Marketing functional competencies – who are they really for?


Each year pharma companies enter the strategic planning process anticipating that the bar will be raised to reveal a plan based on behaviour changing strategies and one that is more customer centric than the year before. In order to do this, a very clear understanding of what customers value is needed.

The breadth and type of target customers, however, is transforming as healthcare systems continue to evolve. Clear insight and understanding into what is valued across these different customer groups is therefore needed and means that the people needed to exchange value with these customers has also changed from traditional core marketers to include those in the wider organisation.

Companies now recognise the need for cross-functional team members to participate in the overall strategic planning process, as well as the expectation for them to build their own departmental plans. As David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett Packard (HPQ), said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”


In essence, there is a growing need to involve cross-functional teams such as Market Research, Market Access and Medical in the strategic planning process – but are all cross-functional teams ready to take on the marketing type language and critical thinking skills needed?

The problem is that some members of the cross-functional team are thrown into the planning process with little or no training to enable them to grasp not only the process, but the thinking skills needed to fully contribute to or build strategic plans. This should not surprise anyone. In my experience, many pharma companies still have the mentality that a marketer – in classical terms – can set the strategic vision or change the trajectory of a business with no training.


“…a very clear understanding of what customers value is needed.”


While cross-functional teams are required to take on commercial strategic thinking skills in addition to their own functional competence, there is a widespread lack of recognition that these employees need to receive the skill building necessary to become fully contributing partners in their changing roles demonstrating commercial strategic excellence.

The question is, should the job role of cross-functional team members be changed to include strategic planning? If so, shouldn’t these contributors be given the opportunity to increase their thinking bandwidth to become a fully contributing partner? If organizations desire to have fully functioning teams that are capable of creating behaviour changing strategies across customers, the answer is yes.


My approach to role definition, competency development and skill building is holistic in nature and focuses on more than just the ‘technical’ side; the key here is to embed changes within the organization. Any or all of the solutions combined below can be implemented to optimize cross-functional strategic planning contributions by skill building. For a truly holistic approach, I believe all steps should be completed.

1. Vision the future state

• In order to understand which customers we will need to do business with now and in the future (up to 5 years), future scenarios should be developed. This will help ensure that when job roles are optimized, it is the future and not the current state driving the change.

“The breadth and type of target customers, however, is transforming as healthcare systems continue to evolve.”

2. Determine what roles in cross-functional supporting teams will contribute to strategic planning

• Based on the future company portfolio and competitive landscape, it should be clear what customers will be needed to drive change and therefore what cross-functional roles will be needed for strategic planning.

3. Optimize cross-functional job role descriptions to include such commercial strategic excellence competencies as:

• Business understanding

Both of the market, industry dynamics, competitive landscape and needs and values of key stakeholders

• Developing brand and departmental strategies

Through critical thinking skills, the ability to create an overall brand or portfolio vision or strategies and set strategic objectives aligned with organisational and business goals

• Operationalizing strategic plans

Demonstrate an aptitude for translating strategic goals into clear action plans and tactical implementation.

4. Gain senior leader support

• A clear understanding of attitudes and beliefs toward skill building within the organization is needed. Efforts, especially those related to skill building need continued reinforcement of leadership support. While there may be a strong desire to build skills, it is the work that wins, not taking time to train.

5. Anchor competencies into performance management:

• An impactful way to create accountability, incentive to learn and change behaviour is by anchoring skill building to a performance measurement framework such as commercial excellence competencies. Doing this ensures that concepts learned in classes are accepted and endorsed as skills needed to achieve critical behaviours for organizational success and a way of doing business within the organization.


“…it should be clear what customers will be needed to drive change and therefore what cross-functional roles will be needed for strategic planning…”


6. Refine PDPs to include strategic planning:

• Allow the optimization of cross-functional roles to become aspirational by setting up expectations for lower level roles within those departments.

7. Group learn: ‘Action Learning’:

• ‘Action Learning’ is a real-time learning experience that addresses a business issue and develops individuals and groups at the same time. The goal of Action Learning is to learn by doing. This allows teams to learn new skills and immediately apply them to an actual project.

8. Sustainability and measurement:

• Typically 0%–5% of total learning event efforts are dedicated to post-learning engagement. By extending the learning post event, the likelihood of skill transfer to day-to-day jobs and in turn behaviour change is more likely.

• Measurement which tracks cross-functional behaviour change beyond the typical Level 1 post event survey is recommended. While it should be obvious during the Strategic Planning process whether behaviour has changed by the nature of the level of contributions, comparing to a base line will keep the measurement objective.


Commercial strategic excellence competencies should be required for those employees who are involved in developing strategic plans, whether they are in a traditional marketing role or not.



About the author:

Cindy Monastersky is a Senior Consultant at The MSI Consultancy, a CELLO Health Business and can be contacted by emailing, or visit the website

Who are marketing functional competencies really for?