Tracking and responding to NHS change in a highly competitive Olympic year will be a test of endurance for medical sales professionals. In a light-hearted article, David Round examines why winning a place amongst the medals will depend upon getting your preparation right.
It’s a well-worn cliché that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But as the UK pharmaceutical industry heads into an Olympic year when the pace of change amongst its NHS customer-base will undoubtedly increase, medical sales professionals will need to demonstrate more than a little knowledge to achieve a podium position for their products. The Health and Social Care Bill may still be some way from the finishing line, but as the health service continues its transition towards the seemingly inevitable, changes on the ground are already taking place. And the implications for pharma are huge. The industry cannot afford to sit and wait – it needs to act now to ensure its sales and marketing communications are reaching the right customers, with the right message at the right time. For pharmaceutical sales executives, it’s about developing more than knowledge: it’s a question of intelligence. And the answers may be right at their fingertips.
It has been widely documented that the NHS is working its way through a period of unprecedented change – both in its working practices and, of course, in its organisational structure. As a result, pharmaceutical companies – often criticised for being ‘data rich but information poor’ – will, more than ever before, need to maximise their data assets to deliver a more customer-centric approach to selling. And sales professionals will need to draw on all the information at their disposal to develop and deliver relevant and robust value propositions that satisfy customer need.
The noise-driven, share of voice model of pharmaceutical sales and marketing has become like Monty Python’s parrot: it has ceased to be. Today’s approach, which relies on a reduction in call volumes, is less linear, more selective and much more sophisticated. Key Account Management is leading the industry pack. But whilst the approach is, in theory, more measured, making it work requires quality customer data as a platform to identify ‘key accounts’ and, crucially, the ability to translate that data into meaningful market intelligence. Companies are becoming much smarter in segmenting their key customers – but faced with moving targets across a changing NHS, maintaining the accuracy, and in the process the efficiency, of the approach is not easy. It is, however, imperative.
The race to reform
The transition towards the new environment is already well under way. Last year in England 152 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) were reorganised into 51 PCT Clusters of variable size, while the ten Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) were restructured to form four large regional clusters. By April 2013, PCTs and SHAs will be extinct and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and the National Commissioning Board will spearhead the commissioning of NHS services under a new-look structure. If you throw into the mix the onset of Clinical Senates, Health and Wellbeing Boards and new Commissioning Support units (which may well emerge as private organisations and therefore new customers), it is easy to see that an already complex customer matrix is set to become even more complicated. And that’s simply the start line.
Critics of the reforms claim that the situation on the ground is fast approaching chaos within the NHS, as the wider organisation struggles to implement changes even before the Health and Social Care Bill has achieved Royal Assent. But in the interim period while the health service readies itself for the inevitable, UK pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to let their sales and marketing operations become similarly chaotic. Tracking and more importantly responding to change throughout the transition period will be vital for medical sales professionals if they are to support their customers through the metamorphosis and, in the process, meet their own commercial objectives.
Access to quality data that can not only enable Account Managers to make the right targeting decisions, but can also help them engage in the most appropriate customer dialogue, will be critical to success. It is not simply a case of knowing who to target – understanding why and how they should be approached is equally important. It is this understanding that separates knowledge from intelligence. And separates winners from also-rans.
Keeping on track
Sales professionals not only need to identify their ‘key accounts’, they also need to understand the varied environments in which these individuals operate. What challenges do they face? What are their key priorities? Do they carry out more than one role – or sit on a variety of boards and committees in addition to their main job? If so, how does this impact their spheres of influence? How pivotal are they in driving service redesign, influencing formulary decisions, or facilitating joint working within their local organisation? Where do their roles and their needs overlap with your product or service?
This is standard market access. And it’s vital. Pharmaceutical sales professionals need to define how they engage with the NHS and why their customers should want to engage with them. They need to establish how they are going to deliver value and improve outcomes for the health service and its patients. And to achieve this, they must understand their local health economy, its priorities and objectives, and identify the key stakeholders whom they can help support to meet those needs. What is the structure of the local organisation? What is its indicative budget and its strategic plan? Who is responsible for commissioning in your disease area? What areas are emerging Commissioning Support Units going to be supporting commissioning in – and what are they not? As PCT clusters evolve and CCGs take shape, which customers are most relevant today, and how relevant will they be tomorrow or indeed in two years’ time? Only by tracking customers in real time as they make their transitional journey towards the new NHS can sales professionals be sure that their interactions are aligned with that change, and be prepared to respond accordingly when required.
Technology in a team sport
The Key Account Manager in the modern market must, therefore, have the mental preparation of an Olympic athlete – but work on the basis that the race is never won. The NHS is a dynamic marketplace where change is continual. The Key Account teams that are best able to track, capture and share intelligence will be best placed to emerge victorious. The role of the Key Account Manager is, after all, an individual pursuit in a team sport.
The tools to support ‘informed’ Account Management are already here. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that help capture and share vital customer intelligence have been in common currency across the UK drug sector for many years. But never before has their value to the medical sales professional been so important. Industry surveys suggest that CRM usage amongst front-line sales professionals could still be improved – and this is essential. CRM systems are only as good as the data that is put into them. But when collected and shared properly, that data is there to help medical sales professionals. In a fast-evolving customer environment that will almost certainly intensify as the NHS continues its inexorable march towards a new structure, key account management can only be enhanced by the knowledge and intelligence a good CRM system can help deliver.
In fact, the sheer volume of likely NHS change in the next 12 months could provide a catalyst for 2012 to become the year when CRM finally comes of age. And those sales professionals who recognise its potential to significantly support customer interactions – and make for a more intelligent and appropriate engagement – will undoubtedly reap the rewards.
But the time to act is now. In an Olympic year, the fast track is the only option. After all, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
David Round is UK General Manager, Cegedim Relationship Management.