The Return Of The KAM

After decades in the shadows, companies are looking again at the key account management model in the hope it can help them reconnect with customers

Industry veterans will remember the emergence of key account management (KAM) in the early 2000s as one of many new tactics to ensure access to customers and stakeholders. The core of the KAM vision was the desire to create long-lasting and resilient relationships with customers, a goal that doesn’t seem so out of place in today’s customer-centric and customer-experience focused world.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that sales leaders across pharma are looking again at the KAM model, including Patrik Grandits, Head of Commercial Operations Oncology Europe at Daiichi Sankyo. 

"Ultimately, science sells, so engagement with customers must be science-orientated," he says “Ten or fifteen years ago, they took sales reps and called them KAMs, thinking that would solve the problem of their low level of scientific competence. However, these recruits were not up to the job and so could not make the transition to a conversation with customers that was strategically focused.”

Previously, KAMs got by with the ‘personal touch’ to build strong customer rapport, however, the changing demands of the field means this approach is no longer sufficient. “The level of new information in oncology alone is so much higher and what customers want now is quality, relevant information delivered by a scientifically literate person. That is why we hired KAMs that are fundamentally scientific, they hold PhDs and have written scientific papers. KAM and MSL roles might be interchangeable in terms of their scientific background and capabilities.”

Across the pharmaceutical industry, companies are experimenting with the KAM model, but, for Grandits, it is the primacy of “good science” that distinguishes Daiichi Sankyo’s Account Engine Model.

This means that, where other companies may have a ratio of five commercial leads to one MSL, the new Territory Account Teams (TATs) have a single KAM lead operating alongside a single MSL on an equal footing.

In common with others in the industry, the company has also increased the executive powers of its KAM leads. TATs can make decisions in the room with the customer, which may have previously taken months to sign off.“One concrete example is the setup of a phase II study within Europe,” says Grandits. “The speed of information that travels through the system is huge. With our TATs working closely with R&D, we can literally turn around a study in days.”

Coming into his position in late 2016 and tasked by the CEO to build up Daiichi Sankyo’s KAM offering from scratch, Grandits had the good fortune to inherit a blank slate. While other companies promoted sales reps into strategic roles and slotted the KAM capability into existing commercial structure, Daiichi Sankyo started from scratch and built around a single focus – delivering customer value.

Grandits used the clear definition of customer value – the delivery of quality science – not just in the recruitment and training process for new KAMs but also to structure the field force. Each of the 27 TATs across Europe are backed by a support team in Munich to help execute strategic projects and requests for information quickly. Grandits ignored off-the-shelf software to support country-focused capabilities and created an integrated, transparent system where teams in Spain can jump in and learn from engagement strategies in the UK, all while staying compliant.

“I see modern KAM as something totally different. I wouldn’t even consider it the same,” he says. “This is why, when I talk about KAM, I talk about the Key Account Organization. It centers on capability rather than strategy.”

The Account Engine model has not come without challenges, however. With an emphasis on the quality of personal interactions, success or failure of the model lies with the people hired to execute it. Finding the right talent has been difficult, says Grandits, given that candidates need not only a strong scientific background but deep industry experience and the ability to leave ingrained ways of working behind to embrace a new approach.

Ultimately, the impact of the model will only be known down the line through sales. With Daiichi Sankyo’s oncology portfolio not yet on the market, we will have to wait a little while longer to see the results, but we’re excited to see how it goes.

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