Is Your Sales and Marketing Infrastructure Future Proofed for the Brave New World of Healthcare?

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Viewed from the perspective of some medical sales people, the direction of travel of healthcare sales is not quite a dystopian nightmare, but it is not far off!

They hanker for the past where healthcare professionals seemed to throw open their doors to them; a time when the doctor or nurse made the decision about what to buy and at what price. The phrase “it’s all about relationships” is still permanently on their lips and they are expert in the very best brand of doughnuts and pizza to help convince the people whom they regularly visit that they are someone that is clearly “one of them”, and most unlike the average “rep”, or, heaven preserve us, a sales person!

He/she is cautious about asking for orders as this may make them appear “too pushy”, though they are worried at the fact that a lot of their old contacts no longer see them, putting it down to the fact that “doctors are very busy these days”.

 Change is a difficult thing for many to accept, let alone embrace. But change has come to the world of medical sales and marketing and more change is coming. Most leaders in companies recognise that the old methods of selling are either currently not fit for purpose or probably won’t be in the future. It is not that long ago that it was alleged that one of drivers in the growth of pharmaceutical sales forces was the egos of some CEOs who could have Freudian-esque boast-fests about who had the largest sales team! 

The medical device sector has rarely seen sales teams the size of pharma, but the structure and role of the people on the front line in the future will certainly look very different from how it looked in the past. The doughnut delivery rep has not quite suffered a mass-extinction, but the methods once employed will soon be a thing of the past.

Most top performing sales people are now advocates rather than opponents of measurement – they see CRM systems and sales-effectiveness methodologies as valuable tools to evaluate their ability to earn maximum bonus. Moreover, they are business people who are unafraid of the word sales and are ruthless with their time management. They want “relationships” only with customers who want to buy! Rather than believing the old mantra of “the customer is always right”, they generally fit the “Challenger” salesperson profile (The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson), and are unafraid to push customers to find unseen innovative solutions to their needs.   

Marketing people in the sector are also changing. In many companies there is a shift from product management to category management, and types of marketing that are more reminiscent of FMCG. The integration of health economics into messages has become essential. The advent of digital marketing, and in particular patient and consumer focussed marketing means many new opportunities in marketing that simply didn’t exist in the past. Similar to their sales colleagues, marketing professionals are now generally more focussed on measureable outcomes than they ever were previously.  

Crystal ball time then! What will the medical sales and marketing teams of the future look like?

Most of the industry leaders I talk to think that they are most likely going to be leaner in numbers, but much more highly skilled in the commercial field, thereby enabling them to capitalise on the shifting “balance of power” in purchasing toward non-clinical decision makers. As well as the attributes described above (CRM savvy, “Challenger” sales people) they will also be conversant in health economic models that provide evidence of value for money, and will be expert in providing solutions that respond to individual purchasing group needs. The clinical interface, where necessary, will be managed by application specialists. Many accounts that are no longer economically viable for a field based person to visit will be increasingly managed by telesales. Marketing people will also be very results orientated, with the very best of them continuously pushing the boundaries (within regulatory requirements) of what the latest methods of communication offer, and providing messages that are about value and solutions.

All of this in turn means an increased demand for outstanding performers. “The Challenger Sale” principal can be taught to sales teams and it will improve their performance, but how many of them will genuinely be the Challenger type? Advanced level skills in tender negotiation, solution selling, health economics, public policy, digital marketing etc. will be essential all the way through the structure of the sales and marketing organisation. Individuals with these skills are not easily sourced without careful planning and a professional strategy, and this may take time for your organisation to transform to the new model.

Those companies that refuse to move with the times may be left to a fate similar way to the once great retailers that have refused to embrace the digital age. It seems to essentially require a radical rethink of the structure and day-to-day operational requirements of healthcare company sales and marketing teams. What do you think the future holds?    

For advice on how to source the talent you need to future-proof your healthcare company, please feel free to book in a free 15 minute call with me here

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