By Nicolas de Ricou, Echosens; and Didier Devaud, FKG
Since early 2020 and the first COVID-19 wave, the medtech industry is under the spotlight more than ever in its young history. Every business grows in two possible ways, either by selling more to existing customers or by acquiring new customers. The question is how to do so during a pandemic, when the number of procedures may be dwindling and accessing new customers is much more challenging. Across the globe, lockdowns have led to a backlog of non-vital treatments as patients have postponed procedures that could affect their quality of life in the short term but not their vital prognosis. This in turn has decreased the ability of healthcare practitioners to attend conferences and exhibitions and participate in in-person trainings and of sales reps to tout new products and services. Fundamentally, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of sustaining loyalty with existing customers while making it harder to gain new customers, who may be both risk-averse to change in a climate of uncertainty and anxiety and may not want to dedicate the time to forge new relationships.
In summary, there have been short-term effects of diminished access to customers, delayed procedures, and lowered inventories. Not only did the dynamics of selling and consuming change, but there have also been changes in the winners and losers in the more connected digital economy. However, after an adjustment to the “new normal” baseline, the recurring business remains, as the fundamental demands driven by rising healthcare needs are unchanged.
Furthermore, most businesses have become more aware of the necessity to manage their cash reserves better, because when business stops, the fixed costs don’t. This increases pressure to lower inventory in a time when supply chains are also under pressure. This resulted in a short-term drop in sales, which may not be recovered, as practice owners have invested or upgraded their digital systems, better managing the demand side through CRM and the supply side through negotiating new terms for both delivery and payment.
The conclusions of the Boston Consulting Group’s third report on medtech commercial models1 suggest that the majority of companies have outdated sales practices. Healthtech companies need a new approach, since “there is a massive gap between companies’ current capabilities and aspirations”.
Certainly, the problem is multidimensional and not easy to fix. This article will provide a few useful questions and insights.
The Medtech Context Your Sales Team Is Dealing With
The following are three trends that sales reps are having to adjust to as the medtech business environment evolves.
1. A multi-stakeholder environment. When building their sales strategy, commercial teams need to have a broad vision of the many actors who will influence or make the decisions, such as physicians and nurses, value decision committees, payers, finance directors, clinic owners, and regional authorities. Several decision-makers must be convinced or at least politely neutralized. Aligning those actors, who sometimes have conflicting interests among themselves, is the challenge that medtech sales reps face every day.
2. Blurring market borders. Some medtech segments are closer to consumer electronics. Given that patients’ demands are growing closer to consumers’ expectations (in terms of service, speed, and portability), the multiplication of smart devices able to measure health attributes in real time, and the rising power of the patient (with patient advocacy groups, associations, ratings of healthcare professionals), your next competitor might be a consumer electronics company willing to enter the healthcare market. The redefinition of market boundaries can also be to your advantage by enabling expanded ecosystems, more affordable technology, and accelerated regulatory approvals.
3. “Infobesity.” The volume of data in life sciences is skyrocketing2 and is contributing to the doubling of medical literature every three years.1 This is an opportunity to get ever-refined market insights, faster. However, the more data you have, the easier it is to get lost or confused. Making sense of the data at your disposal demands a balance of care, choices (of what to focus on), flair, and good sense that no tool will ever provide you – at least in the years to come. In other words, medtech sales strategists need to capture numbers that have a measurable impact on your business and not get distracted by data with limited impact such as vanity metrics, etc. For example, the numbers of likes of your Happy New Year, dear network LinkedIn post won’t pay your bills. Customers spending money on your product or solution does.
Key Behaviors And Skills Of The Successful Sales Rep In 2022
Because medical devices are more regulated than products in many other industries, many of the sales tactics, tools, and tricks used by salespeople around the world are not available or relevant. From serious compliance to the need to obtain a regulatory greenlight, the rules of the game for sales rep are clearly defined.
1. Networking or Not Working
Hervé Bommelaer’s rule of thumb still applies. More than ever before, medtech sales requires internal cooperation – between marketing, sales, regulatory, quality, and medical affairs. This means that developing solid networking skills is vital to reps’ success, both within their organization and in their customers’ organizations and beyond. In this context, the multiplication of stakeholders is also an opportunity for sales reps to differentiate themselves, which allows a larger redefinition of their role. An ability to build and strengthen a highly qualitative relationship over time will become the cornerstone of their job. Interestingly, the more tools available, the more important the foundation on which these tools are based: human qualities.
Add value by sharing useful information with the contacts that need it, when they need it. Connect people. It pays off big time.
Subsequently, what needs to happen is determining how to describe content, deliver products/services, and train customers through a blend of face to face and online interactions. This requires an infrastructure that may or not be available; therefore, relying on a third party that has the capabilities and experience to support the logistical effort may be necessary.
2. Boosting CRM Adoption
CRM is already in its third generation, from its inception in the 1990s, to the 2020s, where it now benefits from the arrival of artificial intelligence. The adoption of this tool is rather recent for most industry players.
In parallel with the development – not to say the refinement – of CRM solutions, a large array of KPIs is available for use by marketing and sales management. For example, think about the sales enablement tools and modules rapidly penetrating the market.
Spend a couple of minutes with front-line sales, and you will find out that – for good or bad reasons – the level of appreciation of those CRM tools is not as high as you would expect. Quite often, reps complain that their new CRM has not simplified the reporting tool or made it more user friendly. Lack of integration of field constraints and needs in the initial phase? Lack of training? Lack of flexibility of the tool to handle new markets or customer segments? The reasons can be many. The key issues are that behavior (lack of adoption) as well as limited adaptation to address the real needs of sales reps remain underestimated barriers.
The evident risk here is that suboptimal use of those CRM platforms and a suboptimal level of reporting lead to inaccuracy in the data in the hands of top management who are making strategic decisions.
To avoid those traps, the first thing to consider is that the governance of CRM is a crucial issue for any company. It must be treated as such, not only in words but also in practice. More often than not, a part of the organization (the marketing director, the sales director, the sales effectiveness director) will make the decisions to make changes in the CRM without sufficiently consulting their peers, including the sales team, which is the primary user. Empowering sales reps to increase adherence to CRM usage is a first step.
Most importantly, 98% of sales reps hate reporting. Many of them will always try to find tricks to spend less time on writing reports. With that in mind, less is more. What are the seven or eight fields that you want completed?
Demand less, but be intractable on what you deem essential. What information is contributing clearly to your understanding of the business and your decision making, such as, For example, the lead to opportunity conversion ratio?
3. Capturing The Power Of Digitalization
For most of us, technology has not just changed the way we work, it has also changed the words we use and, consequently, the way we think. With all the tools suddenly available – from e-detailing to automated marketing campaigns and global platforms able to find and scrutinize clinical data in a few seconds – the temptation is great to play the sorcerer’s apprentice, with the risk of losing the big picture. In other words, by focusing too much on the myriad of tools and new ways to interact with physicians and buyers, reps won’t be able to distinguish clearly enough between intermediate goals and the final objective. For reps, having a fresh mindset, an ability to learn, and, where necessary, unlearn in order to adapt to what comes next is key. Certainly, the acceleration in digitalization that has occurred in the past 18 months will lead to a new, more integrated commercial model.
Keeping in touch with customers actively and regularly through marketing automation is essential to ensure that customers are familiar enough with the new products/services, are satisfied, and are moving further along the adoption curve (awareness, interest, desire, action) to themselves become ambassadors to their network of followers. This sets in motion a virtuous circle that promotes further and faster sales. Not to be forgotten is the importance of being able to empathize with customers who may be facing short-term personal and financial difficulties and to produce creative tailor-made solutions rather than corporate policies.
4. Daring To Be Creative
Being creative is key to unfolding new market spaces. Here again, the human factor is central. Ingeniousness stems as much from motivation as from imagination. If you learn to see differently, you can find new customers segments, new partnerships, and new countries. The sky’s the limit. And until your deal is closed and your device installed, anything can happen. Creativity also means questioning your behavior and your approach to a customer or a group of customers. Being too confident is often an unsafe place to be because until your deal is closed and your device installed, anything can happen.
5. Being An Essential Partner Of The Marketing Team
Communication with marketing has strategic relevance. Ideally, marketing would share ideas and proposals about new products and service developments, and sales will, of course, feed information to marketing (for example, updating the marketing team about the purchasing process transformation, the competitive landscape evolution within a key account, etc.) but also gently challenge marketing’s proposals from time to time. The larger the organization, the further management is from the customers. Although this isn’t an absolute truth, it is a strong tendency.3 However brilliant and well-articulated a marketing strategy is, the risk always exists that part of the vision, wording, and concepts speak more internally than to the customers themselves. One of the biggest mistakes a marketing manager can make is to take himself (or his GM) for his own client. The sales reps play a key role as ambassadors to their customers – providing the marketing team with honest feedback.
Your Marketing And Sales Teams Need To Communicate Better
When taking stock of the changes, the reality remains that selling effectively has not fundamentally changed. Every company needs to follow the principles of setting smart, while stretched, objectives, effectively measuring sales performance and incentivizing their sales force to align incentives with the strategy. This approach is a three-legged organizational model that establishes a culture of performance while rewarding top performers.
It is, however, clear that what has changed is how we communicate in a more connected digital world, where face to face interactions can be problematic and social media the platforms where shared experiences and perceptions is the new reality. Most medtech companies are SMEs and though they understand the fundamentals, they don’t necessarily have the resources and competencies to implement effective sales practices, known as “SPIN” selling (situation, problem, implication, need-payoff), “NEAT” selling (needs, economic, authority, timeline), the Sandler method, solution selling or challenger, to name a few. Consequently, this role and activities fall under the marketing team, which, in most companies are the handy women and men that can fill the gaps. However, how do you then orchestrate an effective relationship and communication between marketing and sales?
From an organization standpoint, there are several potential approaches, each with its pros and cons, starting by merging the two organizations in one, with a head of sales and marketing. A more flexible approach is to define a clear RACI model (responsible/accountable/consulted/informed) between the two functions to enable clear accountability and effective communication. As a minimum, it’s important to establish communication platforms and vehicles for both teams to regularly share strategies, market insights, and customer feedback. Furthermore, align marketing and sales objectives with shared goals and common performance indicators (KPIs) that are regularly reported in a common dashboard that measure short, mid-, and long-term results.
Therefore, with the need to optimize resources, an effective strategy is paramount. The most straightforward approach is starting with the Ansoff matrix and apply segmentation and targeting strategies and communication messages that leverage the core product and service differentiators. When segments have been defined and prioritized, it is possible for marketing and sales to work together to offer a marketing mix (e.g., 4P = product, price, promotion, place) that better solves the needs of the targeted customers.
Medical Device Installation And Follow-up
Medical device delivery and installation (when relevant) is a key moment: After weeks and months of demonstration, negotiation, procedures, and deal closing, it’s time to deliver the promise. Although not a commercial step per se, the sales manager might want to keep a close eye on the installation to make sure the customer’s expectations are fully met, for at least two reasons:
From the customer’s point of view, this step comes as a confirmation that the right choice has been made by purchasing from your organization.
For your company, it means that yesterday’s sales lead has become a customer that you will want to support and satisfy. And salespeople love to please their customers. From a mere relationship standpoint, it just feels great.
By meeting or even slightly surpassing expectations (for example, offering a refresher training after one year) you not only prepare for the next sale, but you also create a reference you can leverage for the future.
Success and sales share the same first letter, but the latter is not guaranteed in 2022. Selling medical devices remains one of the most interesting jobs, but it happens at both a personal and organizational level. The most successful reps leverage the entire organization, systems, and tools at their disposal, while empathizing with the customer and understanding intimately their needs. A systemic approach is needed because sales effectiveness is a growth mindset.
One of the key challenges in the years to come will be defining the optimum balance between the classical (and partially outdated) sales model and the mostly digital approach to marketing and commercial operations. Indeed, the integration of new sales tools and apps into the classic commercial model is very likely to lead to a refinement of the whole sales process itself. Expect an increasing role for analytics all along the way.
The convergence of resources, processes, and organizations that this new sales process demands is already underway. This shift has human, strategic, and tactical implications for customer-facing leaders in the industry. Something new is always happening in the medtech sales environment, so stay tuned for the next wave!
- The Rise of the Next Generation of Medtech “Milkmen,” June 2021, by Götz Gerecke, Basir Mustaghni, Vikram Aggarwal, Can Schnigula, and Laurent Storme
- Managing the Exponential Growth of Life Sciences Data, Oct. 15, 2018, by Abdul Rastagar
- And it is one of the numerous reasons why some Medtech companies develop customer centricity programs.
About The Authors:
Nicolas de Ricou is head of Italy, Central Europe, Russia, and Eurasia at Echosens, where he leads a mixed team of territory managers and channel partners across 37 countries. He holds a master’s degree in business from ESSEC Business School and a master’s degree in history from Paris’ Sorbonne University. Early in his career, he was a consultant for Izsak Grapin & Associés with Roche Pharmaceuticals as a notable client. He joined the consumer products division of L’OREAL as a territory manager and then joined L’OREAL’s marketing team in Paris to reinforce the Matrix haircare brand. After two years working at Septodont, where he managed and developed the international distribution channels in the CIS region, he joined Echosens in 2017.
Didier Devaud is Chief Commercial Officer at FKG, where he leads a global marketing team and business development managers with distribution partners in more than 100 countries. He holds a MBA from the University of Rochester and a BSc in food technology and biotechnology engineering. Earlier in his career, he has worked in five countries in multiple roles spanning general management, sales, marketing, clinical affairs, production, and quality. He had roles like Chief Marketing Officer at Echosens, global vice president of marketing and education at Align Technology, vice president of global marketing at Dentsply Sirona, and global marketing director at Edwards Lifesciences.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position, opinions, or views of Echosens and FKG Dentaire SA.