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3 Ways the Pandemic has Rewritten the Future of Healthcare Sales

Sales performance improvement

virtual selling for healthcare sales

richardsonsalestraining30 July 2020Article

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Today, numerous COVID-19 vaccines continue their progress to phase III trials. In the meantime, it is becoming increasingly clear that the eventual return to normalcy will be a version of normal rather than a perfect representation of the pre-pandemic world.

Even as people return to offices and resume travel, many of the emerging healthcare sales practises of today will survive because they are an improvement over what came before. Consider research from the Medical Science Liaison Society in which 475 Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) were surveyed, revealing that even after the pandemic ends, 66% of respondents believe medical science liaisons should continue to utilise virtual technology.

The expectation that virtual technology will become a mainstay seems intuitive given the logistical and financial benefits. However, there are other, less discussed characteristics of this approach that support long-term adoption.

Healthcare sales professionals who take notice of these characteristics will be better prepared to embrace a future that is being rewritten. They will gain a competitive advantage over those who do not recognise these impactful but sometimes inconspicuous factors.

Here, we examine these changes and how healthcare sales professionals can use them to their advantage.

Enablement As A Precision Instrument in Healthcare Sales

Before the pandemic, the people and tools within sales enablement had a growing influence on the efficiency of the sales pursuit. Recent events have accelerated this trend in healthcare. Today, effective sales enablement resources work by delivering highly customised research and insights that speak to the granular details underpinning the customer’s challenges. The need for this precision comes from a growing consensus that enablement must facilitate the healthcare professional’s (HCP) risk mitigation through evidence-based selling. That is, as HCPs become more risk averse, evidence becomes more important. As budgets attenuate, the success of the solution becomes critical. There is no room for error.

This intensified need for evidence — including clinical studies — is sometimes referred to as real-world evidence, or “RWE.” A 2020 Deloitte survey of the leadership at 17 pharmaceutical companies discovered that 70% of respondents “believe RWE will become very important to their C-suite by 2022.” So too will the ability to use that data to position solutions. Enablement will need to play a role in providing and helping to articulate the evidence underpinning the value of the solution.

Enablement will also need to become specialised as positioning becomes nuanced. The scope and representation of supporting data will need to speak with pinpoint relevance. The need for concise communication stems from the physician’s limited time. In the near term, COVID challenges continue to demand more of the physician’s schedule. In the long term, a physician shortage means fewer professionals will carry more of the work. Research from the Association of American Medical Colleges indicates a growing physician shortage as the number of people in the US over the age 65 will increase by 48% over the next 12 years. In this setting, the healthcare sales professional has little time to make their point in a compelling, evidence-based way. The solution is an enablement team that can move with both speed and accuracy.

Strategic and Sophisticated Account Plans

Account strategies will need to be highly customised because purchases will represent a greater risk to Healthcare Providers and organisations. The COVID crisis has upended the business models of many hospitals. As a result, fewer are able to make a purchase. The financial strain created by the pandemic is evident from research published by McKinsey, which found that just a month and a half into the pandemic, nearly half of the independent physician practises indicated that they had less than four weeks of cash on hand. Nearly three-quarters of those who stated that they are looking for a partner indicated financial support as their primary reason for doing so.

Adjusting to the healthcare provider’s high-risk environment means that many account strategies will need to be updated in real time as circumstances change. The response to the pandemic has normalised a setting of intensified change as initiatives like Operation Warp Speed take priority. Effective sales professionals will need to match this pace in their efforts to track needs. For many hospitals, the most pressing and time-sensitive needs are financial. Today, most hospitals have halted, or dramatically reduced, much of their non-COVID care. This shift has devastated hospital margins. Data from the American Hospital Association and Kaufman Hall determined that even in an optimistic scenario, median hospital margins could sink to -1% and as low as -11% in more dire circumstances. Moreover, the researchers concluded that “even as COVID-19 recedes, our analysis shows half of America’s hospitals will remain with negative margins.” Sales professionals will need to position their solutions with these factors in mind. The pillars of business operations — making money, saving money, mitigating risk and delivering quality patient care — have never been more important. Account strategy plans will need to account for this renewed ROI scrutiny.

Our research at Richardson Sales Performance tells us that 83% of our respondents indicated that some, many or most of their strategic accounts have reduced or frozen spending in the last three months. This downshift in spending means that sales professionals will need to reassess account strategies. A reassessment means understanding how the group of decision makers has changed, where the most intense pain points reside, and how the customer’s timeline has evolved.

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Virtual Selling Skills Are Table Stakes

As virtual selling becomes more commonplace, sales professionals will need to do more than develop virtual selling skills — they will need to differentiate them. Differentiation will be important as more sales professionals become adept at selling from a distance. The teams best positioned for success are those that incrementally improve their virtual selling skills.

Finding this improvement means delivering superior customer service. Research from Salesforce shows that 79% of life sciences buyers believe that the experience a company provides is as important as the product and service being positioned. Additionally, more than seven out of ten life sciences buyers say that their standards for a good experience are as high as they have ever been. Meeting these needs requires more than just a transfer of traditional selling skills to a virtual platform. Sales teams will need higher-level skills like building trust without in person interactions, negotiating over virtual interfaces and even prospecting amid social distancing mandates. These skills could be thought of as virtual selling 2.0, which rises above a generic approach and adapts more selling routines to remote engagements. Put simply, remaining competitive means constantly innovating the way the platform is used.

This is an opportunity for sales leaders to fully embrace a coaching role. Sales professionals need more guidance on new challenges like engaging with CFOs who now have a larger presence in the purchasing process. Additionally, leaders need to focus on long-tenured healthcare sales professionals who might be hesitant to change or who may require more time to transition to a new skill set.

Normal is a relative term. The “normal” that awaits healthcare industry sales professionals will not resemble the world they inhabited before the global pandemic. The good news: the skills that sales professionals have developed over their career still have value if they can be properly applied in the new setting. Doing so means fostering a closer relationship between the sales team and the enablement team for the quick and concise application of evidence-based selling in an environment where time is short. Additionally, sales professionals will need to renew and intensify their focus on account strategy plans to address the ever-changing scope of challenges facing physicians. Finally, as virtual selling normalises, sales teams will need to reach higher to deliver a virtual experience that is more than a generic approach.

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