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Alex Turok, Jamie Kaplan and Daniel Rabin co-authored this blog post with David Kriesman. 

In oncology, treatment trends are changing rapidly toward novel, targeted therapies with new mechanisms of action and side effects. In addition, with the approval of these new therapies, competition continues to increase such that clinical differentiation alone isn’t enough to win. These factors have created an environment where it’s critical for oncology companies to identify new ways to engage with their customers to provide a best-in-class customer experience. 

In response, we are seeing a proliferation of service and support teams, which we estimate have grown across all therapy areas by two to three times since 2015. In fact, ZS research shows that around 85% of companies utilize a field reimbursement team and around 75% of companies utilize a nurse educator team. However, simply creating the roles isn’t enough to ensure a positive impact. The most successful support teams have clear roles and responsibilities, and they’re integrated organizationally in a way that delivers a cohesive experience to the customer. Based on our experience, there are several operational areas where both the setup, ongoing measurement and motivation for these teams can be improved to maximize impact:

1. Sizing and alignment: In the sizing phase for support teams, companies are often too focused on the “one per district” rule, so these teams are often undersized. It’s important to identify key inputs like capacity and workload expectations, and then use these to determine a national headcount. When it comes to the alignment phase, it’s worthwhile to be a bit flexible in order to streamline coordination. For example, if your sizing analysis suggests 11 reimbursement managers but your sales team has 10 districts, look for your highest workload district and logically split it in two along territory borders. That way you can deploy your reimbursement team optimally while still maintaining clean coordination between the reps and their reimbursement support.

2. Coordination: Creating an optimal alignment is the first step in minimizing the risk of bottlenecks, but it’s insufficient to holistically address the coordination needs of an oncology field force today. Most companies are aware of the need for coordination but have taken only basic steps to implement a robust process, instead relying on more ad hoc processes driven by sales reps or KAMs. Instead of an ad hoc approach, assess where your company is today and how you can improve: Are roles clearly delineated? Do your CRM tools and other technology tools enable your field roles to plan effectively with each other? There are many ways to improve coordination, but the key is to make it a priority and focus on continuous improvement.

3. KPIs: For support roles, you need to think outside of the box to come up with KPIs that are meaningful while remaining within the bounds of compliance. We recommend three categories of KPIs when evaluating a support team: 

  • Self-reported data: This refers to execution or key activities, such as testing education sessions with lab staff completed by a diagnostic liaison or safety training sessions delivered by a nurse educator.
  • Secondary data measurements: Looking beyond sales data to other sources like claims data and EMR data can provide an objective measure for the impact that these roles are having on the business: for example, percentage of claims accepted or rejected for a reimbursement manager, or the improvement in compliance rate with an oral agent for a nurse educator.
  • Primary market research and surveys: For a patient navigator, a patient feedback survey is crucial to measure real-time impact. For a nurse educator team, a survey for customers can be used to track confidence in treating new side effects in novel therapies. 

4. MBOs: Creating motivating MBOs isn’t easy, but it’s crucial to ensure that support teams have the guidance and focus needed to execute against their KPIs. Ultimately, a good MBO should consist of all three of the following objectives: encouraging and incentivizing the right behaviors, driving diligent execution and maximizing customer impact. Let’s look at a few examples for a nurse educator team: 

  • Encouraging the right behaviors: This is fundamental. For example, nurse educators should be putting robust plans in place to ensure that they call on their top 10 accounts in a given semester or year.
  • Driving execution: Nurse educators should focus on delivering high-quality safety presentations to as many key customers as possible.
  • Measuring customer impact: Track how often these roles are being asked to come back and speak to a broader group. This implies that the initial discussion was well-received and considered valuable.

Within oncology, we see that many companies are experimenting with new roles through trial and error. It’s likely time to step back, assess and ask a few key questions: Do we have very clearly defined role clarity? Have we optimized coordination? How are we assessing each role for impact? Do we have clear KPIs linked to MBOs?

As competition continues to increase over the next few years, focusing on these operational areas will be critical to deploying a support team that provides best-in-class customer service and delivers maximum impact to your customers.


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Topics: customer experience, sales and marketing operations, MBO, oncology, oncology manufacturer, organizational alignment, oncology customer experience, support team, nurse educators