One thing is obvious. There’s no going back, for the health or social care system, to the status quo of February 2020 before the unprecedented disruption of COVID-19.
Healthcare bodies have already started to adapt. The NHS Operating Model Framework from May calls for a ‘focus on clinically-led pathway improvements to limit unnecessary hospital attendance and reduce risks for patients requiring hospital treatments’. The King’s Fund has highlighted that innovations are emerging locally and less visibly, making it harder to measure impact.
In many ways, the current crisis has accelerated developments already underway that have clear implications.
For healthcare providers:
- Local innovations are driven by clinical and non-clinical networks.
- There is little tolerance for product-centric approaches that don’t support new pathway challenges.
- Suppliers are expected to reflect their needs when interacting with them.
For pharmaceutical companies:
- There are greater opportunities to impact unmet patient needs.
- The focus should be on customer groups and networks, not individuals.
- Remote and virtual customer interactions are the ‘new normal’.
Beyond key account excellence
If you have established key account excellence (KAE) across your organisation, you can be somewhat reassured. You are already focused on the customer and their priorities. (If not, establishing it as a quality baseline should be high priority.)
However, KAE is now a foundation on which to create a dynamic approach that matches your customers’ locally driven innovations and evolving needs.
To help achieve that, we’ve identified six future-focused capabilities and five critical ‘activators’ to enhance their development.
The six capabilities
- Have an account-first mindset.
This is the core capability. In essence, it means that decisions, short and long-term, at team and organisational level, are driven bottom-up by account insights and an understanding of where the greatest potential lies. Rather than making top-down decisions, likely to be a poor fit with local circumstances, your strategy is informed by frontline knowledge.
To make the most of emerging opportunities, you need to be an account-first organisation with a strong and consistent level of key account excellence.
- Operate strategically.
This demonstrates how an account-first mindset, in action, enables the back and front office to work together to meet the demands of business-critical accounts with maximum, measurable impact.
Motivation is not enough to embed this way of working; it demands a formal structure and process, replicated across key accounts.
The structure and responsibilities
Core Account Team. Co-creates the strategic account plan with the customer, drawing on the project account team’s insights; carries out core planning and impact tracking; ensures implementation in line with account objectives and anticipated results.
Project Account Team. Uses their expertise to identify and realise opportunities; creates and adjusts processes; mobilises resources; applies lessons learned to future projects.
Sponsor Team. Makes requirements mandatory; manages peer-to-peer strategic relationships; aggregates lessons learned for replicating solutions; accelerates organisational changes; tracks impact across portfolios.
- Identify desired outcomes and establish critical success factors.
- Pinpoint requirements: establishing roles, capabilities, and processes; allocating resources; gathering information and insights etc.
- Define what needs to be in place and when, to deliver.
Making plans may feel like clarifying complexity and controlling outcomes. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans are overtaken by events, especially in volatile situations, and planning cycles devour time and energy.
A more responsive approach is possible, as COVID-19 has shown. Plans can be held lightly, be flexible and ‘alive’, if informed by active, frequent evaluation of all relevant factors.
Key account managers need opportunities to build their planning ‘muscle memory’. Applying critical thinking, they should use the planning process to tease out account knowledge and uncover new insights. The ‘planning’ is the point, not the ‘plan’.
To encourage responsive planning:
- Leaders can sense check planning cycles and processes. Are they valuable or constraining? Is there a less onerous alternative? How about regular ‘everyone welcome’ information sharing meetings to support alignment?
- Rather than big plan reviews, team leaders can have weekly check-ins with each of their team and ask two questions: ‘What are your priorities this week?’ and ‘How can I help you?’. As Marcus Buckingham, author of Nine Lies about Work, shows, they have a massive impact on performance and engagement.
- Create a shared vision.
Finding a shared energy and focus mobilises people by engaging emotional as well as rational drivers. However, as we see with people building KAE capabilities, it can be challenging.
Breaking it down into three steps, practiced daily at every opportunity, can help:
- Distil. Concentrate on the overlap between patient, account, and company opportunity.
- Define. Create a shared understanding of where you are headed and why.
- Describe. Communicate the vision beyond the core team to mobilise influence outside the room.
- Focus on network mapping and design.
We operate in an increasingly interconnected world with numerous stakeholders relating to, and influencing, each other, directly and indirectly. To build mutually dependent and mutually appreciative relationships, we need to break down silos, particularly in strategic accounts, to mobilise our respective strengths and deliver results for all parties.
Start by plotting influences. Ask who or what influences that particular person, and the next, and so on. Building the web of influences lets you spot the gaps and suggests different ways to create valuable relationships beyond the one or two individual customers willing to engage.
- Orchestrate your resources and channels.
It’s up to key account managers to match resources and channels to an account, based on customer preferences and current opportunities.
In doing this, they are never simply implementing a given plan. They should act as a compass, orientating resources and channels around account needs and wants, and drawing on their evolving experience to inform what is provided and how.
The five activators
Cultivating these five fundamental skills in your organisation can boost confidence and competence across all six of the future-focused capabilities.
- Change management. Understanding the how and why supports changes worth making.
- Emotional intelligence. Monitoring our own and others’ emotions helps to guide our actions.
- Adaptability and team resilience. Encouraging shared ownership and mutual support helps teams address priorities and anticipate and accommodate changes.
- Critical thinking. Reflective, independent thought challenges assumptions and cultivates active learners rather than passive recipients.
- Connecting and contracting (remotely). Learning to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders through diverse channels.
Where to begin?
Select one or two of your most important accounts. How could you work with them more strategically and successfully? Try something different, see what results, and use them as a learning environment.
Identify people who want ‘stretch’. Intensively support people with high aptitude and a growth mindset who are willing to adapt. These ‘pioneering’ role models can show others the way and accelerate your future capability.
Pause and ask big questions. What constitutes success in today’s changing landscape? How would an account-first mindset affect your operations? How do you get there? What might it mean for the roles you need, how you recruit, and the processes you stop?
- COVID-19 has accelerated existing trends in the healthcare landscape.
- These require an agile, innovative, and dynamic response.
- Key account excellence needs to be a springboard towards becoming an account-first organisation, rather than an aspiration.
- Developing six future-focused capabilities will help you become an account-first organisation.
- Cultivating five foundational activator competencies can accelerate the process.