Former BD and J&J Exec on the Secrets of Building a Marketing Strategy That Gets Results

Rick Thomas started at the top of the industry, at Johnson & Johnson, and he credits this experience as contributing to the wisdom he brought to all his subsequent assignments. Primarily, he says that the J&J Credo was influential to him.By Rick Thomas, CEO, Innovation Health Resources

image of Rick Thomas
Rick Thomas CEO, Innovation Health Resources

It’s a simple document, but powerful in its commitment. It says that the first responsibility is “to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all the others who use our products and services.” It goes on to demand quality, value, reasonable prices, promptness and accuracy, and the opportunity for partners to make a fair profit. As well, it details responsibilities to employees, such as inclusion, diversity and dignity, health and well-being, and a concern for their families. Capable, just and ethical leaders are important, as is responsibility to the communities J&J serves. Lastly, it mentions the stockholders.

Logical and not revolutionary, it nevertheless sets a tone for the conduct of the company and all its employees, one that predicted the forward thrust of Rick’s career.

Working for J&J Baby Products, Ethicon and J&J Healthcare Systems, he held several positions, heading up corporate account management and marketing for U.S. hospitals and health systems, increasing market share in a key strategic franchise by 52% in just two years, and being recognized as Sales Representative of the Year for Ethicon, Inc. and Top Competitive Conversion award winner, and even The J&J Presidents Award given by the Office of the Chairman for his novel and innovative successes at J&J Healthcare Systems repositioning how J&J works with its customers, among other achievements.

Rick moved on to become VP Sales and Marketing for Becton Dickinson, and then CEO and President of Synergia Opcare, dedicated to changing the way chronic disease is managed for better outcomes.


Through it all, Rick saw something lacking across the industry and the companies he was dealing with. His concern was that the primary focus was always on the features and benefits of the products, rather than asking about, listening for, and responding to, the challenges that healthcare professionals and patients were wrestling with.

For instance, at Synergia, he helped HCPs and hospitals keep patients on their regimen. “They were good at diagnosing and prescribing, but lacked the tools to help patients be compliant.” He said roughly 20% of patients follow the care plan provided by their physicians, but the remaining 80% do not. “A patient just needs ongoing support when they’re not with their physician to help them stay on track with the physician’s plan.” To remedy this imbalance, “We engaged the patient more fully in that plan … walking along beside them and guiding them, providing education materials, phone support, online support and reference materials, reminders and technological tools to help them stay informed and stay on track.

“What this led to was a significant improvement: hospital readmissions were reduced, readmission costs and penalties were reduced, overall cost of care went down, and improved patient outcomes were achieved.”

That fit into a larger problem that Rick recognized. “In order to be a truly valued supplier, you can’t just solve the narrow medical issue. You have to understand the environment in which the doctors and hospitals exist, and ultimately the one that the patients deal with. To do that, you have to ask the right questions and ask them of the right high level executives.”

This is what led to the current phase of his career: helping companies understand the answers to the questions they never thought to ask.

“Most organizations pull up their data, build models, and look for trends. This approach doesn’t maximize the value your data can provide. You need insights that are more actionable, supported by your business’ existing infrastructure, and account for regulatory hurdles and market dynamics.”


Rick advocates a process he calls “immersion in the culture.” He explains “We ask people to share with us their toughest problems – the challenges they haven’t been able to solve. We even put our own fees at risk. We tie our compensation to performance.”

He hears about the significant challenges of readmissions, patient safety, adherence, and other issues that have cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars. “People complain about hospital costs, but the truth is that these institutions operate on very thin margins.

This approach is the culmination of innovations Rick has initiated over the years. He devised the first value-based sales and marketing platform for hospital healthcare, totally re-training the sales organization, and shifting people based on their skill sets. When his value-based approach was applied, sales increased 250% in 18 months for one client, while also increasing profitability 28%, since it was a much more efficient and compelling sales process. He also helped the company improve their pipeline through a better and more innovative understanding of the marketplace.

When he saw products that had real potential not getting traction in the marketplace, he changed that trajectory by matching the pitch to the concerns of the hospitals. “Nothing changed except our understanding of their headaches. But that was major.” Changing marketing strategy and tactics for another client, he helped them boost sales 300% in two years.

Rick says that this is vastly different from traditional “selling.” He indicates that it’s more about any conversation you might have with someone whose problems you care about. It creates strong business friendships. “You change from a salesperson into an ally.”


Even with the significant changes he’s been able to manage, Rick sees much more potential on the horizon.

In the healthcare arena, he sees two key trends. Connected care is one: creating a shared set of information and a common agenda among the hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, other healthcare professionals, and the patients. This is key to advancing the goal of better outcomes. Chronic care management is another: dealing with patients not in the hospital setting, but who have long-term cardiac and pulmonary conditions, for instance. “These and other areas are greatly in need of innovative approaches,” Rick says.

Asked to enumerate the elements, goals and benefits of innovation, he offered these:

1. Apply a different way of thinking

2. Devise a faster sales process:

  1. Align with customers on tangible, credible “take it to the bank” solutions
  2. Get into the heads of the key decision makers
  3. Discuss how your product and service can help them toward their key issues, such as improvements in safety, productivity, patient care and results, reduction in readmission penalties, and other pain points

Develop a plan with the customer that helps them achieve their key goals and objectives through the use of your products and services. Therefore, you have a plan, but it’s the customer’s plan. You’re no longer “pushing a rope” but instead have a compelling sales and marketing plan that is driven by the customer.