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How to Overcome Path Dependency in Healthcare Sales

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Path Dependence & Healthcare Selling

Selling in healthcare is challenging because the industry is often path-dependent. Path dependence occurs when a solution remains in place simply because it has a long history and switching to an alternative presents new challenges and costs despite offering many advantages. Path dependence is a concept seen in economics, technology, engineering, and physics as well as healthcare.

One simple example of this phenomenon can be seen in railway gauges. The gauge of a railroad track is the amount of space separating the rails. In the early 1800s, basic coal tramways traveled on a railway gauge of about four feet, eight inches. Today, engineers agree that a wider gauge allows for greater speed and performance. Despite this, nearly all modern railway gauges in Europe and North America remain this inefficient length because all the tracks installed since the early 1800s were influenced by, or had to match, this original design.

Path dependence is evident throughout the healthcare industry because well-established therapeutic choices, and practices, are very difficult to change. This difficulty is both financial and psychological. It can be expensive to move away from methods that demanded considerably front-loaded costs. It is equally difficult to change behavior that has become second nature. These factors have deep roots. Therefore, it is not surprising that any challenge to the HCP’s status quo continues to remain a difficulty for sales professionals.

Path dependence is such a powerful force that it often anchors people and entire organizations to methods that are far less beneficial than the alternative. The healthcare sales professional’s challenge is to help the HCP break that path dependence when presented with a superior solution.

Download the white paper: Overcoming the Status Quo to Win the Sale to take a deeper dive into the general selling skills needed to encourage your clients to embrace change.

Here we offer three ways for overcoming path dependence when selling to physicians and healthcare professionals.

1. Leverage an Omnichannel Communications Array

Even as COVID retreats in the US many of the resulting impacts are likely to be permanent. Consider that about 60% of surgeons anticipate that restrictions on sales professionals gaining in-person access will continue long after the pandemic according to research from Bain. Consequently, Sermo found that most physicians, globally prefer a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual approaches to engagements in the future. This is not surprising since, according to projections by Veeva, 70% of physicians are digital natives whose expectations around the buying experience are heavily influenced by the digital platforms that are integrated into their lives. These findings suggest that effectiveness in healthcare sales means developing a strategy built for virtual/digital interactions. Doing so requires an omnichannel communications array.

This approach is characterized by a series of touchpoints across various channels that add up to a single, cohesive experience. Without a focus on building an omnichannel strategy, the communication can feel disjointed to the customer. 

The sales professional must be prepared with communication that will resonate across different channels including email, video chat, LinkedIn, and their website. The messaging must be consistent. Consistency achieves more than just clarity of messaging. Consistency also allows the sales professional to get an accurate read on how well the messaging performs. If the content varies across the channels, it will be difficult to isolate what resonates and what is ineffective. Asymmetry among channels is sometimes called “channel conflict.”

Marketing and Sales professionals must also ensure that the information and messaging across these channels remain relevant to both the state of the industry and the customer’s most current needs. This imperative remains a challenge as the pace of change seen within the healthcare industry continues to accelerate. Simply, the omnichannel communication strategy needs to be agile. Here, agility is about more than keeping the content current, it is also about keeping pace with the ways in which HCPs want to access the content. Sales professionals need to provide a wide range of options for HCPs who want to access specific solution information on demand.

Make a focus on agility part of your sales strategy - click here to learn about our new Sprint SellingTM training program.

Effective omnichannel communication strategies are uniform across platforms, agile, and offer HCPs the option of going further into details. Achieving each of these three qualities is a major focus for healthcare sales organizations given that “two-thirds of MedTech companies expect online channels to account for more than 20 percent of their revenue by 2025,” according to McKinsey.

2. Map the Sales Collateral to the Digital Medium

Different channels are optimized for different content mediums. Therefore, sales collateral must be adapted to the technology. 

Findings from Sermo support this strategy given that only 57% of physicians agree or completely agree that materials have been adapted for remote engagement. The most effective way to map the messaging to the technology is to right-size it to the device on which it will be seen. In most cases, this means getting concise because more stakeholders consume content on mobile devices in the small periods available to them throughout their heavily scheduled day.

Getting your sales messaging concise is particularly challenging for those engaging HCPs because the solution is often complex. Articulating the benefits and differentiated capabilities often requires a certain amount of context-setting in the limited space of the digital medium. Moreover, this limited setting presents difficulties given the challenges of moving the stakeholder away from their path-dependent mode.

This characteristic of selling today is increasingly common as the fourth industrial revolution – or Industry 4.0 – demands interoperability from products and services as customers seek the “network effect” gained as a solution is adopted throughout
the organization. Finding solutions that offer these outcomes has become difficult for business leaders. Consider research from Kearney which determined that “difficulty in adopting new technologies” was the second most cited business operation challenge across 450 C-suite respondents.

The solution is to create a messaging snapshot. 

A messaging snapshot has a flow in which each part of the messaging builds on the last in a specific order. This order begins with an articulation of the customer’s primary challenge and its impact on various parts of the organization. With research, most sales professionals will be able to identify these pain points before drafting the snapshot. Next, the sales professional must widen the scope of the message and identify emerging industry trends that might be relevant to this pain. This information sets the stage for the next part: explaining how the solution capabilities address the pain and its underlying causes. This is also where the sales professional has an opportunity to underscore their differentiators. Finally, the sales professional must leverage clinical evidence to outline the metrics the customer may observe to know that the pain has been effectively addressed. 

Committing to these specific parts leads to messaging that is concise and follows a logical progression.

3. Develop Strategies for Reaching Perimeter Stakeholders

The expanding stakeholder group has been a long-standing trend in healthcare sales. The result of a growing group of decision-makers is shared risk. As risk is spread across numerous personalities the sales professional’s challenge intensifies because they must address different levels and types of risk sensitivity because just one dissenting voice is enough to prevent the sale. In fact, research from Forrester’s International B2B Marketing Panel Survey shows that managing a multi-stakeholder decision-making process was seen as a top challenge for sellers.

Some stakeholders are attuned to the qualitative factors of the solution. They want assurance that the solution outcomes are meaningful and validated and therefore will help them achieve their quality metrics. Others are focused on quantitative factors, namely price. They want to be certain that the investment will fit within their budget, and, where appropriate, deliver a reasonable ROI. Managing these numerous and disparate personas is even more challenging when seeking to engage perimeter stakeholders.

A perimeter stakeholder is a decision-maker who is less accessible than other stakeholders. They are at the perimeter of the sales professional’s reach. Despite the stakeholder’s distance from the sales professional, they still hold considerable influence over purchasing decisions. In fact, these stakeholders are often at the perimeter because they have an outsized influence and their responsibilities leave them unavailable for most sales conversations. Accessing these individuals means taking a nimble approach.

Learn more about the stakeholders involved in the healthcare sale by downloading the brief: Engaging the 6 Buyer Personas of the Virtual Healthcare Sale

Staying nimble means delivering the right messaging to a perimeter stakeholder at the right time. The sales professional must be adept enough to share content that will be most salient in the brief moments when they have the stakeholder’s attention. In most cases, the content that will be most impactful succinctly demonstrate three things: that the sales professional understands the core challenges, has a solution that can solve those challenges or help implement a strategy, and has the power to deliver the resources needed to succeed. The success of this messaging is often determined before contact with the perimeter stakeholder because so much of the content is dependent on the information the sales professional gets from their contact with stakeholders who are more accessible.

Overcoming Path Dependence in Healthcare Sales

The power of path dependence looms large in healthcare sales. Changing the direction of the customer’s well-worn path requires a multi-part approach. Sales professionals need a crisp, and concise messaging strategy that is consistent across all channels while also being optimized for the characteristics of the particular medium. Sales professionals must also prepare messaging targeted towards perimeter stakeholders who have a high level of influence, but low availability. 

Contact us to learn about our specialization in the healthcare industry and learn how we can help your team improve performance in the new era.

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