Understanding What Your Customer Needs to Solve

Key strategies from the healthcare and biopharmaceutical industry that any SAM can incorporate.
By Janice Nissen

As account managers in our respective industries, we have — no doubt — developed a detailed understanding of our customer’s journey. Identifying their pain points and how to solve them are, at this point, table stakes. 

However, with the amount of variation that we now see in changing customer expectations, new channels of information and communication, and disruptors to traditional buying patterns, it becomes incredibly important that we, as account managers, are seeking a more holistic approach toward understanding of our customer’s journey.

Since I work in the healthcare arena, here is a recent example that I found very relevant. 

In the biopharmaceutical industry, we develop and market medicines and vaccines for patients, so it is important that we consider the full scope our patient’s journey with the disease or condition with which they are living.

Their journey begins prior to their diagnosis and it is our responsibility to understand what their life was like before they became a patient. No one ever signs up to be a patient. But when it happens, you want nothing more than to move from being a patient back to being a person with hopes, dreams, family, and friends. 

The journey then moves on to the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery phases. After options are discussed and settled upon, the patient undergoes treatment. From here, they either recover or learn to live with the condition, which may include adhering to therapy.

Like any account manager, we develop our best practices by utilizing data, market research, and direct interactions with patients themselves, their caregivers, or their physicians. According to the World Health Organization, we know that 30-50% of health outcomes are due to social determinants such as health-income level, education, food insecurity, and housing. Aside from understanding the basic health history of the patient, knowing these issues becomes the missing piece to the patient journey.

There is another journey that is important to understand that impacts whether the patient can engage in the health care system at all. If you do not have insurance you may not be in the health care system at all. If you lack transportation you may not be able to access the health care system. If you do not have access to healthy food since you live in a food desert, you may have medication for your medical condition, but your diet may actually be harmful. If English is not your primary language you may not understand what your physician of pharmacist is sharing with you about your health condition.   

As an account manager, you need to understand all elements that will impact the sale or uptake of your product. You may not be able to solve all of these issues, but by demonstrating a deeper understanding of what your customer needs to solve, you will improve your credibility. Even more, you will demonstrate your role as an advisor to your customer and move that relationship from transaction to partnership.

In my 38 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve learned that the only way we can ensure the uptake of our medicines and vaccines is if we fully grasp the full range of issues that each patient and their family face in engaging with the health care system.

Investing in understanding the healthcare system and the surrounding community involves meeting with individuals who are subject-matter experts, not necessarily decision makers, but certainly influencers. By doing so, we found that we can bring best practices from other systems that would help them develop and implement solutions to address the social determinants of health.

Successful examples include health systems that:

  • Worked to ensure bus or train lines were available to their facility.
  • Ensured that healthy food was accessible in neighborhood communities.
  • Provided community outreach for insurance options. 

These issues become the second level of understanding and solving the customers’ needs in our health system. This plan of action becomes the “strategy” in strategic account management and becomes the foundation for a long-term, credible partnership with your customer.

Janice Nissen is a biopharmaceutical leader, consultant, healthcare strategist, and business model innovator. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/janice-nissen/.

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