Do you remember the book Who Moved My Cheese? that was popular in the 1990s? It tells the story of two people and two mice who live in a maze and thrive on a seemingly endless supply of cheese. The parable resonated with many of us—including me—both in business settings and in our personal lives. After following the four characters’ varying reactions to the possibility of their “cheese” source disappearing, you can’t help but turn the lens on yourself and ask, How would I deal with unexpected change?

The U.S. healthcare ecosystem has seen its share of fast-paced changes in recent years, many of which have posed challenges for the pharmaceutical industry—one where a changing customer environment is the name of the game. Newly formed provider health systems and continued consolidation among all types of organized customers are shaking up the promotional landscape, and thus far, pharma companies’ attempts at responding by implementing an account-based selling model don’t always resonate with customers. Meanwhile, pharma’s traditional sales models no longer fit the bill in many cases. 

Now that pharma’s cheese has been moved, the question is: How do pharma organizations respond? 

To adapt to the consolidating healthcare delivery landscape, pharma companies should continue to forge ahead with their key account management (KAM) programs, but the trick is to think of KAM as a cohesive business strategy, rather than just a role. Effective account-based selling goes far beyond any one individual or role, and it requires significant planning, collaboration and training efforts to execute properly. 

There are a few steps that companies can take to establish a robust KAM strategy that maximizes the talent of each KAM role, starting with recognizing the need for variation across the KAM structure and supplying KAMs with the right tools and enablers. Because the structure may vary from one company to the next, we’ll divide the roles into two general buckets—the “small k” KAM and the “big K” KAM—to illustrate where the gaps lie: 

  • The “small k” KAM group generally coordinates the input and activity of roles such as nurse navigators and MSLs, enables customer relationships, and ensures that the right clinical messages are delivered to the right stakeholders. In addition to driving physician-related activities such as demand generation and clinical messaging, this group has extended its reach to provide support to a variety of other stakeholders across the account.
    • Support needed: Because their focus is on the tactical component of account management, “small k” KAMs need tools that provide insights about key accounts, dashboards to track performance, and tools to enable robust account planning. These sales professionals need insights to understand the specific circumstances of each account, be prepared to react to changes, and direct collaborative efforts to provide robust account coverage across customers to deliver timely messaging and support.
  • The “big K” KAM group focuses on the big picture, mainly serving larger provider systems and IDNs, and establishing value-add relationships and partnerships with senior-level executives. This group goes beyond delivering clinical messages to articulating a cohesive value story and making a case for the value proposition of the entire brand—and often the company.
    • Support needed: With the focus on joint partnership initiatives, ”big K” KAMs need tools that enable them to uncover ways to build upon established business relationships. In meetings with decision-makers about recommended improvements to the client’s business operations, for example, ”big K” KAMs need to be prepared to discuss broader strategic initiatives such as collaborating on a health economics and outcomes research study or working together on patient adherence initiatives. They need tools that enable them to deliver the right value prop to the right decision maker, track progress against strategic initiatives, and communicate value stories in an effective way.

The characters in Who Moved My Cheese? set out on a quest to find cheese for nourishment today, while also learning to establish sustainable solutions for finding that cheese tomorrow. Similarly, pharma’s key account management structure must be designed to build an ongoing relationship with key customers, and to enable KAM teams to work together to meet both present and future customer needs. In other words, don’t give up on your KAM programs even if you’ve struggled to make the impact that you envisioned or you’ve experienced “false starts” for any number of reasons. Instead, pick up a copy of that 1990s best-seller and start thinking about how to adapt and build your account-based selling program to ensure a sustainable future in this ever-changing environment.


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Topics: sales strategy, Pharma, key account management, manufacturers, reinvent go-to-market strategy, Impact Summit, Impact Summit 2017, account-based selling