Behind the wizard’s curtain: Four strategies to help you sell to the changing healthcare customer more effectively

Healthcare providers are changing the way they purchase goods and services. Gone are the days when you could sell to them by leveraging one or two contacts or sending an army of salespeople to a hospital. Thanks to collaborative purchasing, group-purchasing organizations, shared-service organizations and new government regulations, effectively selling to public healthcare institutions in Canada has never been more difficult.

My work with hospitals, shared-service organizations (SSO), group purchasing organizations (GPO), government ministries and other public-sector institutions has given me unique insight into how providers make buying decisions in the current environment. I have identified four key strategies to help you sell to the changing healthcare customer more effectively. For each strategy, I have provided a list of questions for you to consider.

1. Ensure your sales team is selling what your customers actually need

Now more than ever, it is important to have the right conversations with the right people. You need to talk to hospital administrators, procurement managers, contract managers, physicians, nurses and other clinicians, not to mention representatives of the SSOs and GPOs. All of these stakeholders have different interests that all need to be addressed and all have the ability to influence a decision in different ways. Your sales team should be in constant communication with all of these groups to understand their unique needs. The best sales organizations develop strong relationships by selling their customers solutions to actual problems and by maintaining relationships with various different people within the same organization.

When Office Depot wanted to improve the in-store experience for their customers, they did it by changing the incentives they gave to their sales employees. The management team found that customers were browsing for 20-30 minutes and then leaving the store without making a purchase. Instead of rewarding sales representatives on commission for selling promotional and featured items, they increased base salary. Because of this, employees started focusing on the needs of the customers instead of their own desire to make commissions.

Questions to think about:

  • How do you integrate key customer information across different internal product
    or service groups? Are you capable of showing your full capabilities to a customer?
  • Does your sales team develop trusting relationships with customers and prospective customers, or do they just sell them products or services?
  • Is your sales team selling what customers actually need or just what they are incentivized to sell?
  • What happens if your key contact leaves an organization, do you need to start building new relationships from scratch?

2. Provide long-term value to your customers

Healthcare providers will be much more willing to buy from you if you can demonstrate the long-term benefits of the goods and services you offer. It’s important to consider all of the different ways you can provide value. For example, helping a hospital make a procedure less invasive doesn’t just speed up recovery times for patients. It also allows surgeons to do more procedures, shortening wait times. Patients are discharged faster, thus freeing up more beds. The procedure is safer, reducing the likelihood of patients being readmitted. And because recovery times are faster, there will be fewer follow-up visits. This is an example of how you can show a larger, long-term impact to your customers.

Best-in-class companies develop cost/benefits analyses to show their customers the full value of an investment and are able to cite specific results that have been achieved. Remember to familiarize yourself with single and sole-sourcing exceptions so you can bypass competitive processes when possible.

Questions to think about:

  • How do you integrate key customer information across different internal product
    or service groups? Are you capable of showing your full capabilities to a customer?
  • Does your sales team develop trusting relationships with customers and prospective customers, or do they just sell them products or services?
  • Is your sales team selling what customers actually need or just what they are incentivized to sell?
  • What happens if your key contact leaves an organization, do you need to start building new relationships from scratch?

3. Identify profitable opportunities

Just because you’re presented with an opportunity doesn’t mean you have to jump at it. Not every customer is worth having. It’s important to choose the most profitable
opportunities available. Look closely at the request for proposal (RFP) what does the potential customer value most and how will they make the buying decision? Is there any room for negotiation? Is there an opportunity for collaboration and to offer a solution the customer may not have contemplated? If there isn’t enough value to be had, it may not be worth pursuing.

I encouraged a client of mine to stop working with its least lucrative customers. Even though this meant dropping 10% of their customer base, profitability increased by over 20% within six months. By focusing on their stronger relationships and pursuing better opportunities, they came out ahead very quickly.

Best-in-class companies know what their more profitable relationships are. They understand the needs of their target customers and how they can fill those needs. They are comfortable navigating through the competitive procurement process and can work with their customers to make changes that benefit both parties.

Questions to think about:

  • How do you assess new opportunities when they come in?
  • What areas of your business are the most profitable?
  • What is the profile of your ideal customer?

4. Provide additional value

If you’re just selling goods or services to your customers, you’re not doing enough. It’s important to add as much value to the relationship as possible. This may mean offering your customers workshops, seminars or articles about the products and services you provide. It may mean giving them access to data about patient outcomes or introducing them to people who can help them in other ways. You can assist them with implementation or teach them how to use a product better. Leverage any previous experience and knowledge about best practices you may have. But remember to confirm that any extra services you provide comply with any relevant legislation.

Best-in-class companies always have the best interests of their customers in mind and are always looking for ways to add value. If there is a faster way to train, implement, install or convert something, you need to know about it and share it with your customers.

Questions to think about:

  • What are the most frequent questions your customers ask and how can you better respond to them?
  • In what other areas can you help your customers improve performance?
  • How are you sharing the best practices you observe with your customers?

In this new changing healthcare environment, building strong relationships with customers has never been more important. Your customers are having some of the same challenges as you in trying to navigate through the new process, so you can be most helpful in supporting them and mitigating their risk wherever possible. You should approach this as an opportunity to become a leader in a changing industry.

I have developed a visual to help you understand how to become that market leader. If you want to become a best-in-class company, refer to the visual below profiling three different types of companies and how they manifest some of the key characteristics required to be successful. You need to determine where you fit on this visual and how you can become a top dog so you can reap the benefits.