Aligning Sales Teams with Healthcare Buyers

All over the world, there is a growing middle class that expects better healthcare, and an aging population that requires increasing medical attention. Governments are taking action to control healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP. These are significant demographic and policy shifts that will dramatically affect suppliers of pharmaceutical products, medical devices, and capital equipment. To survive, they must understand these changes and adapt accordingly.

In the United States, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is forcing healthcare providers to change their business and practice models. In order to reinforce the mandate to decrease the cost of care and improve outcomes, the Department of Health and Human Services, for the first time ever, has set targets for the percentage of Medicare reimbursement that’s tied to either value or outcome. For example, by 2016, they expect 85% of all Medicare fees for service reimbursement to be tied to value or outcome, with the target increasing to 90% by 2017. This is driving healthcare providers to adopt more efficient and collaborative business practices.

As if that isn’t enough, accountable care organizations and other integrated delivery models are decreasing the decision making the power of individual physicians. Surgeons used to be able to say, “I want a particular device in my OR every time I’m in there or leaving.” Now, “value committees” consisting of clinicians, nurses, administrators, operations, and finance people are evaluating those decisions. Sales representatives have to deal with both clinical and administrative decision makers.

To be successful, life sciences marketers and salespeople must get aligned with how healthcare systems are buying today, and they must understand the factors currently influencing buyers’ decisions. If they push marketing messages that don’t emphasize driving outcomes and value, then they will be left out in the cold. Even if the product costs more, if they can prove that it prevents patients from being readmitted to the hospital or shortens the hospital stay, then they can still win business.

How to Align

To align with today’s buyers, life sciences salespeople must be able to solve problems and position the value of solutions in terms of cost management and outcome improvement. How sales reps gain access, how they prepare for a call, how they manage the complexity of the buying process, and how they continue to demonstrate value and look for growth opportunities inside the account are all changing. The life sciences sales role will start to look more like what we see today in the technology industry – a more complex sales environment.

Conversations with buyers are changing. Traditionally, a pharmaceutical sales rep might come in and say:

Dr. Davis, I’m here to talk to you today about our antihypertensive medication. Here’s a study that we published in New England Journal and what it says is that we lower blood pressure ten millimeters of mercury better than our competitor.

This is a canned pitch that doesn’t require the rep to consider if the physician has a high population of patients with high blood pressure and if so if that problem was relevant to the physician.

A consultative, solution-based sales conversation plays out differently:

When I have spoken with other clinicians that appear to have practices similar to yours, they have a large hypertensive patient population that has a significant impact on the quality measures for the practice. I’d be interested to know how this patient population impacts your practice.

I’ve also found that their top clinical concerns are decreasing adverse experiences due to the use of multiple antihypertensives while targeting at least a decrease of 10 mm of mercury or more to reach their blood pressure goals. Can you help me understand what your targets and goals are for your hypertensive patients and the tools you use to get there?

After gaining an understanding of the critical practice issues, the representative can then begin to position their solution in context. For instance, they could reach into their arsenal of clinical studies and say, “That being the case, I’ve critically appraised a clinical study that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and thought it might be of interest to you. I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these results from the trial could impact your practice.”

A consultative, evidence-based and solution-focused approach helps the sales rep uncover issues and priorities that will enable her to either help propose a value-enhancing solution or to shift to another product in the portfolio if there isn’t a current, compelling need for her initial solution. This is the kind of sales behavior that is now required to succeed in the new healthcare environment.

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