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All things Pharma

A valuable benchmark

Everyone is talking about account management, and every company seems to suggest that they are doing it – but what is the reality? NHIS offers an insight into industry perception.

During June 2010, the National Health Intelligence Service (NHIS) launched the Account Management Benchmark Survey – a repeat of the very successful survey conducted in 2008. The aim of the survey was to increase understanding of sales executives’:

· skill to work across a local health economy

· capability to influence new and traditional customers

· propensity to work as account managers

· confidence of working in the new and changing NHS.

The survey was posted online and comprised of 45 questions. It remains open and almost 200 people have responded. The questions support a capability model which consists of three domains – knowledge, influencing skills and working across local health economy, and nine elements, as shown in Figure 1.


The results – who has responded?

The survey is anonymous to ensure that people answer the questions openly and truthfully. However, a few profiling questions were asked, for example, respondents recorded their primary role and the results are shown in Figure 2.


About two thirds of respondents classed themselves as either Key Account Managers or as having an NHS liaison role, 16% indicated they were Specialist Representatives, whilst the remainder comprised of a variety of diverse roles, with less than 7% of respondents indicating they had a role as a GP or GP and Specialist Care Representative. You will see in the later analysis that results are shown separately for these three key groups.

Almost 80% of respondents had worked in the pharma industry for over 10 years (as shown in Figure 3). This figure hardly differs across the three role types as mentioned above.


Respondents were also asked to record how long they had worked in their current role (shown in Figure 4). No clear pattern emerges here with a range of responses from 0-6 months to +10 years for each of the role types. However, around 50% of respondents have been in their current role for between 3 and 10 years, and only about 18% have been in their current role for less than one year. Overall this suggests that those responding to the survey are experienced pharma personnel with a range of experience in their current role which therefore forms an appropriate group to build an understanding of account management experience within the industry.


Skill level

The interim results shown in Figure 5 compare the varying levels of performance for each of the nine elements of the capability model (Figure 1) for each of the three role types.


It is interesting to note that the mean score is higher for the KAM and NHS liaison role across all elements when compared to the other two role types. Also of note is the similarity of the elements which were scored the highest and lowest across the three role types. (Figure 6 & 7)


Team working and partnership received the highest score of all the elements for the KAM and NHS liaison role. It is interesting to see the spread of scores across the three role types, for one of the questions supporting that element.

Figure 8 shows that 32% of KAM and NHS liaison role respondents scored this question “to a full extent”. This increased to 45% of respondents for the Other role and fell to only 10% for the Specialist Care role showing the value of analysing the results at an individual question level, and the variety of results between the different role types. Unfortunately the analysis of results at this level goes beyond the scope of this article, but it shows the in-depth information that surveys such as this can provide.


What do the results say?

It is probably worth reflecting on the key capabilities that are required for a successful account manager and how they differ from those for a successful sales person. (Figure 9)


It is encouraging to note that Team Working and Partnership and Customer Focus were amongst the top three highest scores for the account manager role and fit well with the description given above. However, those elements were also amongst the top three for the Specialist Representative and Other roles, which may not be what would have been expected. When looking at the lowest scoring elements for the KAM and NHS liaison role it is surprising to see Market Analysis, Account Strategy and Planning, and Commercial Focus in that list. This becomes even more surprising when looking back to the 2008 survey which also listed these amongst the lowest scoring elements – additionally the score for both these elements has fallen slightly.

Another surprise is that Own and Competitor Product Knowledge is the lowest scoring element for the KAM and NHS liaison role. Surely this element is a fundamental skill for any customer facing role? As should be knowledge of the customer – NHS customer knowledge – which is also in the three lowest scoring elements for two of the three roles, and it is ranked fourth lowest for the KAM and NHS liaison role.

Taking an overall view of the results for the KAM and NHS liaison role it suggests a description of a person who believes that most of the time they work effectively in a team or partnership role by using their interpersonal communication skills, by keeping up to date with local and national guidance, and using such supporting data in their interactions. But such interactions may not be informed through knowledge of their own and competitor products, and commercial focus may be hampered through a lower level of market analysis, account strategy and planning. Such a description may be the cause of some concern amongst managers within the industry since it is a similar description to that resulting from the 2008 survey, suggesting that capabilities have not advanced since then. But the major cause of concern should be the low scores which suggest a lack of analysis, strategy formation and planning leading to a low level of commercial focus.

The next step

Although this is only an interim analysis and the number of respondents is growing on a daily basis – as are the number of companies participating in the survey – it is hoped this has provided an interesting overview of account manager capability, and that it has made apparent how this type of survey can support normal performance measures used within a company to provide a valuable insight into your strengths and weaknesses. Plus the areas where you may have a competitive advantage. This type of survey is also a valuable way to identify future training interventions, and whether any training intervention is providing the outcome you expected.

It should be remembered that this survey is a measurement of self perception against a capability model; the real value of this insight being delivered through the comparison to an industry benchmark. The next step would be to perform a similar survey with customers in a manner that would allow a comparison of the self perception score and the customer perception at an individual account manager level. It should also be noted that a small number of companies are interested and have started to perform this type of analysis.

If you wish to know more about the survey, the interim results, or how you can benchmark your
whole team, please contact

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