Like many of you, I spent a lot of time this year thinking and discussing the state of our world. As an American living in London, it felt like there was no end to the information cycle. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, 2016 was the year that it became apparent to the U.S. and the U.K. that the status quo was no longer an acceptable way forward for a significant portion of the population. Whether positive or negative in its outcome, people felt that the current way of political thinking (globalization, free trade, open borders, etc.) required a significant re-examination and, ultimately, a change.
I don’t bring up the above to discuss politics. Instead, I want to draw the “change” parallel to the industry that we all know very well: healthcare. The industry is changing rapidly across all sectors. No longer buoyed by differentiated innovation, single decision makers (physicians, for example) and premium reimbursement/prices, many organizations are noticing that, commercially, what we’ve done in the past is less and less relevant to today’s reality. In most cases, we’re no longer able to market an extremely innovative product to a single physician who has limited financial awareness with a single rep, so we make incremental changes to better address the market’s needs: broadening from products to solutions, increasing multichannel marketing spending, developing flexible go-to-market models, etc.
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While, in isolation, all of these incremental steps are extremely valuable, I can’t help but notice that many of us have been disappointed in the transformative business impact. And if you’re like many 2016 voters (myself included), you recognize the need for a more holistic change.
Fundamentally, that holistic change starts with a reorientation around the definition of a “customer” in the healthcare industry. In the past, we were able to conveniently ignore the patient because the doctor’s needs and preferences trumped everything else. In today’s more complex world, companies that are truly differentiating themselves are finding that focusing on the patient allows them to add significant value to the entire patient ecosystem. Don’t believe me? Look at all of the recent ways that medtech organizations are trying to “focus” on the patient’s needs:
- Implant companies are designing patient recovery pathways.
- Orthopedic companies are offering patient follow-up services.
- Diabetes and ostomy companies are directly interacting with patients via clinical support services and email.
- Surgical companies are providing pre-operation and post-operation care for patients.
This isn’t just a trend; it’s a fundamental change to how we, as an industry, are building our value in the market.
However, all of the above examples remain incremental and non-scalable offerings until we recognize that supporting the patient in this way requires a significant change in how we think about our business. This is where I believe that the industry can leverage the first-mover’s advantage. Picture an organization with a C-suite that has committed to serving the patient first and foremost. How might that executive decision change the way that we commercially engage with the market?
I believe that it changes us in four sequential and fundamental ways:
- Portfolio strategy: Our offering to the market is no longer a product with clinical features and benefits. Instead, it becomes a differentiated solution to solve a patient need. This solution consists of product, solutions and services aligned to the needs of the customer and the ecosystem that supports them.
- Organizational design: Given that we are now selling a “solution,” our commercial organization needs to change, as well. How useful is it to have marketing brand managers when we’re no longer selling just a product? Instead, what about marketing solution managers? Or, more innovative yet, what about doing away with the internal marketing/sales functions altogether and organizing around a single commercial function to better help us with the next change (see No. 3)?
- Commercial engagement strategy: The primary challenge that I see in the industry today is a misalignment between what marketing is trying to do strategically (think brand-focused physician segmentation, campaigns, etc.) and what sales needs to do tactically to engage with the market (think portfolio-focused account targeting, account planning, etc). In the future, this misalignment is death to a patient-focused organization. Instead, think about a world where the common language becomes the patient and our solution offering. Alignment on exactly what we need to do commercially to deliver our patient experience becomes much easier.
- Sales team structure: Our model for taking this new offering to market through the sales team should change, as well. We’ll need local flexibility in roles and tactics to align our offering with the timing of the customer need. Likely, this comes with some sort of field orchestration, whether at the first-line manager level, the KAM level or the rep level.
In isolation, none of the above steps likely sound that innovative. However, taken holistically, they represent a fundamental change to how a typical medtech company functions. Not every organization will have the need to change so dramatically, but every medtech leader should at least evaluate the need. Much like how many voters are feeling in our current political environment, not taking the change mandate seriously could lead to some organizations waking up the next morning wondering what happened.