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Tear down that wall!

SALES AND MARKETING

Sales and marketing need to get acquainted

By Joe Meadows, President, Think Patients

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I thought she had a bad piece of fish.

We were hunched over bento boxes in a Philly sushi restaurant when Cari Kraft told me she wanted to start a new healthcare sales and marketing magazine. “You’re crazy,” I told her. “Companies are shedding sales jobs every day, and marketers are diving for cover everywhere.”

“You started a company in the middle of a recession, in the same industry,” she countered. Touché.

What on earth were we thinking? Conventional wisdom says that healthcare is becoming a desolate wasteland, right? According to the July data on job cuts from Challenger, Gray and Christmas health care/ health products had the third highest level of job cuts in 2013 out of all the industries they track. Pharmaceutical companies have lost over 6,700 jobs YTD, but it’s an improvement over the same period last year, when the industry lost just shy of 8,000. And for you agency folks, job cuts in media have more than doubled this year.

We all know the reasons behind these healthcare numbers. Product pipelines have been anemic for most companies as patents on blockbuster products expire, and physicians have less time for reps as they learn to cope with health care reform and a shift to pay for performance reimbursement. And there’s always the FDA and other regulators to blame. But no matter how you look at it, conventional wisdom says this is the time to keep your head down, play it safe, don’t make waves, and wait for the storm to pass.

And conventional wisdom may get you fired.

The truth is, periods of adversity are often great times to start companies and publications because they’re the times when new ideas are most needed. And the same can be said for the best time to jumpstart your career as a sales or marketing leader. Corporate leaders in healthcare companies likely to emerge from this downturn as winners are looking for leadership – right now – from within their ranks. They have minions of people who know how to do things the way they’ve always been done, but they realize that preparing for the new normal in healthcare is going to take a different skill set. The funny thing is, most of those “skills” are things you can develop and exhibit quickly if you’re willing to buck conventional wisdom, forget the dismal news you see every day, and differentiate yourself from your less-savvy peers. In my view, there are at least four things most healthcare marketers can do differently to not only survive, but prosper, in this new environment.

Tear Down The Walls Between Sales and Marketing

If you think you have enough dialogue with your colleagues on the other side of the sales – marketing fence, you’re probably wrong. Waiting for the formal meetings that occur throughout the year may have worked in the good old days, but today’s faster pace demands continuous conversation with the “other side.” One of the smartest collaborations I’ve seen to date occurred when a marketer reached out to a sales leader two levels above him with an idea for educating the sales force about health information technology. They teamed up with a like-minded colleague from training, and now the entire organization looks to them as the experts in this need-to-know area. Set aside time every week to speak with your counterparts in the larger commercial organization, and you’ll be amazed at the change you can create. And you’ll be amazed at how many people notice.

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Experiment. But Be Smart About It.

I spend a significant amount of my time consulting with healthcare managers about both marketing strategy and innovation. Most marketers are solid in their ability to make sound investments in channels and tactics that are proven to work, and most end up with very reasonable plans for the bulk of their marketing spend. Sales managers generally have less discretion in this area, and most are content to simply take the tools given to them and make the best of whatever they have.

But the sales and marketing managers that seem to be most successful recently are those that know “solid” is no longer good enough. The smartest marketers are willing to set aside a portion of their budget for channels and tactics that allow them to “experiment,” especially when those experimental channels come complete with proven or at least trending ROI data. Communications based on electronic health records is an example I’ve often cited, and I’m amazed when marketers aren’t clamoring to learn more about this channel. The funny thing is, their sales counterparts, who often see first-hand the technologies HCPs are using, are often the most vocal proponents for investment in these new channels. Learning to experiment wisely while still producing results will show corporate management that you have the ability to manage a portfolio, which is a skill that leads to more authority. Sending in a budget that looks largely like last year’s plan (and everyone else’s plan) shows them you know how to rearrange the furniture. Guess which skill is more valuable?

Lower Your Reliance On Your Agency. And Your Boss.

I’ll probably get letters about this one, but let me explain. I’m a big fan of creative agencies, and opposing your boss is almost always fatal in the long run. But this is not a time in our industry when you can rely solely on either of these assets. I can’t tell you how often I get a call from a very junior person in an agency trying desperately to gather information for a client about a new marketing technology. Kudos to the idea of looking at new technologies and ideas, but there’s a great chance you – the client – are going to hear about half a story, told to you by someone who heard it third hand, based on notes taken by a person who didn’t really understand the nuances that could affect your brand as they desperately tried to understand what they were hearing. And while I’m on a bit of a rant, if you’re waiting for your boss to tell you when it’s time to start the annual planning process or to submit new ideas about, well, anything, you’re behind the curve.

If you think a new marketing channel or technology is worth knowing about, take 3 hours out of your month and meet with three experts who know about it, either in person (best) or by phone. Feel free to invite a couple of people from your agency – but lead the meeting yourself, and engage. There will be plenty of time for the agency to get involved and work its magic, and you might come up with better ideas because you’re learning together. And the best part of it is that you’ll have many more good ideas for your boss, and be better prepared to explain them, than your less-prepared, less-invested colleagues who simply offloaded everything to the agency.

It’s A Regulated Industry. Deal With It.

I once whined to a boss about how I couldn’t do cutting-edge marketing because the legal and regulatory people were standing in my way. He asked me what industry I thought I worked in. I sometimes hear a similar lament from sales managers about their inability to “engage their customers” because they’re limited in what they can say. I understand their complaints, but I no longer spend time worrying about these things. If you’re developing or delivering a message that could affect someone’s health, there’s a good chance you’re going to be held to a higher standard than the person selling shoes. But you’re playing by the same rules as your competitors. How you deal with our regulated environment is what can set you apart in a company. Speaking with your counterpart in marketing or sales will help you better understand the challenges of creating or delivering the message envisioned, but the thing I see most lacking is dialogue between product teams and the legal and regulatory experts in a company. I understand that “review time” is limited and budgeted, but the smartest brand leaders seem to find a way to engage their medical, legal and regulatory colleagues outside those meetings, so that they better understand the rules and how they can develop effective messages within them. And I notice that they’re usually the ones focused on developing and delivering cutting-edge programs successfully, instead of spending their time complaining that they can’t.

Times of enormous change are the times when new ideas rise out of the rubble to establish the new standards. Everyone from Og the Wheelmaker to Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs knew this. Do you? •


Joe Meadows is president at Think Patients. He took his extensive experience in pharmaceuticals, vaccines, marketing and market research and formed Think Patients in 2010. Think Patients consults in brand and corporate strategy (differentiation, life cycle management and competitive threats), product development, and team alignment along with their market research and insight mining services. The company has also developed a sub-specialty in helping life science companies engage patients and providers through EMR, EHR and Point of Care communications channels. Prior to Think Patients Joe led marketing and commercial teams at Wyeth, AstraZeneca, Merck and Auxilium as well as marketing, creative and product development efforts at Catalina Health. When not working with clients, writing or speaking he can be found in a kayak, a yoga studio, or working on his never-ending list of remodeling or home automation projects.

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