The buying pattern for pharmaceuticals continues to rapidly transform. Increasingly, physicians are affiliated or employed by group practices, hospitals and IDNs. Patient treatment protocols, including which drugs to prescribe, are shifting from being driven exclusively by individual physicians to include broader influence points. The point of persuasion is no longer solely the physician. Yet this is where many pharmaceutical companies still focus the vast majority of their sales and marketing investments. It’s time to boost the focus on account management.
Launching an effective account management team enhances a pharmaceutical company’s ability to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with their largest, most influential customers who can drive volume and market share. Furthermore, an account management team helps legacy field sales reps understand dynamic physician affiliations and how to effectively navigate them. If account management teams are so essential, why are they under-deployed? There are three main reasons for this:
Dated and Unclear Sales Strategies
Since it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, i.e.,“Obamacare”, has introduced uncertainty in the health care environment. This has decreased the ability of pharmaceutical executives to develop a comprehensive sales strategy for coverage of large, evolving accounts. Without a strategy, and quantification of the return for this investment, deployment of Account Managers has been constrained.
The Sales Organization Lacks Required Competencies
In the demand-response era of the 80s, 90s and into the 00s, the sales process for pharmaceutical representatives was highly prescribed. Sales Representatives were directed to the physicians they needed to call on and with what frequency. They were also told what to say, adhering to scripted product-oriented messages. In contrast, effective Account Managers must navigate a complex network of affiliated physicians and understand the needs of stakeholders across multiple influence points. Legacy pharmaceutical sales representatives, and even many sales managers, do not possess and have not developed the capabilities required for successful entry into account management roles. Thus, pharmaceutical companies are finding themselves without much needed bench strength.
Weak Value Proposition for Top Talent
The lack of clear sales strategy, goals and objectives for addressing the new influencer and buyer points has caused many pharmaceutical companies to rely on qualitative measures for their Account Manager sales incentive plans. As good sales compensation design principles dictate, when there is reliance on qualitative measures the upside opportunity is limited. This is what we found in our 2013 study of pharmaceutical sales compensation practices. This lack of upside is likely limiting the attractiveness of the value proposition for recruiting top talent into this role.
What Are Leading Organizations Doing?
Recognize the Inevitable – Invest in Account Management
Even if Obamacare is repealed, economic factors will continue to drive consolidation of physician practices and affiliations with larger institutions. Leading pharmaceutical companies are recognizing that historical deployment of physician-oriented sales representatives must shift to greater account-oriented coverage. This shift requires new competencies in the areas of account planning, development of mutually beneficial relationships, and the ability to speak to the issues important to a broader set of stakeholders, e.g., improved management of patient outcomes. Systematic identification of the competencies required to be successful in an account management role is the first step in acquiring and developing the right talent.
Staff Account Management Roles with the Right Talent
There must be an attractive value proposition for the Account Manager role in order to attract and retain the necessary talent. Historically, some companies staffed Account Management positions with people who failed at other roles and were at the end of their careers. Leading companies are examining their career paths to ensure that Account Management roles attract top talent. Increasingly, these roles are viewed as an essential career step to leadership positions.
Develop and Deploy Account Management Planning
Headquarter-driven sales strategies that work well for highly scripted, product messaging are less effective for Account Management. Today’s health care environment presents market dynamics that vary across regions, stakeholders that need tailored solutions, and Account Managers that can develop and deliver insights. Annual planning processes that include field insight into account affiliations and emerging influencers can inform and improve the effectiveness of corporate sales strategies. This requires a cadence where field input is collected, synthesized and leveraged to create a sales strategy that drives the objectives and effective deployment of the account management team.
Pharmaceutical companies that create and deploy an effective account management program will find themselves at a competitive advantage.
Where does your pharmaceutical sales force stand? Are you ready for an Account Management booster shot? To learn more about developing an Account Manager model, please visit our Pharmaceutical Sales Practice.
Pharmaceutical Sales Practice Leader: Doug Beveridge
Originally published by Linda Mahoney.