Nonin Chief Commercial Officer Takes the Long View to Success

Chris Holland

Chief Commercial Officer, Nonin

Chris Holland knows what a growing enterprise looks like, and how it happens. His career path is the very definition of vision.

As Nonin’s VP Marketing, he drove cerebral monitoring to its position as #1 growth driver and top 5 revenue producer, expanding it into new geographies and clinical uses (neonatal/pediatric, resuscitation). He also developed relationships with tier 1 monitoring providers to create further opportunities.

Moving on to VP Business Development, Chris created a new area focused on strategic accounts and global business development. He and his team created a large multimillion dollar business development sales funnel, closing some of the largest deals in Nonin’s history. He went on to close an international distribution partnership for the US, EU, and Japan, enabling a double digit product line growth, and drove other initiatives like grant development and technology acquisition and licensing.

For the last three years, Chris has been Nonin’s Chief Commercial Officer, driving comprehensive focus across global sales, marketing, business development, corporate communication, customer service, and clinical support. He has been able to achieve three straight years of growth at 2x market and continued gross margin improvement.

Back in the 90s he was a consultant to financial giants like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Accenture. He moved on to tech leader Cisco Systems, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become Senior Manager of the Project Management Office and Senior Manager of Business Operations, overseeing an $87M budget.

The experience he gained in strategic planning, operational reviews, program and project management, talent and performance management, forecasting, contracting, training, employee events and communications prepared him for his most recent endeavors at Nonin Medical, a manufacturer of medical, consumer and OEM devices, including cerebral and pulse oximetry measurements. Nonin sells globally to hospitals, homes, government/military and emergency medicine.


When Chris took on the commercial organization, he had to determine a way to drive consistent above market growth. Although they had a great track record over 30 years, and had delivered new products, Nonin wanted to move more aggressively.

Nonin was doing all the standard things in trade show participation, feature/benefit marketing, while trying to appeal to a very wide array of markets.

What Chris needed to know was what wasn’t working. He took a dive into the attitudes of the people on the teams and their leadership. Did they believe in the company and its potential? What were their skills? What did the sales data and financials say? Were they spending money where it would do the most good? What were the barriers to vigorous growth?

Chris brought in a sales and marketing assessment firm, CEB (now part of Gartner) to do a competency assessment. The result was a formula Chris developed out of that exercise, one he called FAS3H, homing in on:

  • Focus
  • Attitude
  • Skills, Sales, Spend
  • History (pro/con)

Chris’s assessment was that Nonin needed a stronger management process and clearer expectations. Focus would pull everyone together and develop transparency and trust. Attitude would create an atmosphere of everyone rowing in the same direction and supporting each other. They would have more candid conversations, saying the tough things that might lead to significant change. To track progress, there would be monthly and quarterly operational planning and reviews.

“What we needed was to rebalance the enterprise,” Chris says. “That would provide the needed lift.” What does rebalancing look like? “We had to ask ourselves where growth came from, what we needed to do differently, what areas were demanding the most focus.” Ultimately, it led them to do fewer things, but do them better.

“For example, there were a lot of growth prospects in the hospital area. We had to put more strategy and energy into the hospital, which drew us away from some other areas. The tough part was figuring out where to say ‘No.’”

Another wake-up call was recognizing where the big geographic opportunities lay. Japan and Germany presented the best. Were their activities aligned with those international prospects?

Also, where was marketing focused on generating awareness and interest? He challenged everyone to answer the question “Where is your #1 focus for everyone in order to grow the business?” This seems like an obvious target, but often it gets lost in the process of daily business and doing what you’ve always done.


Within the first quarter, specific goals and tactics were taking shape.

  • Nonin’s incentive and commission plans lacked focus on the core portfolio and a strategic overlay: these had to be restructured
  • They sharpened their focus on top growth prospects
    • Key markets—e.g. EMS
    • Key geographies—e.g., Japan, Germany
    • Actions—e e.g., leads and awareness activities such as webinars

What kinds of skills and leadership did they need to do this? “We didn’t have up-to-date digital and social media competencies,” says Chris. “Partners were questioning our lack of presence and what it meant. Also, we needed to re-ignite the team with respect to their focus and skills.”

Structural changes were made. Chris created market segment managers who had responsibility for driving success in key markets, letting product management focus on the individual product lines. Separating assignments created more precise market strategy in different areas with regard to marketing and new products. Chris also initiated a sales operations team to focus on developing their sales data, implementing a CRM, and sales training. This drove a sharp commercial focus.

There were also new product releases, but with an additional goal: finding ways to present Nonin’s entire solution set vs. individual products. They had a well-developed and extensive sales channel and good distribution, which they believed was a strategic lever. They got agreement to search for complementary capabilities and went outside to add two new products to their portfolio.

Chris also got more intelligence out of data analysis. “How many customers do we have? Who is managing them? How is the sales team focused?” He found their sales team was underweight for the number of customers—about 100—that each sales person had to manage. “CEB/Gartner data tells us sales naturally focuses on keeping existing business, which can limit them from growing new business,” Chris says.


At the end of the first year, the results of the above initiatives were beginning to become evident.

• Skills and leadership

Nonin’s new digital and social media competency enabled real awareness and engagement building. First year efforts resulted in five thousand new social media followers, a number which again doubled the following year. The strategic incentives they put in place got the leadership team focused on making progress on the long-term initiatives. “Not everyone engaged, of course, but we got about 75% subscription. In subsequent years we were able to tie specific, and very impactful, business revenue growth back to balancing focus on the longer-term strategic initiatives.”

• Structure/Focus for growth

  1. They split market segment and product management areas to allow more external marketing focus. This enabled focus on lead generation and customer engagement activities. For example, launching a series of webinars, the first of which far exceeded expectations, with over 1,100 global registrants.
  2. They created sales operations for sales process & efficiency. “For example, sales forecasting accuracy reached over 95% and we were able to roll out PowerBI sales reporting down to the rep level, enabling them to more easily track their progress to goal.”
image of a man

• Portfolio expansion

Chris’ team identified complementary products to target distributing through Nonin’s extensive sales channels, giving focus to business development to secure these contracts


• Scale—Sales reps were carrying books of business too large to handle properly, and so they were spending time on account retention versus new business growth. “We justified adding scale to the underweight sales areas, such as E-Health, which again we were able to correlate to a measureable increase in business.”

• Re-igniting the Brand—Marketing used voice-of-customer to get feedback on what customers valued on the brand, and iteratively tested messages back with customers to home in on a focused value proposition. They paired this with a new collateral architecture aligning to the sales flow, and allowed Nonin to go from maintaining over 400 pieces down to a core set of <15. “To draw attention to the ‘new’ Nonin, we freshened the logo and brought the website in line with the branding, making it more customer-focused. Not only did removing the collateral overhead decrease the costs in maintaining all of that and give us new agility, it also resulted in a 20%+ increase in web traffic and (combined with the digital focus) a 7x increase in lead page traffic.”

The customer was brought into the equation. How was Nonin perceived? What were their strengths? What was their competitive posture? How about the image of the company? Marketing worked with customers to develop a specific value proposition that resonated. They tested it, talked to key focus demographics, and asked if the website spoke to what they wanted to hear. The new site went live last year. Nonin got the organization centered on a single value proposition to frame all the marketing and sales messages.

Nonin also adopted a new sales methodology, based on a framework using the learnings from CEB. They structured it as a way to create a new type of customer conversation. The essence was “Teach, Tailor, Take Control.” Chris says this means “Teach customers by sharing new insights that will help them improve their business, tailor the conversation to resonate with that customer specifically, and take control of the conversation, challenging them to think differently. This gives the sales people a common language with which to talk to customers.” After an initial pilot test resonated, they rolled the program out to rest of the organization.


• Nonin created a new account focus—hunter roles—with incentives targeted solely to new customer acquisition. “What we’re doing is trying to unlock growth,” says Chris. “We were layering in best practices over time, and created a hunter role solely focused on new customer acquisitions.” OEM customers are very valuable, so there was a new energy around acquiring new OEMs. This enabled focus on the longer sales-cycle of OEM and the structure incentivized progress toward goal, not just deal completion which could be more than a year out. “We leveraged practices and data from CEB/ Gartner and assessed what milestones/ activities historically led to a successful deal. These became markers for the incentives. It was remarkably successful. We easily tripled the number of deals and saw deal size increase. An unanticipated benefit was stronger organic growth as well, due to increased attention on existing customers. It makes sense in retrospect, but none of us predicted it.”

• Added a strategic account management role, enabling focus on larger customers and deeper account understanding. Recognizing that larger organizations have many divisions, which can have different needs, they developed a strategy around servicing them differently. Nonin transitioned one of their more senior people into a strategy growth account manager. In the first year, organic growth increased in these accounts and a significant number of new business opportunities was uncovered.


It was a complex and companywide restructuring, involving sales, marketing, communications and more, to achieve a skilled, resultsoriented, collaborative organization.

One key improvement was increased employee engagement. Chris cites this quote from a manager: “We’ve come together as a team and created an environment where we enjoy coming together, getting each other’s perspectives, and creating our plans. Any conflict is constructive. Great things are happening here from our collaboration and we can see the market respond.”

This was a multi-year commercial strategy, with an organizational development roadmap, and key performance indicators.

“Nonin pulse oximeters, regional oximeters, capnographs, sensors, and software deliver dependable performance day after day, even in challenging environments,” says Chris. “Our technologies are clinically proven to deliver consistent measurements for a broad range of patients and conditions. But all that didn’t make enough of a difference if we weren’t carving out the markets and geographies that were most promising, giving more attention to our top customers, and growing the overall customer base.”

Nonin Medical was founded in 1986 by Phil Isaacson and a team of three engineers. Their goal was to make noninvasive healthcare measuring devices more reliable and affordable. That was the initial basis of their success. Today, Nonin is a global leader in medical monitoring with partners and customers in more than 125 countries, and Chris Holland’s leadership is helping them reach the next level.

The Sales Landscape as Seen by Leaders from Ipsen, Medac, Bio Products Laboratory and Cardiovascular Systems, Inc.

The eyeforpharma 2019 North American winners: Novartis, Takeda and others show the way