Executive Interview – Bayer – Ken Liss

Ken Liss, Head of Customer Innovation and Sales Force Integration, Bayer Healthcare

Keynote Topic: Reading the Tea Leaves: What’s Next for Value-Centric Sales Leaders

Video Transcript:

Gary Tubridy: We have Ken Liss, Head of Customer Innovation and Sales Force Integration at Bayer HealthCare. Thanks for joining us, Ken.

Ken Liss: Great to be here, Gary.

GT: Great to have you with us. Ken, you will be speaking on the subject of what is next for sales executives in this field of customer innovation and value selling. You have been through at transformation at Bayer and I am wondering what is next? What are you guys going to do for an encore?

KL: Hopefully we can sit tight for a little bit, okay, Gary. We still have some moving parts that we are implementing right now but we are well on our way and we are really pleased as far as the direction we are heading in. I think I will take a step back and start where this whole thing began.

A couple of years ago when I moved into the position of taking over the sales organization, I was presented with a very interesting situation as far as what was ahead of us, as far as our sales trends, our product portfolio and also the dynamics within the market. I think the first thing that I will go back to do is I will go back to listening to the customer again because I think that was the key thing that started the whole thing. I wanted to make sure that I emphasize that. I did not say that I was going to talk to the customer; I said I was going to listen to the customer because I think that was the difference that really gave me the clue as far as where the value or what they were looking for from partners in our industry.

GT: A couple of things that occurred during the transformation, if you were to give advice to an executive that was going through a transformation, what would you tell them to watch out for, be careful of?

KL: The first thing I think I would tell them is to buckle up. It is not always going to go smooth, or at least in my situation, Gary, it did not always go smooth. I think you have to be persistent, okay, and if you know—if you believe in what you are doing and what needs to get done, be persistent.

GT: It is a marathon not a sprint.

KL: It is a very good point, that is. I think the second thing is I would talk about communication. It is critical and I think this is something that I learned from what I could have done better, is I spent a lot of time communicating to the sales organization but I could have and I should have spent more time communicating to the entire organization, meaning the marketing department, the sales ops department, incentive comp, everywhere, everywhere without the organization. I think then people would fully understand what you are embarking upon and how transformational this whole process would be.

GT: It sounds like the transformation of value selling goes beyond the sales organization’s boundaries. It is a team sport writ large with marketing, operations. Could you talk to that a little bit?

KL: Yes, sure. It is a good point and you are bringing up some very important steps in that because it is not just about the sales organization. There is a lot of new processes that have to change and there is a lot of new levers that to be developed and I think that was the one thing that I think the sales—the Alexander Group really helped us with because the playbook became extremely important for us to—almost instituting a new roadmap or if I could say, a bible that everyone knew where they were a part of or where they fit into the whole process.

GT: One of the questions that I wanted to ask you in going through the transformation is how do you know you are making progress? How do you know if you have arrived at this thing called the transformation?

KL: Again, I think it centers around listening to people. If you start to hear them using the same words, if you see their behaviors changing, then you know you are making progress because there are times where it takes people a little bit longer to get there. You are already there and you are ready to go and you know you are doing the right thing but I think you also have patience that it is going to take people a little bit longer. They are not all on the same page because you are challenging their comfort zone. What I would encourage people to do as they are going through this is make sure they have a little bit more patience but make sure that they do—or when they do catch people making that transformation that they reinforce the positive behaviors.

GT: Any surprises come out of the transformation, things that you either learned from your people or from your customers?

KL: Yes, I think two come to mind and one of them I think is something that people need to be aware of is not everyone is going to make it, Gary. That was somewhat of a bigger ah-ha for me than I spent a lot of time talking about because—or at least thinking about I should say, because some of the people that I thought were a shoe-in or were well into this or were part of the process, some of my own staff could not make the transformation and so that was difficult to try to find other opportunities.
From a customer perspective, they started calling us and that was the big ah-ha and that was when we go back to are you making process in the transformation is when our sales organization actually started to get better access and was actually getting phone calls for us to come in. That also then helped with the transformation that I knew we were going down the right road.

GT: There you are. Let us go back to what we started talking about after having gone through that transformation, any sense of what the next steps are?

KL: I keep, and my staff I encourage to keep, well abreast of the Affordable Care Act because we have these changes that are coming up that are still unknown that keeps our customers up at night and also the change in Medicare Reform. A lot of—a lot more electronic medical records will be important going forward and a lot of our customers are not prepared for that. We are looking very closely into those areas to seeing what could help us transform the industry and where we could help our customers play a role.

GT: In that whole milieu of change there might be an opportunity for Bayer to add value to the customers as they too have to go through that change.

KL: You are making an excellent point and I think as I take a lot at the value-centric sales organization, at least within our organization, it is in addition to the product. I think previously we were very product-focused and now we have the opportunity and we are providing not only a product but we bring a lot of other additional information that can help our customers really navigate the healthcare landscape that they cannot get elsewhere.

GT: There are no problems, there are opportunities.

KL: Good point. Absolutely.

GT: Ken, congratulations on a great transformation.

KL: Thank you.

GT: Thanks for joining us here at the forum.

KL: Appreciate it.

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