Director Development and Residency Program would create the talent pipeline we needed to build a strong bench” stated Robert McBride.

Effective account managers must be able to move from transactional interactions with single healthcare providers to formulating value-added solutions with a variety of stakeholders in large accounts. This requires a unique combination of skills and knowledge. A well-designed, one to two-year program should engage participants through classroom and virtual learning efforts to strengthen account management capabilities and ready them for advanced sales roles. Additionally, on-the-job action learning projects are needed to ensure individuals can apply skills and support sales efforts underway.

Developing an Account Management Development program requires a partnership between L&D professionals and sales leadership. To set up a program, it is important to:

  • Confirm objectives, outcomes, and baseline metrics with the project team and key stakeholders
  • Define program selection criteria
  • Leverage existing competency models and identify specific, observable behaviors related to account management
  • Create a learning journey for developing critical capabilities
  • Link AMD efforts to existing talent planning efforts
  • Utilize defined metrics related to talent development, promotions, and diversity outcomes to evaluate program impact

Once the commitment is made to dedicate resources to a program, one of the most important steps is to outline candidate selection criteria. Using a multi-step approach that includes nomination, performance criteria, potential, and some form of assessment defines the potential candidates. The assessment process can be designed to include exercises that evaluate core behaviors and measure potential.

Beyond assessment, the learning assets developed for this program can be deployed for other audiences. The blended learning solution should include a variety of delivery modes including microlearning, virtual instructor-led, live skill application, and on-the-job activities. For example, to develop knowledge and business acumen for evolving healthcare marketplace learning, assets that provide context and updates should be utilized. However, to ensure learning application, it is important that activities designed for AMD participants be applied to specific accounts as needed. Similar focus needs to be on enhancing an individual’s ability to lead without authority. In this case, programs that develop the micro-skills of effective collaboration, coordination, and communication can translate to better planning and execution.

One of the most overlooked but critical elements of a well-run AMD is utilizing peer mentors to share their expertise. Companies tend not to want to overburden peer mentors who already have full plates. However, these peer mentors benefit by taking the time to break down what they do that leads to positive results and having opportunities to share what works and what doesn’t work. For example, Brian Giglio stated that “our mentors play a key role in several respects. First, they provide participants experiential learning as they include them on their account interactions. Second, they can provide mentoring, advice, and coaching to participants as they prepare and/or interview for Account Director Roles” stated Brian Giglio.

Another major commitment was having peers participate in an account planning process workshop. External facilitators were able to rely on the peer mentors providing meaningful “real-world” examples – whether it’s working with a challenging account or harnessing the resources of the extended cross-functional account team. At one recent program, a mentor shared, “I was lucky to help future account directors by providing real-world scenarios, but really I learned as much from them as I was able to help. It was worth my time and I was glad to give back.” In between live programs, the mentors served as coaches for case studies and sounding boards for on-the-job applications. These mentors are further developing their own coaching skills and are readying themselves for higher-level sales leadership roles. Therefore, all around it’s a win-win-win.

A critical success indicator of the Account Management Development Program is ensuring that successful participants are rotated into positions that more thoroughly test and utilize these new skills. A close partnership between leadership and HR is needed to ensure ready-now talent is assigned larger, more complex accounts. At Sunovion, they see the value of their Account Director Development program with “a variety of metrics including retention, increasing the current skill set, and knowledge of participants in their current roles to improve performance and the cost savings of bringing new individuals into the organization with a loss in productive time required for onboarding and assimilation to Sunovion’s culture.”

The last critical component includes sustainability efforts. For example, efforts to maintain mentoring relationships (post-program) provide participants with additional support as they advance in their careers. Additionally, engaging graduates to mentor future program participants and possibly “teach” some leader-led program content ensures new skills/learning are embedded (see one, do one, teach one methodology).

If your organization is looking to build its key account management capabilities, look to create an Account Management Development Program. Most of the curriculum can be leveraged from existing Managed Markets and Sales programs, however, thoughtful specific skill development that focuses on integrating evolving healthcare marketplace knowledge with an appreciation for their customers’ concerns will set up new AMs to win in the marketplace.

Tanysha McGregor

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