A recent post from INSEAD explored the importance of engaging emotional capital. What does this really mean?
A former colleague of mine once described this as winning hearts and minds.
Anyone working within the life science sector will be all too familiar with organisational change. We all recognise the two to three year cycle of change, whether it is a new selling model, a restructure or a product launch, pharmaceutical and medical device organisations excel at change!
Of course, the principles of KAM can be applied to any organisation, it just happens that I have more experience in the life science sector, but feel free to read on if you work in another sector.
So when organisations have tried, and failed, to introduce Key Account Management (KAM) it is no different. There is evidence of ‘change apathy’ in the life science sector. Experienced personnel will have been exposed to so many change cycles that they really begin to believe they have seen it all before, and all too often, they have. The regurgitation of selling models and brand planning processes is incredible.
A recent client described how KAM had been done to their employees in the past, but not with them.
Real world insight from a frustrated business leader who is trying to exact change in the face of employee and organisational apathy.
It is not enough to have sales graphs and market share predictions when introducing change to an organisation. People are human, they need to be involved and believe in the value of the proposed change. As a leader, it is important to bring people with you, to engage.
What is the relevance of this to KAM?
KAM is not new. It has been around for a long time, and many people working within a KAM environment believe they are doing a good job. Of course, in many situations, they are. But as with everything in life, there is always room for improvement.
My observation across multiple organisations is that KAM often lacks the leadership required to make it work.
In most organisations KAM sits within the sales directorate and the responsibility for leading key account teams sits with the first line sales manager. In my opinion, this is a root cause of KAM failure in many organisations.
Effective Key Account Management (KAM) requires organisational leadership and specific coaching.
I have shared my thoughts with you before about the capabilities required for effective key account management. You know I strongly believe that KAM is a way of working that requires a set of specific capabilities and behaviours and not something that only the sales team do. KAM is so much more than sales, and therefore needs to be recognised as such.
Key Account Teams must be cross functional.
Medical, marketing, sales, pricing, market access, health economics and channels all need a seat at the table and, most importantly, an equal share of voice. This should be a non-negotiable principle of KAM in any organisation. Of course, the structure of the cross functional team may vary, depending on the life cycle of the brand. But if your current key account team is only represented by sales or marketing roles, then you need to rethink.
Leading a cross functional account team requires specific focus, and a certain set of capabilities, not least the ability to win the hearts and minds of those involved. This is not the role of the first line sales manager.
First line sales managers play a hugely critical role in any organisation. They are accountable for the delivery of the sales team actions against the account plan, in line with commercial goals. The first line sales manager should spend the majority of their time coaching the sales team, enhancing in-call performance, maximising the sales model to exceed sales and commercial metrics. To ask them to take additional responsibility for leading the cross functional account team, and all that comes with it makes no sense at all!
Speak to your first line sales managers today.
Ask them what it is really like to do their job. Understand that they spend most of their time fighting fires. Whether it is collating reports for senior leaders, managing recruitment or chasing team members for overdue administration the reality of daily tasks is far from ideal.
It simply is not fair to expect the first line sales manager to lead the cross functional account team and assume the responsibilities associated with leading KAM as a way of working.
So who should lead KAM teams?
KAM in the context of pharmaceutical and medical devices is about much more than commercial goals.
The leader of the cross functional account team should have a strategic overview. They should understand the roles and responsibilities of the cross functional team and have autonomy to allocate resources appropriately. Their role requires the scope to be able to coach for key account management, and not focus on only in-call coaching for example. They need to be someone that commands authority and have the ability to engage at all levels of the organisation.
Strengthening corporate reputation, being at the forefront of research and development, building disease awareness advocacy and improving market access are a few of the additional account goals that may be in place. Each of these goals requires specific expertise and capabilities. Leading a cross functional account team with such a diverse array of goals and objectives requires strong commercial and business capabilities.
When we explore the work of Dr Robert Cialdini Phd. “The 6 Principles of Persuasion” in the context of KAM we begin to understand why the leader of the cross functional KAM team needs to be someone other than the first line sales manager.
If we consider Cialdini’s third principle of ‘authority’ to begin with, he says: “this is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts”.
As a member of a cross functional account team, I therefore want to be lead by someone who is a credible, knowledgeable expert. If my role is in the medical or marketing team, am I really going to take my lead from someone who is a sales leader, measured in the context of sales and an expert in sales?
The honest answer is no, you won’t, and you don’t in the real world.
Cross functional team members will employ Cialdini’s first principle, that of ‘reciprocity’, to a certain extent. If a colleague does something for them, then they will feel a sense of obligation to return the favour. But this will only go so far in the context of a key account team.
Effective cross functional account team leaders need to command the respect of everyone in the team. They need to win their hearts and minds.
A leader of a cross functional account team needs to engage everyone, and build ‘consensus’, which Cialdini identifies as his sixth principle of influence. The cross functional account team should agree their plan, the account objectives or goals, the role of each other and their actions. But of course consensus in not enough in the context of KAM.
Cialdini’s fourth principle of ‘consistency’ is key. Cross functional account team leaders need to drive for consistency. Not only consistency in terms of the language they use, how processes are followed, but also in terms of how they lead and coach the team, the expectations they have and the measures they implement.
It is important to recognise the specific need to coach for key account management as a way of working.
Most organisations train their line managers to coach their direct reports, though in my experience, this is largely centred around in-call performance for first line sales managers. Cross functional account teams are being asked to do new things, to create patient journeys, decision maker maps, PEST analyses etc. These are new ways of working that require support and coaching in order to get it right. Coaching for KAM takes time and requires scope within a leaders role to enable this to happen.
For those of you who are experts on Cialdini’s work, you may ask where ‘liking’ fits into the context of KAM leadership.
Let’s face it, we all like to be liked, and we respond better to people we like. It is a human trait we cannot avoid. But what does it take to be liked?
As INSEAD and many others have highlighted, this is about emotions. The leader of an effective cross functional team needs to ensure that they actually get to know the people involved, and let them get to know him or her and each other. As with the leader of any team, we cannot underestimate the power of taking time out to get to know each other as individuals. To understand each other in the context of a cross functional team, is often something that organisations neglect.
We often hear about sales meetings, or marketing brand jams, where silos within organisations get together and have some time to get to know each other a little better. Generally, when we get to know our colleagues as people, we develop empathy towards them, we communicate more effectively with them, and we begin to improve our working relationships. We foster team spirit and, in time, can certainly begin to like each other.
When was the last time you got together with your cross functional colleagues who work on your accounts to just get to know each other as people?
The scope to do this rarely exists. Silos within organisations dictate that each directorate focus on their goals and activities.
Senior leaders need to really stand back and explore the scope of their role and the role of their direct reports. Do the leaders have enough capacity within their role to everything they are expected to do? Do they have the right capabilities to effectively lead cross functional account teams? Are there metrics in place to facilitate cross functional working?
What can you do next?
If this article resonates with you, then share it with your cross functional account team colleagues and the leaders in your organisations. Start the discussion, you never know where it might lead!
Leadership is not the responsibility of the person who has the title. Be a leader.
Engage your colleagues, recognise the need to change to become a more effective cross functional account team. Understand the demands on existing account team leaders and realise that something has to give.
Cialdini’s final principle of influence is ‘scarcity’, saying “people want more of the things they can have less of”.
If you know that your cross functional account team colleagues can and want to work more effectively, then start with your team.
Dare to be different.
Once others in your organisation observe how effective you are, how well you work together, how cohesive you are in your approach to your accounts, how you are exceeding your objectives, then they will want to know what your secret is!
In doing this, you aren’t breaking the rules. You aren’t defying authority. You are trying to engage the hearts and minds of your colleagues to ensure that you, collectively, manage your resources most effectively to achieve the best outcome for patients, external stakeholders and your organisation. Put simply, you are doing KAM!