It seems everyone today is talking about Key Account Management. Recordati Pharmaceuticals, one of the newest entrants to the UK market, is actually doing it.
MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN in the past twelve months about a steady move away from the traditional model of selling pharmaceuticals. This new approach has been driven by wholesale changes in the NHS customer-base and the emergence of a growing number of influences and influencers on prescribing. Reliance upon the traditional GP-representative interaction will no longer suffice and, instead, sales professionals are being required to develop relationships with customers across a much wider NHS network. The new model has been tagged as ‘Key Account Management’, and, rather like EastEnders in the days when someone shot Phil Mitchell, everyone is talking about it. The question remains, however, is anyone actually doing it or is Key Account Management simply a fiction of soap opera-like proportions?
Recordati in the UK
In fact, one of the most recent entrants to the UK pharmaceutical market is fully embracing the Key Account Management philosophy and is building a sales culture where accountability, autonomy and creativity is not just encouraged but is practically expected. Recordati Pharmaceuticals only launched in the UK in January 2006, but built a 75-strong salesforce on direct headcount in less than three months and has been preaching the virtues of Key Account Management ever since. The company is the UK arm of a family-controlled Italian pharmaceutical business, Recordati, which was founded back in 1926. Its Milan-based parent boasts over 1,000 medical representatives across Europe and a research focus on cardiovascular and urogenital therapies. Its leading product, lercanidipine, is a latest generation calcium channel blocker for the treatment of hypertension. In the UK, Recordati Pharmaceuticals distributes lercanidipine under the brand name Zanidip and has enjoyed early success with its contemporary sales approach.
“We have built a team of representatives who have very little inhibition about doing things the way they see fit within the constraints of the ABPI Code,” explains Martin Symons, General Manager at Recordati Pharmaceuticals. “Of course they tick all the normal boxes for energy and focus, but they also think and behave in a way that addresses all of the broader challenges facing their local markets. They don’t view the NHS as a divided market and put borders between their various customer-groups, but they see the market as a unified group with lots of interconnection. This is true Key Account Management, and they don’t just talk about it, they live it.”
A whole network approach
Recordati Pharmaceuticals currently operates a sales structure it describes as ‘vanilla’ – deploying 65 representatives across 65 regions, and six regional managers. This is aligned with the belief that it is increasingly futile to throw multiple teams at customers as this does not reflect what has become a much more uniform market. “We don’t see customers as being in silos any more,” says Kathy Birch, Senior Product Mananger at Recordati Pharmaceuticals. “The modern NHS has become a linked network of operators and the influences on why a customer behaves in a certain way are now multi-fold. So if customers are operating as a network, why, for example, would you want one team focusing on Prescribing Advisers and another on GPs?
The model we have adopted here focuses on taking down those silos and, instead, being responsible and accountable for communicating across the network.”
Big pharma tools, small pharma agility
Recordati Pharmaceuticals is, of course, a small company but it sees this very much as an advantage, allowing it to leverage the Key Account approach far more easily than may be the case in big pharma. However, it has not shied away from equipping its field-force with the same tools as the bigger players, and, moreover, it has resisted the temptation to measure its sales activities only in the same traditional fashion more commonly associated with the major multinationals.
“We do not have a fixation with call-rates alone,” says Martin Symons. “We have, of course, identified target customers and set objectives for our fieldforce that focuses very much on delivering results. But call-rate is a surrogate marker of a successful representative – it’s not an end-point and it’s not always our top priority.”
The company has, in fact, invested heavily in a “state of the art” targeting tool, to help its sales professionals identify their most valuable customers. This, says Kathy Birch, serves as a facilitator to help representatives spend their time more wisely and is a demonstration of Recordati’s commitment to arming its team with ‘big pharma tools’.
As if to underline the autonomy Recordati allows its representatives, some of its high performers have yet to fully exploit the benefit from the targeting tool – choosing instead to focus their attention on customers from outside the target group. “Our top performers have deliberately opted to spend more of their initial time speaking to influencers rather than prescribers,” says Martin Symons. “There will be some overlap, of course, as GPs are not single role people – some of them are also prescribing leads, or on formulary committees – but this strategy embraces the concept of the whole network approach. The objective here is to remove barriers and get endorsement across the network so that when representatives eventually call on the core customers, they do so against a favourable background – for example, that there’s no problem within the PCT in using the product, or prescribing by brand. Once the barriers are removed, representatives are able to get on with the more traditional element of their role – selling the GP the clinical benefits of the brand compared to other options.”
New approach, new skill-sets
So what are the major characteristics of a good Key Account Manager? “The high-calibre performers in the modern UK environment will still need all of the classic attributes of the traditional representative – focus, energy, interpersonal skills, planning skills and charisma are all still highly relevant,” says Martin Symons. “But in addition, they will need to be able to root out what and who is important, have a real desire to understand the network and a mental alertness to exploit it.
Key Account Managers need to be able to get under the skin of customers, to find out what they want and have the flexibility to tailor what they deliver to meet those needs.” Clearly, Recordati Pharmaceuticals has an unquestionable commitment to the notions of Key Account Management. In an environment where some companies appear to be paying lip-service to the theory, while at the same time measuring sales effort against the traditional criteria of call frequency, Recordati is certainly trying to ‘walk the walk’.