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All things Pharma

Are we there yet?



Managing a medical technology sales account is no job for a passenger. Chris Cummins of OTD offers some critical signposts to help you get to success as an Account Manager – and enjoy the journey.

Last year, many companies in the medtech industry started to realise that if they don’t radically change their approach within the present environment, they face the prospect of ceasing to exist.

There’s no doubt that you will have seen, heard or had a gut feeling for this, and you may have resolved to do something about it. Whether your organisation is making things happen, watching others make things happen or wondering what on earth is happening, one thing most of the clients we’ve spoken to agree on is that the role of the Account Manager has never been more important.

Whether you are just about to embark on the journey of becoming an account manager or have been driving that vehicle for some time, here are some thoughts that could make a significant difference to your year.

What it takes

What skills and attributes do great account managers have? We posed this question to 120 account managers and their managers in the course of our work in 2007. Most of them agreed that great account managers display the following skills and attributes:

Key skills Attributes
Relationship building
Problem solving
Opportunity creating
Team player
Opportunity seeker

Imagine that these skills and attributes are your destination – which means a place where you are using these skills and attributes every day. Answer these questions:
• Is your destination in sight or over the horizon?
• What would be halfway between your goal and where you are now?
• What will you be doing differently when you get there?
• What milestones have you created to help you break up the journey?
• How motivated are you to reach the destination?

These are questions that great account managers keep asking themselves throughout the year. You might like to compare your answers with your manager’s perception of where you are.

Bad drivers

Although we’re not focusing on poor performers in this article (they tend not to read articles that could help them improve), here are seven deadly sins we’ve seen committed while on field visits over the years that we know you wouldn’t commit:
1. Poor objection handling
2. Insufficient listening
3. Failing to ask enough questions
4. Total lack of empathy
5. Failing to ask for the business
6. Failing to find out what customers truly want
7. Separating sales from service.

If you were driving a car without following signs or reacting to other drivers, what would be your chance of reaching the destination? None – yet why do so many account managers do some or all of these and still expect to improve their sales or market share? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Nothing on account

So what do great account managers do? In conversations with our clients last year, we identified five characteristics:
1. Great account managers have a clear picture of their desired outcome. They don’t wish things would happen, they make them happen. If an organisation has a poor relationship with the account manager’s company, they make sure that relationship changes for the better.
2. They take massive action towards achieving their desired outcome. They make sure most of their activities are related to that desired outcome, and question anything that doesn’t seem linked to the destination.
3. They notice what’s happening, and turn whatever is changing in their environment into an advantage to them and the company. 4. They are happy to change their approach if something doesn’t seem to be working, rather than waiting for their manager to ‘coach’ them or, even worse, expecting different results.
5. They don’t pay lip service to the term ‘sharing best practice’. They are obsessed with modelling excellence. They look for examples outside the industry if necessary.

If you do these things consistently, you will without doubt make a massive difference on territory.

The company perspective

Every company has its own expectations of account managers. Having discussed these with account managers and their managers within various client organisations, we can list some general expectations that your company will have of you:
• Understand all aspects of the account.
• Proactively develop more business with the customer.
• Establish strong relationships with the decision-makers in customer organisations.
• Build a wide awareness of your company’s capabilities within the account.
• Handle the account professionally on a day-to-day basis.
• Develop a true business partnership with the account.

The clearer you are about your company’s expectations, the better the chance you have of delivering.

Customer expectations

The more the account manager can stand in the customer’s shoes, the easier it is to build a real partnership. We’ve found that customers expect to see, hear and feel these qualities in an account manager:
• Be the main link into your company for all issues.
• Understand the customer’s business, market needs and working environment.
• Sell the customer products or services that help them achieve their objectives.
• Add value to the business relationship with your company.
• Capitalise on market opportunities and, when possible, identify new and exciting business challenges.
• Always act professionally and with integrity.

One medium-sized medical devices company that made the decision to adopt an account management approach at the beginning of 2006 discussed the impact of taking that approach on their 2007 results… They exceeded their sales target by 57%.

Getting into gear

At this stage, you have a clear picture of your account management destination and how to reach it, and you’ve had a chance to try on your customers’ shoes and gain insight into their expectations.

If you really want to make significant inroads for the rest of this year, here are three things you can do now that could mean the difference between you having a smooth ride to success or ending up on the hard shoulder:
1. Make a list of your accounts, prioritise them and decide why each one is important. Ask your colleagues in other departments in your company the same question. How does your list compare with theirs?
2. Ask your main contacts in your accounts what their expectations are of you as the account manager. If you don’t know them well enough to do this, you need to develop closer business relationships.
3. Ask your manager what his/her expectations are of you as an account manager.

If this is all new to you, there’s plenty to be getting on with to make this year the one when you really make that mark on your career you’ve always promised yourself.

Devices and solutions

Can account management work in the medical devices sector? Of course it can – if it follows the principles discussed here. As time goes on, we’ll see more and more organisations in this industry reaping the benefits in a way that the company described below has.

One medium-sized medical devices company that made the decision to adopt an account management approach at the beginning of 2006 discussed the impact of taking that approach on their 2007 results. Their customers are a mixture of GPs, community pharmacists and nursing homes. The sales management team took the decision to adopt all the steps discussed above. They exceeded their sales target by 57%.

When asked how surprised they were by these results, they said their new approach gave them the chance to refocus their business. The biggest challenge they faced was helping the whole organisation to change behaviour. Once they had the infrastructure to support their plans, the results were not a surprise.

Chris Cummins is a Director of the business consultancy OTD, which specialises in corporate coaching and account management. For more information, visit www.otd.uk.com or call 0845 224 1775.


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