Written by Gwen McLean, Principal Writer at Informa Training Partners
Years ago, delivering healthcare was mainly a one-person job performed by a relatively autonomous physician. In those days, physicians provided a diagnosis and treatment based on what they knew and thought would be the best route to restore a patient’s health. Today, delivering healthcare is not a one-physician job any more, and there are numerous influencers that affect a physician’s autonomy. As such, delivering healthcare requires management and collaboration, and so does selling products and services into a healthcare system. Today’s sales representatives will no longer be effective if they focus their calls exclusively on just the prescribers. They must start to view their customers as accounts and manage their sales efforts with support from others within their own sales team.
Looking at healthcare delivery first, physicians – as well as nurse practitioners and physician assistants conduct patient intakes, order tests when necessary, make diagnoses, and prescribe treatments in the form of life-style change suggestions, pharmaceuticals, surgery, etc. Their diagnostic testing and treatment choices typically are not completely up to them, however. Their choices are guided, or restricted, by other stakeholders in the healthcare system, such as insurance companies, hospitals, integrated delivery networks (IDNs), and accountable care organizations (ACOs), to name a few. While this isn’t new, the influence of these stakeholders is getting stronger. Why now? Healthcare expenses have been skyrocketing for decades, and since the dawn of managed care, stakeholders have been trying to rein in costs. What is different?
One thing that is different is the implementation of information technology. Information technology is finally entering the healthcare delivery arena in truly impactful ways. As guidelines and restrictions that influence prescriber behavior becoming increasingly available through information technology tools, these guidelines and restrictions become easier to adhere to, and thus more powerful. So powerful, in fact, that sales representatives need to adapt their selling strategies to ensure that the information that physicians continuously see flashing on their screens does not hinder their ability to choose the most appropriate products for their patients, especially when those products are the ones those sales representatives are supporting.
Account Management and Teamwork in Selling
Just as healthcare delivery has become a more managed and collaborative effort, so has selling to customers in the healthcare marketplace. Today’s sales representatives have to not only call on the prescribers of their products, but on the customers who influence what gets prescribed. To do this, sales representatives must identify key customers within each account. This includes prescribers as well as non-prescribers, such as nurses, office managers, reimbursement specialists, case managers, information technology managers, and others. Sales representatives must become account managers, developing goals and implementing strategies to be successful.
In the current market, sales representatives have to transform themselves from one-man business units to members of increasingly diverse sales teams. In addition to the sales representatives and managers, today’s sales teams also include medical liaisons, nurse educators, reimbursement support specialists, account managers, and others who bring customers additional clinical, administrative, reimbursement, and patient-related resources, all of which bring value to the account.
Wanted: Account Managers and Team Players
Considering the complexity of the healthcare system, with the different types of provider organizations, the different ways they operate, and the payers and other stakeholders influencing those operations, it makes sense that sales forces have to be more complex themselves. That effort involves transforming sales representatives into account managers and team players who can strategize and collaborate to achieve success. With that goal in mind, consider these 10 actions that sales representatives calling on either physician offices, hospitals, or both can take to begin their transformation:
- Make sharing information a standard business practice. If sales representatives don’t know who their matrix team members are (or don’t know them very well), they need to connect with them, treat them like customers, and share intelligence.
- Know the influencing and decision-making entities. If a hospital or physician office is part of a large IDN that is implementing protocols from the top down, sales representatives need to know where their products stand. Are they within those protocols or are they on the sidelines? Sales representative need to know their position so they can develop and implement strategies that help them to sell their product.
- Know how each account is responding to healthcare reform. What performance-based contracts are they creating, what partnerships are they forging, and why? Many accounts are focusing on reducing costs and improving quality in chronic diseases, particularly in high-risk populations.
- Know how your product complements, or does not complement, an account’s view of population health. Decision-makers want to talk about outcomes in specific disease states, and sales representatives need to position their products to meet those needs.
- Know the patient journey inside and out, and know how each account views that patient journey. The mergers and acquisitions in healthcare today are focused on monitoring the patient pre-, peri-, and post-discharge to minimize complications and unnecessary costs. Healthcare organizations (such as IDNs) are either purchasing or forming partnerships with providers across the entire care continuum (from physician offices to physical therapy/rehabilitation centers to skilled nursing facilities), and linking them together with technology to make sharing information fast.
- Learn who actuaries are, and what they do. While sales representatives will never meet with actuaries, the models actuaries create are at the base of many healthcare decisions today.
- Learn about health outcomes and gather key statistics. Numbers and data can be formidable resources to support key selling messages with both large and small accounts.
- Know your patient support programs inside and out. How do your patient support programs support the adherence goals? How do your financial support programs help alleviate copay and coinsurance burdens?
- Sales representatives need to ask their customers how they are retooling to improve quality and reduce costs, and what their biggest challenges are.
- Sales representatives can stay on top of what is going on in their marketplace and with their specific accounts by setting up automated Web news alerts. Up-to-date account and marketplace information can provide rich fodder for productive conversations with customers.