AmerisourceBergen Corporate Partnerships Team Aims to Support, Guide Pharmacy Customers


Claire Biermaas, president of Corporate Partnerships at AmerisourceBergen, discussed the Corporate Partnerships Team, which works closely with pharmacy customers to guide their processes and help execute their vision.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Claire Biermaas, president of Corporate Partnerships at AmerisourceBergen, discussed the Corporate Partnerships Team, which works closely with pharmacy customers to guide their processes and help execute their vision. Biermaas is taking over the role from retiring president, George Rafferty, whom she called an instrumental mentor and friend.

Aislinn Antrim: Hi, I'm Aislinn Antrim with Pharmacy Times and I'm here with Claire Biermaas of AmerisourceBergen to discuss their corporate partnerships team and how they are supporting their pharmacy customers. So, to get started, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role in AmerisourceBergen?

Claire Biermaas: Sure. Hi, my name is Claire Biermaas, I am the president of Corporate Partnerships. And essentially what that means is I lead a team of associates who are responsible for taking care of our largest customers. And they vary from different classes of trade, retail pharmacies, some large managed care pharmacies, and to grocery, big box, mail order pharmacies, so I lead that team for AmerisourceBergen. We are a large distribution company out of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, but the team is located all across the United States.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful, very interesting. And for the members of our audience who might not already be familiar, can you tell us a little bit more about the corporate partnerships team? I know you just touched on it, but go a little bit deeper for us.

Claire Biermaas: Sure. So, as I mentioned before, corporate partnerships is made up of large strategic customers. So, the team is designed to make sure that we have expertise associated with counseling those customers on things that are going on in the industry, right? So, if you think about a consultant type of role, where we're working with our large customers on how to manage procurement through the supply chain with our internal partners, helping them think through different products and solutions to help them grow their business and talk about strategies for growth, depending on what kind of class or trade they sit in. Some are very large retailers, some are mail order pharmacies, some have central fill capabilities, things like that. How they operate and how they go to market is very different, and how they grow their customer base. And some of the solutions that they present to patients are different, and it's our responsibility as a team to make sure that we're helping them execute on their vision. And then part of the team is really designed to just help them with the day-to-day. We're a distribution company primarily, and so it's our responsibility to make sure that our customers have access to the products that they need to treat their patients, that they are ordering them, you know, in a timely manner, forecasting, things like that. And then making sure that the pack and ship operation is, you know, meeting their expectations from a customer experience perspective every day. And we have associates on the team who our customers work with daily, who are accountable to making that happen. And when it doesn't work as well, or if there's some kind of hiccups that might happen in, you know, the day to day, they're accountable for fixing those things internally. There are many other functions at AmerisourceBergen that work to support our customers, but the customer experience, like the CPE team, that core experience sits on the corporate partnerships account teams.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful, very important role. And how are you approaching your transition from George [Rafferty’s] leadership to your leadership?

Claire Biermaas: Sure, so I've worked with George for over a decade now, I've worked for George for, this would be my sixth year. So, George has been a very instrumental mentor to me, and also a friend. So, the transition [has] been quite graceful if you ask me. I think I've learned a lot from George over the years, so I feel really confident leaning into this role in a way that helps provide a level of stability for our customers and for the team. So, we've been just working, you know, in a super transparent way to make sure that that transition works well. And then, to be honest with you, it's really important to me as a leader to take a look at the team and validate that everything that we're doing is the right thing and do whatever research is needed to identify gaps, because obviously, it's my responsibility to make sure that we are filling those gaps in the future as it relates to core customer experience, but also looking at our ability to grow as a team and our customers’ ability to grow in the market. And make sure that we are providing those resources for them and helping to partner with our customers to help execute on their strategy. And I need to make sure that we have those things available to our customers to make sure that, you know, we can do that in a super-efficient and cost-effective way. And so, I'll be going through that assessment and doing that research over the next few months just to make sure that we've got everything that we need to continue to be successful in the future.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful. And can you talk through some of the priorities and concerns that are really top of mind for the type of pharmacy customers that your team surfaces?

Claire Biermaas: Sure, the number 1 priority to our customers is access to product, right? So, we don't exist unless they can go into their ordering system, or however they order, whether it's through EDI or through an inventory management system, we need to have the products when they go to order them. And if we don't have the products, we need to have teams of folks internally who are able to procure those products for them eventually in the future. So that's our number 1 priority.

And I think the things that organizations are thinking about right now is just the state of the supply chain. I think COVID-19 has really made just [the] supply chain in general very visible to the general public, right? So, things that people didn't really think about before, like, where did where do I get [this], where do my products and services actually come from, and what does the global supply chain look like? It's not something that people thought about before, but I think COVID-19 kind of surfaced the importance of that when we think about access to vaccines and just products in general. Being able to order, I don't know, a dishwasher, and things being on backorder. So, I think it's top of mind for a lot of customers, and that has everything to do with just access to product. And we are, you know, we're operational experts. The CPE team works really closely with our procurement team and our [strategic global sourcing] team to understand through tools that we have as an organization the health of the supply chain, and making sure that if there's a product category that is having some issues, that we're able to troubleshoot and maybe move to another product category that is available to us. So that is number 1, as far as what our customers are thinking about and I think what their customers and their patients are thinking about—you know, I'm a patient. I mean, when I walk into a pharmacy, I want to make sure that my product is there. So, I think that we talk a lot about that internally and we talk a lot about that with our customers. And so that's super top of mind.

And then the second thing is just controlling expenses, right? So, you know, we're in an economic situation where there's significant inflation and I think, you know, folks are trying to make sure that they're taking care of their teams, that they have the right resources to support their businesses, while also managing operating expenses. And quite frankly, we are one of the largest operating expenses that our customers have, right? So, they have to procure product and so we're a very large check that they write every month. And so, making sure that we are as efficient as possible so we can, and we are, purchasing those products at a really great price, so that we can provide value, not just in the efficiency of the supply chain, in the delivery network, but also at a price that makes sense to our customers so that they feel like they can manage their expenses appropriately. So, I would say those, you know, they're not entirely like sexy topics. But they are the most important things that people care about, and that we are responsible for managing as AmerisourceBergen as a core distribution partner.

Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. And how are AmerisourceBergen and the corporate partnerships team uniquely positioned to really help customers support these priorities and navigate these issues? They're so complex, as we all know, so how do you do that?

Claire Biermaas: I think one of the things that I'm most proud of with this team is that it's filled with a lot of tenured folks, right? So, we have people on our team that have been in distribution or in the health care industry for, you know, some over 20 years now, right? Some have worked for AmerisourceBergen for over 20 years. And so, we're able to navigate the industry, our customers, and are very internally networked in order to get things done, right? So, I don't know, probably over a decade ago, there was this kind of new concept of the “speed of trust,” working at the speed of trust, and our team is very much made up of very trusted individuals who are highly networked internally. And it's our responsibility to sit in those swivel chairs, right? So, we face our customer, and we try and understand what their needs are. And then we turn internally, and we use our network, and we use our experience, we call upon our experience in the industry and things that we've learned from our past as far as, you know, what's happened in the industry and maybe we can make some correlations on past experience and what we think might happen in the future. Or based on, you know, professionally what we've endured before. And then communicate that internally to make sure that we are supporting our customers in the right way. So, I think the highly tenured nature of the team is one that's very impressive.

I would also say that we are really good listeners, although I feel like I'm talking a lot right now. But we are. We ask the right questions, and we listen for things that our customers are saying. But we also kind of listen for things that they're not saying, or have maybe used some data that say, ‘Okay, well, our customers are behaving in this way, I wonder if it would be really smart for us to have XYZ conversation with them, because we're seeing that they're purchasing a certain way.’ And, you know, we might want to just have a conversation or consult with them on maybe improving that a little bit. So, there's lots of listening and there's lots of watching what goes on with our customers.

And then I would just say, you know, we're a pretty solidly kind team. Right? I know, you know, business executives don't talk about that a lot. But I would say the health of the team and our level of being trusted advisors, but [also] just being trusted humans and making the decision to do the right thing matters. And I think it's really hard to quantify that, but I would say that it is one of the pieces of feedback that I get pretty consistently from customers is that they feel spoiled, and they also enjoy working with the team because of their level of interest in their business, and just their kind of empathetic approach to trying to get things done. So, culture is definitely a thing. And I would say that that is, you know, a really big, big deal on our team.

And then finally, I would just say they're really smart. I mean, given all the experience and the understanding of the industry, there's an intellectual competence that they bring to their conversations that I think also sets them apart. And they've become, you know, hugely reliable resources for some of the largest health care registry or health care players in the industry. I'm super proud of that.

Aislinn Antrim: That's wonderful. I love that you brought up that kindness because that is crucial to building that trust. Well, speaking of innovation, last August, Pharmacy Times sat down with George Rafferty and Jason Dinger to learn more about corporate partnership’s planned collaboration with the newly launched AB Health Ventures Fund, and Georgia anticipated that the fund would be a valuable tool for the corporate partnerships team’s innovation efforts. So, can you share how that collaboration has progressed and how you're planning to expand upon these innovation efforts in your new role?

Claire Biermaas: Sure. I think that a lot of organizations, for anybody that's listening right now, a lot of organizations have tried to figure out their innovation teams, like their innovation efforts, right? So, an innovation comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. You can have a very small change that makes a huge difference, and it could just be like a transactional change, or, I don't know, a small design change on your website or on your ordering platform that makes a huge difference. And then there are like really big transformational ideas that take a much longer time to maybe test and develop and iterate over time. And Jason has been our leader in developing those capabilities and resourcing those capabilities and working with organizations and helping us understand how different ideas go through different stage gates, right? So, I would say that at this point where our corporate partnerships team falls within working with that team is a few different connection points. We have some customers that work with the team as an advisor, right? So, if the innovation team is collecting information, or they have an idea, or there's something that they're working through, there are corporate partnership customers who have agreed to say like, “Sure, you can call me and talk to me about that, and I will act in an advisor role for you.” Right? So, there's lots of activity happening there. And then there are corporate partnership customers who are basically have signed on to do pilots, right? So, we have a new product or solution, we're testing it with them within their organizations. And that's a little bit deeper of a role, right? Like we're actually operating [and] executing something new within our customers that's not necessarily scaled to the marketplace yet. And they've signed on to say like, “Yes, we will experiment with you.” Right? So, we have some of those customers. And then we have customers that we're really working with to see if we can put together some kind of, you know, transformational ideas that have huge impacts on patient care or, you know, their future vision as a partner. And that takes a lot longer, right? Because those are kind of bigger, more transformational ideas. And so, I would say those continue to develop, they continue to mature. They're obviously all at different altitudes, and depending on what's going on in the industry, one altitude might be more important than another, right? So, if we think about COVID-19, like the number one thing was get the products out, right? Make sure that that pick, pack, and ship people are in the distribution centers, that people are able to pick up their medications at retail pharmacies. Well, now that we're kind of coming through that and we feel like we have a minute to breathe, now it's really important for us to go to the next level and make sure that, you know, we're coming up with products and solutions that help make the day to day better, or maybe through making things more efficient. And then obviously, the transformational ideas that I referenced before. So, those are the 3 different areas that we continue to partner with Jason and his team on and, you know, continue to help make sure that they mature in the best, most effective way possible.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful. That's so interesting. It'll be exciting to see the future of all of those. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

Claire Biermaas: Sure. Thanks for having me.

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