CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — Strong relationships with customers can lead to deeper engagement and commitments to their cause — and help them discover new opportunities to progress the future of their industries. This was a key takeaway at a recent AmerisourceBergen (AB) town hall meeting.
This candid discussion was part of a series of virtual town hall meetings moderated by George Rafferty, AB’s president of the Corporate Partnerships team for his customers, which consist of AB’s largest retail customers.
The theme of the conversation focused on new directions in pharmacy and distribution. George was joined by Francis Vincent, vice president of strategic solutions for Corporate Partnerships, and Jason Dinger, senior vice president of global product and solutions — both recent additions to AB.
“When expanding our team, our intent was to find individuals with experience with our nuanced customer base who think differently about innovation,” said Rafferty. “Francis and Jason are perfect fits, and I’m thrilled to work with them.”
Dinger heads the AB Health Ventures Initiative — a dedicated corporate venture capital fund launched this spring that will invest in and partner with emerging health care startup companies working to transform health care for people and animals globally. AB Health Ventures will operate via cross-collaboration with teams like Corporate Partnerships as part of its overarching mission to build on AB’s commitment to delivering innovation for its customers.
Accordingly, the town hall was an opportunity for Rafferty, Vincent and Dinger to contemplate the opportunities in store for Corporate Partnerships customers thanks to this intensified focus on investments in areas of growth within retail pharmacy.
Rafferty kicked the conversation off shedding light on the meticulous self-evaluation that the Corporate Partnerships team undergoes annually to ensure that they are positioning themselves as a strategic partner, capable of navigating pharmacy customers through their quickly evolving industry.
“As you grow, we grow along with you,” said Rafferty, addressing the audience of Corporate Partnerships’ customers. “We aren’t satisfied with a basic understanding of our customers’ priorities — we want to isolate and measure them.”
Rafferty then invited Vincent to expand upon this concept and discuss the annual customer survey that Corporate Partnerships coordinates, called the Healthier Futures Index.
“It considers a number of factors — all tied to our interaction with our customers,” Rafferty began. “Francis, could you please talk a bit more about the survey and explain how the resulting data informs our approach to strategic solution development?”
“As you were asking this question, I couldn’t help but think of our first conversation, which took place before I even joined AmerisourceBergen,” replied Vincent. “Among other things, George described this data-driven process of surveying Corporate Partnerships’ customers to make sure that the team had a current barometer of their satisfaction with us.”
Vincent continued with a description of the survey.
“At the top level, the Healthier Futures Index study assesses our customers’ satisfaction with the Corporate Partnerships team. But the real value is revealed once we break that information down to the experience drivers behind that satisfaction score,” Vincent explained.
In short, the insights produced by the data allow the team to see which aspects of their service are most important to customers. One key driver of overall satisfaction that Vincent focused on was innovation.
“Feedback from this survey indicates that our customers want to do more with us. That is a great responsibility and, frankly, it’s reflective of the trust that we’ve earned. They view us as a partner and trust us to not only grow with them — but to point them in directions for growth that they haven’t considered. They are looking to us to work through what the paths for growth and innovation look like.”
Vincent explained that the Corporate Partnerships team is embracing this challenge — and using it as a road map for the development of strategic solutions.
“And we need to earn the right to stage strategic and innovative conversations with our customers,” Rafferty added. “There is no room for these discussions unless we’re meeting and exceeding expectations as a distribution partner. I’m proud to say that our team has some of the highest customer satisfaction scores in the AmerisourceBergen organization. Francis, could you talk more about how we’ll put customer feedback from our study into action?”
“I’ll call it an iterative process,” Vincent replied. “We’ve used that information to determine a number of areas to focus our solution development.”
Among others, growth and expansion is one prominent area that Corporate Partnerships is prioritizing.
“I mentioned from an innovation standpoint our customers themselves are looking to grow. They’re looking to add more customers and more service lines — and they’re looking to the Corporate Partnerships team to help them do all of this. Consequently, we’re exploring opportunities to pull through more of our service lines and co-create new solutions with them that help them grow, acquire new customers or deepen their relationships with their existing customers by offering additional service lines.”
“Now the Corporate Partnerships team has yet another avenue to co-create and co-invest with customers to build those long-term strategic relationships,” said Rafferty. “The establishment of AB Health Ventures strengthens our position as a strategic partner and adds tremendously to the value we bring to the table.”
Rafferty then invited Dinger to the virtual floor.
“AmerisourceBergen is participating in a market that is changing and evolving at an unprecedented speed,” Dinger began. “Innovation is absolutely crucial to our continued ability to empower and support our customers day to day.”
Dinger emphasized this point, explaining that employing the same strategy and measures that got Corporate Partnerships — and AB as a whole, where it is today won’t ensure continued prowess for the distribution partner or its customers.
“We’re committed to waking up every day and thinking about how we’ll make the lives of those we serve easier, more efficient and more competitive,” said Dinger. “Partnering with AmerisourceBergen’s customers is a huge part of that. Any time we — to use Geo’s phrase, go shoulder to shoulder with you, we’re going to develop solutions quickly and in a manner that hits the mark. But in a larger sense, coming together will give us the ability to transform the markets we operate in.”
Dinger went on to introduce the AB Health Ventures fund — the newest tool in AB’s tool box.
“AmerisourceBergen now has an enhanced ability to invest alongside our customers and our partners in new startups that are strategic for both parties,” explained Dinger. “This will drive the improvement of our existing tools and the acceleration of innovation.”
Though the company has a successful history of partnerships and minority investments in startups that deliver strong commercial benefits to improve customer and, ultimately, patient outcomes, the $150 million allocated to the fund enables AB to make consistent investments in the most promising startups in the industry.
“So now there’s ample opportunity to harness the unique expertise, energy and technology of a startup when going to market for the needs that customers present to us,” Dinger continued. “Our activity in this space also provides visibility into emerging solutions, which makes us smarter about anticipating customer needs.”
Dinger then welcomed the audience of Corporate Partnerships customers to reach out about prospective opportunities and partners.
“Please reach out if you want to talk to the venture fund about an opportunity that you see, or get our feedback on a prospective partner,” he said. “We’re looking at anyone advancing the future of pharmacies and distribution. We’re also looking at clinical trials and commercialization.”
Dinger concluded by expressing his excitement about the venture fund and the interest that it has seen so far. “We’re now at the stage of making our first set of investments in the fund, which we’ll be announcing in the fall.”
Rafferty echoed Dinger’s sentiments. “The venture fund will help us explore creative new avenues to advance health care and help create healthier futures. It’s very exciting.”