Amgen: Focusing on Field-Force Effectiveness
Cover Story – By Laura Last
ACE was designed to be transformational and to shift field-force thinking.
Amgen is one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies, a valuesbased company, deeply rooted in science and innovation to transform new ideas and discoveries into medicines for patients with serious illnesses. Amgen’s corporate mission is, “To Serve Patients.”
At Amgen, we strive to serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies that have the power to restore health or save lives. In everything we do, we aim to fulfill our mission to serve patients. Every step of the way, we are guided by the values that define us.
In 2017, the European commercial organization embarked on a large project called “Accelerating Customer Engagement,” otherwise known as ACE. The ACE solutions were designed to be an evolution of how Amgen interacted with customers at the front line. As such, they had implications on the work of crossfunctional teams including Sales, Marketing, Access and Medical. Although there were many parts to the project, the commercial training team was focused on overall field-force effectiveness.
Why did the organization choose to focus on field-force effectiveness?
- The customers wanted it. Although customers overall were very happy with the Amgen field force, customers stated that interactions could be even more tailored, multi-channeled and valuable.
- The field teams wanted it. ACE was designed to more fully support field teams to engage with customers cross-functionally with specific training, tools and guidance.
- Amgen wanted it. Increasing competition and other market trends drive innovation to remain at the forefront of the industry. Amgen wanted to stay at the leading edge.
The ACE initiative was designed to be transformational and to shift field-force thinking in two main areas, operating model and culture. Those shifts included things like moving from being company-centric to customer-centric and from being product-focused to value-focused. Other shifts included taking risks to innovate and working systematically to collaborate across functions.
Field-force change is hard, and we recognized that it needed to be led by a seasoned training team focused on inventing new ways of enhancing customer excellence. The team needed to create more than interactive content, they also needed to build sponsorship spines to build change champions. This process was not easy versus the traditional approaches, and it required a significant amount of change management strategy coupled with a comprehensive learning strategy that grows leaders.
The team chose to focus on reinforcing and building the basics into integrated solutions that would drive customer engagement excellence in the short term, but also be sustained for the long term. Throughout 2017 and 2018, “reinforce the basics” solutions were implemented across Europe. This included curriculum and training around business planning, customer engagement, customer experience orchestration, competencies and coaching. The ACE initiative brought together existing good practices and ensured the alignment of the tools and technology that enabled them.
Because the concept of sales enablement is still a relatively new discipline in pharma and biotech, it was very valuable to Amgen to have a dedicated sales capabilities organization within learning and performance that partnered with sales leadership to
implement the ACE initiatives and drive competencies in the sales force.
One of the key things this sales capabilities organization did was develop new “forward-facing” competency models for customer-facing, field-based professionals. These models were both internally and externally focused to identify current and future skills necessary for high performance. All models were accompanied with a suite of resources connected to improving utilization and accountability by stakeholders, such as interview guides, competency assessments and quick resource guides. These were critical in helping us align the organization.
The ACE training around the four areas took several months to design and plan. It was rolled out in four waves across 26 countries. There were three workshops within three stages of implementation that included roll-out, orchestration and implementation. A sustainability model was then put into place from 2018 and beyond.
What Did We Learn?
- There needs to be a clear mission and vision. All solutions should ladder up to an outlined mission of field-force excellence.
- It is critical to have all stakeholders at the table when working cross-functionally to develop solutions. Stakeholders from account management, sales leadership and medical should be present to gain agreement around a single goal and align around expectations for implementation. The presence of senior leaders at the appropriate times was also imperative to align various functions under a single unified goal versus managing their individual functional needs.
- It is important to have a final readout to capture key insights and learnings – what went well, where were the challenges, what could have been done differently? As the solutions are implemented across other regions and countries, there is an opportunity to avoid previous pitfalls and improve efficiency.
- Prepare for plans to sustain the effort in the beginning of the planning phase.
- There is a need for significant communication with leadership to build sponsorship from the top down.
- It is important to ensure that all sponsors are aligned throughout the solution
phase. It is critical to secure budget and resources before marching toward
- It is imperative to involve learning and performance as subject matter experts.
- Timing is important. Launching needs to happen from a position of strength.
- Before starting anything with the field force, ensure all district sales managers are aligned with the learning and performance organization. Involve “district manager champions” throughout the process.
- Ensure that all people in the value chain will be involved and will contribute to
a good outcome.
- Favor the retention of people in their roles. After an effort like this, the risk is to lose everything if we are not able to “sustain” it. Part of sustainment is to motivate people to stay in the same job and with the company.
- Look for opportunities to provide training interventions to those who specifically need it. Remote learning enables selection of participants who need it, as opposed to doing large regional or district training sessions, where the content may be valuable to only a subset of attendees.
- Needs assessments are critical to identify learning opportunities that will have the greatest positive impact on the business.
- Utilize respected sales team members to champion and assist in delivery of learning content.
- Plan, plan, plan. The coordination of an effort like this is monumental and can take months to plan and execute. We had to be prepared to deliver this training in many countries in many different languages. Materials had to be printed and shipped. Trainers had to be trained. Just the scheduling of the training was a heavy lift logistically. It took a full cross-functional team planning for many months to ensure success.
Because of the success of ACE in Europe, the Global Commercial Organization training team is now involved with customer engagement initiatives in all regions. All initiatives are designed around the same principles, have been modified as appropriate for regional needs and have incorporated the learning from Europe. Roll-out, orchestration and implementation in these regions started in 2019 and will continue throughout 2020. We look forward to reporting successful results and conclusions in 2021.
Laura Last is executive director, GCO learning and performance, for Amgen. Email
Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.