Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

Silo-busting: GSK and Novartis take a cross-functional approach to connect with customers

By ZS Editors

Oct. 28, 2020 | Q&A | 10-minute read

Silo-busting: GSK and Novartis take a cross-functional approach to connect with customers

When implementing key account management (KAM), navigating internal silos is one of the greatest challenges for life sciences companies today. To explore this theme, Namita Powers, principal at ZS, spoke with Mike Hauser, head of the systems executive team at Novartis, and Alan Williams, director of U.S. oncology key customer marketing at GSK, at ZS’s virtual Impact Summit on Oct. 13.


The panel offered practical solutions for overcoming this challenge. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity and length.


Namita Powers: Breaking down internal silos was named the single greatest challenge facing life sciences companies today when implementing KAM, according to participants in our KAM COVID roundtable in June. When your organizations actually manage to overcome silos to meet customer needs, what is the customer's reaction? Do they even notice?

Alan Williams:
At one account in particular, medical uncovered an opportunity for some research, and then commercial was able to help bring additional external customer collaborators together to join that conversation. So medical drove the research discussion, commercial facilitated the action planning and getting the right people in the room, and to the customer, it all happened in one interaction that set the stage for ongoing productive conversations.

The biggest successes we’ve seen is when we’ve empowered the right people to ask the right questions in our accounts. While customers always appreciate fewer, more focused engagements, what they appreciate even more is a genuine interest in their goals. In the accounts where we have the best relationships, those medical-commercial internal partnerships tend to be the strongest.


Mike Hauser: Yeah, building on that, I literally have some accounts that are proactively requesting the “ONE Team” approach. That’s new for us and it’s borne out of failures in the past. I remember a time when we had an opportunity to collaborate with a large healthcare system. Our field teams were completely aligned and built an amazing proposal. It was our internal team that wasn’t agile enough to adopt to the concept. As much as we tried to push that proposal forward, we had to make a bunch of compromises, and ultimately came to the decision that this was not really customer centric. This isn't what they were asking for, and we weren’t ready so we had to pass on the opportunity year one. We went back to that customer that year and said, “Listen, I don't think we can provide exactly what you were looking for.” And to be honest, they were more happy that we didn’t try to put a square peg in a round hole. Year two, we kept working at it. The team never gave up and built a partnership with our legal and compliance colleagues. These challenging situations in breaking down silos are extremely difficult. But sometimes we have to break things down to build them back up. 


NP: That's a great story. So, when you've had these successes and this positive customer response, what were the key themes you had in place for success?

It’s that cross-functional, ‘one team’ culture. It starts with the common ground across all of the team, all the way to the top. At the end of the day, can the team, at all levels across all functions, clearly define what will lead to a positive customer experience? 

I always ask people to reflect on their biggest accomplishment. Then, I ask them who was a part of that big win. I always see faces light up when they talk about the amazing team effort. When setting goals and objectives, they should always be greater than any one individual can accomplish. When their eyes are opened to the support of a cross functional team, it’s magical.


NP: Alan, anything to add?

AW: The few things I might add are a clear implementation plan and clear roles and responsibilities so everyone ‘knows the play.’ That goes for both members of the collaborative team, as well as our internal legal, regulatory and compliance partners. Everyone needs to understand what we’re trying to achieve as an organization, how we plan to execute, how we tell our story, and how we will know if we’ve been successful. We’ve seen this work best when you have some sort of a playbook that everyone can refer to, with the language as clear as possible.


NP: That's fantastic. This concept of these organized customer teams, sometimes they're a little bit mystical. Not everybody knows how to even work with them. And so, educating the whole organization I think is huge.


AW: It’s not like you're going to put together this nifty slide deck, show it to everybody one time and then everybody just knows it forever. Right? So, we talk about repetition just in how humans and adults learn things: you need three to seven times to see a thing to remember it. So, we're trying to have what I call a ‘walking deck’ that can communicate what we're all trying to do, and bring that up every time there's a meeting internally, so that we have that alignment.


MH: And Alan, to your point, this really is a culture journey both internally and externally to bring cross functional teams aligned to the customer, and it's not easy. So, that walking deck, like you were talking about, is critical. I try to do even simple things, like asking people who else was involved when they’re telling me about a customer story. If you can create that culture where everyone starts asking questions around cross-functional collaboration, you'll see a much bigger shift.


NP: Can you give some advice on specific resources or tools that help make this kind of silo busting a bit of an easier task?


MH: For us, coming into COVID, we shifted to Microsoft Teams, and we've been using that platform, not only just for video capability like this, connecting with individuals, but also to house our documents and standardize the transparency of the things we’re working on across multiple functions. Everyone across medical, access and commercial has access to it and we’ve worked out how to do it compliantly.


Another thing is basic tools like documents about meeting expectations and ways of working. And then, for me, doing after-action reviews that are centered around any significant event, internally or externally. And we’ve asked four questions and really the fourth one is critical, but it’s always, what did we set out to do as a team? What actually occurred? What would we do differently next time? And then the most important one is, who else needs to know? If you ask yourself that question, the transparency and the learnings of the organization are significant.


NP: Oh, I love that addition of the fourth question. That one's really good. Alan, anything to add?


AW: I don’t really like the term quarterback, but we use it a lot to describe someone who’s making sure that everybody that touches these accounts is talking together about what they’re trying to do. The coordination is certainly important, but there’s an opportunity to elevate these account coordinators or account managers to also speak to some type of value. When we say value, that it’s not about a money exchange or a discount or a contract, but about, explaining the clinical value or the economic value of our products.


One other thing I’ve found really helpful is dedicated legal and compliance support for a customer marketing team. All the programs you’re developing are slightly tailored or customized or entirely co-created, so having the bandwidth and the expertise from your legal and compliance partners really helps. Making sure that everyone is aligned and understands what you’re trying to achieve is super important.


NP: I’ve definitely seen that as well – you can’t underestimate the support from HQ. Not only expertise in legal and compliance, but also customer analytics and insights folks that truly understand organized customers, training partners that understand the skills and capabilities needed, and even program offices that help with some of the internal blocking and tackling that’s required to succeed in KAM. All of these are true enablers of the success that can be achieved with KAM.


We did some market research recently around COVID that showed that because of increasing financial pressures, organized customers’ willingness to partner with pharma has increased. So, if we can work on breaking down these silos and align our cross-functional teams, I think we could really do a lot of good for patients everywhere.


AW: Right. The one big benefit of having these virtual meetings is that I can go into accounts that have multiple sites now and have a meeting that brings together multiple people from multiple sites. And as silly as it sounds, because this technology has existed for many years now, to do team chats and Zoom and whatnot, I think now our customers are also seeing that there's value to them when they meet with pharma to bring different decision makers together on one call, no matter where they are. That’s something that we could probably leverage a little bit better.


MH: And to your point, Alan, with one click of the button too, you can start engaging other significant partners within your organization in those meetings as well. So, it’s been a welcome change.

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