Lisa Alderson, Business Development Director at Wilmington Healthcare, explores the challenges that pharma’s KAM teams face in engaging with the NHS and how they must evolve.
As covid-19 puts NHS services under immense strain, treatment delays have already begun in areas such as cancer care where patients are being reprioritised to try to manage capacity.
A few months ago, before the covid-19 pandemic struck, I was at a sales conference, where I got chatting to a Strategic Account Manager (SAM) from a top 10 pharma company with a wide oncology portfolio where she was focused on metastatic breast treatments.
We were discussing changes to cancer care outlined in the NHS Long-term Plan, including Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), and how the NHS’s bid to manage cancer care in a holistic way, with the patient at the centre, is putting more pressure on business account teams.
The landscape has changed significantly since then, with face-to-face visits to NHS customers being cancelled for SAMs and Key Account Managers (KAMs) and the cancellation or postponement of many pharma industry events where best practice in customer engagement is shared.
However, the challenge of aligning with different stakeholders in an integrated and forever changing environment, that has multiple layers of needs and challenges and a spider’s web of accountability and processes, remains a herculean task.
Although many aspects of the Long-term Plan will have to be suspended, delayed or re-assessed as a result of covid-19 and these changes must be closely monitored by KAM teams, many collaborative working practices are already in place in the NHS.
Oncology focused healthcare companies have been increasingly required to work with a new and emerging collection of national and regional stakeholders, who have been tasked with working collaboratively to achieve NHS ambitions for cancer care, particularly around early diagnosis.
So, it is essential to understand the roles of local organisations, such as Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and Cancer Alliances and Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs). Also, Public Health is working alongside ICSs and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs), and they are all tasked with assuming some collective accountability for cancer services. This may include some elements of commissioning alongside the Cancer Drugs Fund and the dust has not settled yet with regards to structural change!
Identifying the right clinicians and understanding their challenges in delivering these strategic care pathways is essential and so too is an understanding of the complex ecosystem in which they work. HCPs don’t want to know how effective a drug is in isolation, there are just too many other companies doing the same thing; they want expert therapeutic companies to support them and add real value across their organisation and ultimately improve diagnosis and care for the patient. So, having insightful data is paramount.
The SAM I spoke to shared her frustration that despite the many systems and data sets used within her company, none of them brought the data together so that her key account plans could be built with accurate granular information underpinning strategic goal setting and importantly decision making. For her, it was incredibly difficult to track key influencers and their roles within the myriad of NHS organisations involved in cancer care and within the new structures that are being put in place, let alone bring that information and the company’s strategic objectives together to share with the cross functional team.
I did ask how they managed their key account planning and was not shocked but a tad disappointed that such an essential part of a business was being managed on Excel spreadsheets with little or no version control or consistently updated data. The real challenge of working with these new ICS accounts and other integrated care organisations is very much about teamwork. You need to set clear goals, have clarity around who is doing what and when and most importantly how activities are making an impact and moving the needle in terms of strategic goal outcomes.
Everyone has a part to play in getting a real working relationship with stakeholders and delivering true benefit. However, all too often team members overlap in customer interactions due to limited data available in CRM systems and siloed work practices that unfortunately highlight poor alignment to the HCP’s needs and tend to focus on the payer.
To succeed in the fast-changing NHS environment, pharma needs a comprehensive KAM platform where key customer data and insight can be integrated with other relevant account information and interactions and stored in one place to create a single version of ‘the truth.’ So, at the touch of a button, staff can access all relevant background data and insight on an account and view daily customer interactions as well as inputs, such as investments, and outputs, including direct sales information from SAP and Oracle. They can also view strategic plans and priorities.
Real account management is about understanding the overall customer experience, whether that is at an organisational or individual level, listening, validating the information you have and building on that a foundation of trust and shared goals. By doing this, you create true value that will ultimately meet their needs and open the relationship between the customer and you. It takes time, patience and most importantly great data and a structured approach.