We recently ran a workshop for a dozen healthtech sales executives. We were fortunate to have John Ulett attend. John is the CIO of CentraState Healthcare System.
He is a veteran healthcare tech executive, and it was eye-opening having the perspective of a buyer in an in-depth conversation about what it’s like selling to a healthcare system and what we all go through to shorten the sales cycle.
Can We Shorten the Sales Cycle?
Shortening the sales cycle, 18 days or 18 months, is the holy grail of any health tech company. You can do a lot to expand the funnel by generating more opportunities, but speeding up the sales process is incredibly hard.
In the workshop, we reviewed why the sale cycle takes so long. You can download the presentation here. We then divided the group into two breakout groups.
This is a nice feature in Zoom, and it is a great way to get participants in a workshop to engage with each other.
The Science of Selling
The groups discussed various questions about the sales process and tricks everyone uses to move a deal along. The common goal is to instill a disciplined, teachable approach that can be measured.
If your team is good at it, you can forecast future revenues more accurately.
For the most part, everyone uses the same techniques. We all have a defined sales process with stages that are variations on the same model: Lead>Qualified Opportunity>Proposal>Negotiation>Closed Deal.
We each assign probabilities of closing the deal based on where we are in the sales process. After that, we try to measure the process and track the average length from start to finish.
Tricks, Tool, and Techniques for Shortening the Sales Cycle
We discussed the tricks we use to move a deal along. These include some usual suspects:
Managing the sales process like a project
Having open-ended qualifying questions
Using variations on “BANT” or other qualifying techniques
Identifying or creating a compelling event
Eliminating the known barriers like security assessments as early as possible
We are all using variations on the same tools and techniques and struggling with the same issue – closing deals faster is almost impossible. How do we do a better moving deal more efficiently? How do controlling deals more effectively?
When I ran a healthtech company, this issue frustrated the hell out of me. In eight years of trying, I couldn’t do a thing to improve the 9-month sales cycle.
The Buyer’s Perspective on Efforts to Shorten the Sales Cycle
The discussion was quite a revelation for our CIO, John Ulett. John has received hundreds of sales pitches and has been the subject of dozens of sales processes from start to finish.
He was surprised by what we go through. Ed Gaudet, the CEO of Censinet, shared his sales process with John. This was eye-opening.
John recognized that most of the time he was being taken through a process.
He didn’t fully realize how the salespeople were giving the deal a probability of closing based on where they thought they were in their sales process.
The perspective a salesperson has on the way a deal is progressing was very different from how John saw it:
“You see a funnel. I see a hockey stick.”
John thought that salespeople were often wrong on the probability of closing.
For example, when an opportunity was at the proposal stage, the salesperson might assume that they had a 50% chance of closing the deal. But, In John’s words,
“I might still be tire-kicking and asking for a proposal to get a clear sense of how much the solution will cost.
When you think you might have a 50% chance of closing, you actually may still only have 10%.”
Conversely, you may still be at the early and competitive stage of the sale where your solution is being evaluated against three others.
You may give yourself a 25% chance of closing based on how you have qualified for the opportunity. The reality is that you may be the favored deal and your odds are closer to 80%.
Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
The insight for me was that, as a salesperson, if I can do a better job of getting inside a buyer’s head, I may not be able to speed up a deal but I am going to be better at figuring out which deals to focus on and which ones to give up on.
This may seem obvious, but we often get so carried away with managing the process that we lose sight of what the buyer is really thinking.
As a sales leader, this is a big deal. You are responsible for the annual sales target.
If you have twenty deals in play, how do you know which deals are going to close?
You count on your sales teams to give you the best and more honest information they have about their deals.
You are counting on them to be accurate about where they are in the process with each stage.
The key to this is knowing how much they know about where they truly are in the process.
How Can you Get Inside the Buyer’s Head?
This is where the art of selling comes in. Here are three things you can do to get better insights into where your salespeople are in the process:
What is the relationship with the champion? Sometimes, the champion is on your side of the table and tells you everything you need to know.
Are there things you can do to get them more transparent if they aren’t? If they are resistant, why is that? Are they favoring someone else?
Have you asked your champion a direct question about how you are positioned? They may not give you an explicit answer, but you have to try.
And if they don’t tell you explicitly, they may give you some clues or a wink.
Moreover, if they react adversely to being asked, is this a warning sign that you aren’t as well-positioned as you think you are?
Don’t be in a hurry to give the buyer a proposal. Set them an assignment first. In his brilliant book, They Ask You Answer, Marcus Sheridan, proposes a technique called Assignment Selling.
The idea is that developing a proposal is a significant investment and you need to know that the buyer is vested in the process too.
This could mean asking the buyer to complete a short requirements document, or answer a survey. One technique I recommend is to co-create a shared value proposition.
The key thing is that you are forcing the buyer to signal that they are truly vested in your success.
As we wrapped up the workshop, John Ulett, made a very intriguing remark.
Seeing the process from a salesperson’s perspective made him more empathetic toward what they are trying to do. He better understood what the salesperson is trying to achieve on his behalf.
More importantly, he will try to deliver value back to the salespeople in the future.
In his own words:
“How do I share value back?”
In conclusion, maybe the best thing we can do to try to shorten the sales cycle is to focus less on selling to the guy across the table and try to get on the same side of the table. This is all about trust.
As salespeople, how do we build a strong enough relationship with the person we are selling to that they will let their guard down and trust us enough to give us full transparency.
Getting a meeting with healthcare target buyers is one of the toughest challenges in selling to hospitals and other healthcare organizations. They buy differently and take forever to sell to. There are no silver bullets to this. Over the next few weeks, we will provide some simple tips on how you can increase your sales conversions by reaching the right people in a healthcare organization.
Step 1 is to develop a stakeholder map.
Selling to healthcare is complex and involves multiple stakeholders. Stakeholder management is the best practice in complex sales. Experienced salespeople know that to close deals with healthcare organizations, you have to identify all those who have a stake in the decision to buy your solution.
Here is a checklist of stakeholders:
Champion – The single most important stakeholder. The person in the organization who wants their organization to buy your solution and will jump through hoops to make you successful.
Problem Owner – The person who owns the problem you are solving.
Decision-maker(s) – The person or people who make the final decision
Budget-owner – The person who has the budget for the solution.
Influencer(s) – People who can affect the requirements and other factors that go into the decision.
Note: Often, stakeholders play multiple roles in buying your solution. For example, the champion may also be the problem owner; the decision-maker also owns the budget or; the champion and problem owner may be the decision-makers.
We created this simple framework to help you map your stakeholders. You can download the framework here.
In my own experience selling communications solutions, the typical stakeholders were:
Champion – Often the person responsible for technology innovation
Business Owner – Typically the Chief Medical Officer and sometimes the CIO
Decision-maker – Usually, it was shared, and sometimes the CEO
Budget-owner – Most often, the CIO
Influencers – The Medical executive committee, the chief security officer, the applications directors
When the coronavirus crisis ends, how are you going to get your business growing again? Our eBook, Accelerating Out of The Curve has the answers.
We just published our first eBook. It’s called Accelerating Out the curve. This ebook is designed to help you create a post-covid19 growth plan. The aim is to equip you to get your business growing fast when this crisis finally passes
The ebook includes a look at the current reality facing healthcare systems today. We think what is happening today is going to change the way healthcare operates after the crisis.
We have identified three major strategic themes that look beyond the crisis. These themes are the big things healthcare systems are going to need. Think of these as platforms to build your strategy.
It’s clear to us that we are all going to have to think and operate very differently. We hope that this ebook will help you figure out the right strategy for your business
To that end, we have included a step-by-step guide to creating an action plan. And as a bonus, we have thrown a couple of planning tools to help you get started.
We have developed seven strategic themes that we see as the growth areas after the crisis has passed. Your first step is to determine in which of these areas you can make the biggest impact.
Step 2 – Select your individual strategies
Once you have picked your strategic theme, download the Strategic Options sheet. This provides you with a long list of strategies within each theme. You can brainstorm more strategies and add them to the sheet as you come up with them. The sheet is designed to help you evaluate which strategies are best for you to pursue with a simple way to rate the value of each strategy. Once you have your top 3-5 post-COVID-19 growth strategies, it’s time to develop a game plan
Step 3 – Develop your strategic action plan
Now you have a priority list of strategies to pursue, it’s time to turn this into a plan. The Strategic Planning Template is a simple step-by-step framework to help you create a game plan. Take your top three strategies and try them out and start to create a robust Post-COVID-19 Growth strategy plan.
If you have questions or need help, please reach out. We are here to help.
How We Identified The Strategic Themes
Analysis – Seven Big Themes
Over the last few weeks, we spoke with dozens of healthcare system and technology vendor execs. This was supplemented with a review of articles by analysts and other experts.
We then identified the seven most critical issues and opportunities that healthcare systems will have coming out of the crisis.
These seven strategic themes are buckets of needs that healthcare systems will have after the Post-COVID-19 crisis. Any of these can be the foundation of your Post-COVID-19 growth strategy.
#1Strategic Theme – Save healthcare systems money
#2 Strategic Theme – Accelerate the healthcare system’s shift to virtual care
#3 Strategic Theme – Help healthcare systems improve the way they train and share knowledge
#4 Strategic Theme – Protect healthcare systems from cybersecurity attacks
#5 Strategic Theme – Make healthcare systems operations more efficient
#6 Strategic Theme – Help healthcare systems capitalize on their data
#7 Strategic Theme – Improve healthcare system resiliency
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Themes
#1 Strategic Theme – Save healthcare systems money
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you significantly lower the costs for a healthcare system?
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare systems have had to switch off many of their normal revenue streams (e.g. elective surgeries). The financial impact on their 2020 business is catastrophic. In the long term, it will be hard for healthcare systems to operate as they have done in the past.
For the foreseeable future, saving money, saves jobs, including the jobs of people you are selling to.
Healthcare systems have been trying to save money for decades, and this became more important with the change in payment models. The old normal was to look for incremental savings. The new COVID-19 normal requires dramatic savings.
What does this mean to you?
At a minimum, you have to show your healthcare system customers how you can save even more than they were saving before. This is the new price of admission. If you can’t show them big savings, watch out for a competitor who will undercut you.
The winning play is to find major savings. Can you offer a new way of delivering your service that costs them less, or at least has less of an impact on cash flow? That might mean moving a monthly subscription fee.
In the Strategic Options list, we provide a list of ways you can save hospitals money. Use this as a starter list. You can come up with many more. The bottom line is that if you can’t help improve your customers’ bottom line, don’t count on them doing business with you for long. And if you can find a way to significantly lower costs, prospective customers will HAVE to look at what you offer. We believe that this is the #1 way to disrupt your competition.
#2 Growth Strategic Theme – Accelerate healthcare systems’ shift to virtual care
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you help healthcare systems deliver virtual care at scale?
Virtual care includes telehealth, remote patient monitoring, digital therapeutics, and any technology that makes it easier to treat and manage patients in their home, office, or non-healthcare facility. It will underpin the continued shift to value-based care.
Virtual care has become critical during the crisis. Once the crisis dies down, will this continue? It seems likely that it will.
Healthcare systems fall into two camps, those that have invested heavily in virtual care for a decade and those who have been scrambling to catch up in the last two months. The first group has been able to scale up their telehealth and remote patient care. The second group is struggling.
Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, virtual care has many benefits. It costs less (see #1) and it is more convenient for the patient.
However, it is not a given that the shift to virtual care will stick
There is a limit to what you can diagnose virtually and without the patient having specialized equipment, it is hard to record many of the vitals such as blood pressure readings.
Anecdotally, we hear that in some of the countries that are starting to come out of the COVID-19 crisis, virtual care is going backward.
Some physicians, who started using telehealth over the last two months, are now abandoning it as they go back to 100% in-person appointments. How can you help healthcare systems make a permanent shift?
The exciting opportunities in virtual care are ahead of us
The Internet of Things (IoT) is only in its infancy. We can expect that as device prices continue to drop, iOT will give rise to many new business opportunities.
There are so many opportunities in virtual care. The question is where to start. How can you help healthcare systems capitalize on the benefits of virtual care at scale? How can you help them lower costs through virtual care? What costly services can be replaced by virtual services? How can you help healthcare systems shift more physicians and their patients to virtual visits? How can you support the infrastructure needs?
In the Strategic Planning Template, we help you work through these questions and develop a growth strategy based on virtual care that’s right for you.
#3 Strategic Theme – Help healthcare systems improve the way they train and share knowledge
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you help healthcare systems shorten the time to get staff up to competence?
The COVID-19 crisis has increased the need for training in every area of operations from teaching clinicians new skills with ventilators to training IT staff on how to work remotely.
Like every other business, healthcare is having some workers work from home. This has been especially challenging in healthcare, as the work routines of many workers don’t lend themselves easily to remote work. They are having to learn new skills and fast.
Virtual education or e-learning is becoming essential
There is a critical need to provide training remotely and not just for the remote workforces. This includes new clinical procedures for clinicians and caregivers.
They need to learn quickly and in-person training takes longer to organize and deliver. E-learning for new IT skills seems a natural progression.
We believe that e-learning will become more important than elbow-to-elbow after the crisis.
How can you help healthcare systems learn new skills faster?
Do you have expertise that can be trained more effectively online? Can you create virtual master classes to “skill-up” healthcare workers
The collective knowledge of the health system network is a powerful asset
How can you help them leverage and share knowledge systemwide?
Last but not least, patient education about COVID-19 online has been a very important factor in the crisis. What have we learned from this that can help improve the way we engage, inform and educate patients going forward?
The constant rate of change means that everyone is looking for information related to COVID-19.
It is too easy to click on links or download what looks like the latest guidance from the CDC or WHO.
Bad actors are posing as reliable sources and sending phishing emails posing as legitimate authorities. Many users are being caught in their traps.
Cybersecurity is a priority issue for the IT team AND for CEOs
Coming out of the crisis, healthcare systems will have to step up their efforts to protect against cybersecurity attacks.
For cybersecurity vendors, the challenge is how to set yourself apart
There are hundreds of cybersecurity vendors from consultants, to point solutions that harden the security on devices, firms that will audit and certify your security standards, penetration testing firms, and many more categories of vendors.
For IT buyers and hospital executives, the choices are overwhelming.
If you are selling cybersecurity solutions, what can you do to stand out? How can you offer something that will get you to the front of the line?
What vulnerabilities are the greatest concern and how can you position yourself as a leading solution? How can you get both the CEO and CISO’s attention?
#5 Strategic Theme – Make healthcare system operations more efficient
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you help healthcare systems run leaner and adapt faster to change?
In the words of one healthcare CIO:
“In the crisis, the head of purchasing has been king!”
The COVID-019 crisis has shown how resourceful the purchasing department can be. I have heard many stories about how purchasing managers are finding N95 masks locally and getting iPads into the hands of nurses in half the time it used to take.
The purchasing teams and their colleagues in IT are the unsung heroes of this crisis.
The shortages of PPE and medication have forced buyers to look for alternate vendors. The purchasing departments don’t have the time to properly evaluate the vendors.
In times of crisis like these, they may be buying from suppliers who may be bad actors. How can they determine who can be trusted faster?
The crisis is showing up major weaknesses in the supply chain
As one healthcare executive relayed to me
“I think one thing that the crisis has highlighted is that we need a better understanding of the supply chain and the opportunities to be more responsive when needs arise.”
This lack of flexibility also applies to staffing. The COVID-19 crisis has meant that healthcare system managers have had to make drastic staffing changes on the fly, redeploying some staff to handle COVID-19 patients and having other staff jumps into new roles. Sadly, it has also meant furloughing or laying off some staff.
As we reviewed in #3, quickly accessible, virtual training has been important. We also believe that one of the outcomes of the crisis will be a new look at the value of outsourcing.
Are there capabilities that healthcare systems can outsource to lower-cost or specialist firms that can handle these crises more nimbly and with less of a financial impact on the system?
What can you do to help make healthcare systems drastically more efficient? How do you get out ahead of today’s need to what will be the next shortage? What can a vendor do to help speed up research on their trustworthiness?
#6 Strategic Theme – Help healthcare systems capitalize on their data
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you help healthcare systems get more value out of their data faster and more efficiently?
The COVID-19 crisis has shone an even brighter light on the problems caused by poor interoperability. For example, in the early days of the crisis, government officials had to exchange spreadsheets and track utilization and capacity at hospitals manually. As the data were not connected, officials were hampered in their ability to track the pandemic as it evolved rapidly.
Despite the billions of dollars invested in Electronic Medical records, we have hundreds of unconnected “dark pools” of data. We hope that coming out of this crisis, there will be newfound urgency and pressure to enable greater interoperability. It has to be imperative.
This could create huge opportunities as there is an accelerated shift to move more and more data and systems to the cloud.
Moreover, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has proven itself during the crisis. Most notably in the use of chatbots. We are scratching the surface of what can be done with AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Any initiatives to exploit these technologies will be held back by a lack of large pooled data sets.
#7 Strategic Theme – Improve healthcare system resiliency
Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy Question: How can you help healthcare systems prepare to weather the next crisis?
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed weaknesses and a few surprise strengths of today’s healthcare systems. There are so many areas where healthcare systems are going to need to improve their capabilities so that they can weather the next storm.
Here are a few examples of areas where healthcare systems will need to improve their resilience.
Physician burnout was a major problem going into this crisis. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on physician morale will be deep and far-ranging.
Larger systems have been able to make certain facilities COVID-19 facilities and allow other hospitals and outpatient facilities to serve non-COIVD-19 patients.
How can you help improve infection control?
Moving to the cloud has improved the resiliency of many businesses. How can healthcare accelerate this transition?
Knowing how can healthcare systems leverage the collective knowledge of the network more effectively
How can you help grow the leadership skills of senior staff?
How to use genetic testing to improve care. In our most recent podcast, Joe Scott, a longtime hospital CEO, and former transformation executive of RWJ-Barnabas Health, discusses this topic and the potential opportunities presented by genetic testing.
There are many more strategies within this area. The strategic options sheet will help you develop your list of growth strategies around resiliency and the strategy template will help you turn that into a plan of action.
Action Steps to Build your Post-COVID-19 Growth Strategy
Step 1 – Pick your strategic themes
After reviewing the seven themes, pick which ones you can make a difference in.
Step 2 – Score yourself against the Strategic Options
Once you have picked your strategic theme, download the Strategic Options sheet. Once you have your top 3-5 strategies, it’s time to develop a game plan
Step 3 – Develop your strategic action plan
Now you have a priority list of strategies to pursue, it’s time to turn this into a plan. Take your top three strategies and try out the Strategic Planning Template.
COVID-19 is devastating businesses worldwide. Not least of all healthcare. I have been speaking with healthcare executives on the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems. The impact is deep and far-ranging.
The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems
COVID-19 is financially catastrophic in the short term. Due to the acuity of COVID patients, labor costs are high. Traditionally high revenue visits, like Surgery, are practically non-existent. Elective surgeries are canceled until this crisis is over.
Healthcare systems have had to cut elective procedures, ER visits other than COVID-19 are down, and outpatient flow is significantly lower. I have heard reports of 30-60% revenue drops in the last month.
This is compounded by the cost of caring for COVID-19 patients. The average length of stay in US hospitals is 4.5 days. COVID-19 patients remain in the hospital for two weeks or even longer.
In the words of one hospital executive:
“Much of our traditional business has dried up. We’ve closed most of our outpatient services cardiac rehab, respiratory rehab and physical therapy. Elective surgeries closed.
This is two-fold, to reduce the spread of COVID and because the patients simply went away. They stopped coming to the hospital unless they had an emergency. They self-selected out.
There are still patients without COVID but far fewer of them. It is almost like we have two hospitals.
The old one, albeit much smaller, and a new one for COVID-19. Managing the COVID side is taking everybody’s attention.”
The economic impact has prompted some healthcare systems to furlough staff, reduce headcount, or ask staff to take a pay cut. It’s like laying off troops or asking them to take a pay cut in the middle of a war.
In part 2, we review how to build your Post-COVID-19 growth strategy around.
As a leader, maintaining morale and helping staff with their anxiety is a newfound skill. Managing their fear is a major challenge.
“Every time you walk into the hospital the fear is palpable. With everyone wearing masks there are no smiles, just fear in their eyes.
We spend much of our time trying to keep our staff safe and uninfected in addition to delivering excellent care. I have members on my non-clinical team that refuse to walk into the hospital. It goes beyond concern and into outright fear.”
Virtual care includes telehealth, using AI chatbots to triage patients, remote patient monitoring, and home-testing.
Healthcare systems fall into two camps. Those who have been moving to virtual care for several years and those who are scrambling to move to virtual care right now.
The first group is delivering virtual care at scale and can provide as many telehealth visits in a month as they had in a year. The latter group is struggling to catch up.
“All my CIO peers are scrambling to get telehealth visits running for many more providers than before. Physicians who never wanted to deliver care via computer are not fully embracing the idea. After getting over the learning curve I expect they won’t want to give up.
The current benefit of telehealth is keeping patients out of facilities where they are at risk of infection.
The future benefits include convenience for the patients and economic benefit for the providers.
Physicians can see many more low acuity patients using telehealth while they save the office visits for the high revenue patients.
Once over the implementation and learning curve, virtual care costs less and healthcare systems will have to shift to this model out of necessity.
Virtual Care is going to be a huge opportunity for healthcare technology vendors coming out of this crisis. In the Post-Covid-19 Strategy Guide, we show you how you can take action. You can download planning tools here.
Like every other workplace across the country, hospitals manage much of the non-clinical part of their operations virtually.
And like every large organization, they struggle with how to do that.
“We were slow to let our staff work from home even though it was safer. Why? Because we didn’t know how to monitor and manage them. These are problems to be solved by their managers.
On that staff side, we needed to train them on how to be successful doing remote work. I believe we needed micro-learning courses for both how to work remote work and how to manage them.”
It remains to be seen if healthcare will continue to embrace remote workers. Most patient care requires hands-on or in-person interactions.
This has been the traditional management style of healthcare. As nurses have to be physically in the hospital, the attitude has been that so should everyone else.
Training new skills in a hurry
Healthcare systems have to train more people with new skills in less time.
Existing staff are tasked with new job skills, and additional staff is being brought in to tackle the challenging situation.
The situation’s urgency is forcing hospitals to rethink getting staff up and productive in a much shorter timeframe.
“We need to figure out how to onboard staff much more efficiently. We need to bring new nurses into our EMR systems and teach them how to get medications out of electronic cabinets and scanned prior to administration.
I have 25 agency nurses and respiratory therapist coming in on Monday, and I have to get them on the floors quickly.
These are seasoned care-givers so they are brining experience at other facilities and using other systems. How do we take somebody as a nursing student and turn them into a set of helping hands? We need their support and the experience they will gain working side-by-side bed-side nurses will benefit us both.”
Supply Chain Flexibility
The supply chain managers have become McGivers during the crisis. They have to quickly source materials, devices, and supplies in a very difficult market.
One of the toughest lessons from the COVID-19 crisis is that it is showing up the challenges.
Coming out of this crisis, healthcare systems will need to better understand the supply chain and the opportunities to be more responsive when needs arise.
The Power of the Network
Adversity often creates positive disruption and fosters greater collaboration. In large healthcare systems, the crisis is creating new opportunities to leverage the power of the network.
As a health care network – we are getting better at understanding the value of the network – from supply maximization JIT, to onboarding staff, training support, shifting patient care models depending on location and needs. The ability to share lessons learned and what different people are trying has enabled folks to feel a little more supported from a leadership stand point.
Phishing and ransomware threats have exploded during the crisis as bad actors exploit the pandemic.
As healthcare shifts to virtual care, this exposes the vulnerabilities of newer technologies like video conferencing, remote monitoring devices, etc. It is a priority issue not just for the IT team but also for all CEOs.
“Rolling out a large number of remote uses and virtual technologies has increased my vulnerabilities. My CEO continues to voice his concerns about cyber security and wants assurances we have not left ourselves open to being breached. My security team is working long hours to protect our patient’s information and all our other assets.”
In the next post on the Impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems, we will focus on the future, the trends that will shape healthcare technology coming out of the crisis, and what you can do to create a growth strategy.
This includes a step-by-step guide to creating your post-COVID-19 strategic plan.
Advice from PR professional, Erin Farrell-Talbot on how to communicate with customers, employees, and the media
This is part 2 in a series of posts to help sales and marketing leaders manage through the coronavirus crisis. The first post focused on advice from sales leaders to sales leaders. This second post focuses on communications.
One of the most important issues for leaders right now is what and how to communicate with your employees, customers, and the media.
I interviewed Erin Farrell-Talbot, of Farrell Talbot Consulting, to get her to take on what leaders should be doing right now.
Erin Farrell-Talbot has over 20 years of public relations experience with firms ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. Having held key roles in corporate communications departments and public relations agencies, she has developed keen insights and perspectives as a communications and media relations strategist.
Here are the key takeaways:
Communications – The Big Picture
It’s important to always to be on, you have to be connected with your clients and with your stakeholders
Communicate often and communicate that you care, especially with employees and customers
Communicating with Customers
Clearly, customers are nervous and fearful about their business. Be empathetic, authentic, and helpful.
Communicate with your customers about your policies, what’s taking place right now in your business, and how they can work with you.
Let them know you are there for them. Tell them how they can reach you, especially after hours.
Don’t be self-serving. People want transparent, honest information that is helpful.
Communicating with Employees
With employees, in particular, communication needs to be transparent and honest. It needs to be human as if you’re sitting across the table having coffee. Tell them how you are going to help them.
Communications are not just one and done. It needs to be constant.
Use all channels and media, not just email, but also zoom, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Slack channels and communicate broadly with all employees, regardless of where they’re getting their information.
Communicating with the Media
Reporters are inundated right now by all kinds of PR people and sources on stories, but they have to keep writing, so you need to continue to communicate with them, especially about what’s going on in your business and with your clients.
Most reporters have shifted their beats to cover the coronavirus and how it affects their normal beat. If they are a technology reporter, they are looking at how technology is helping, whether they are using AI tools or the internet of things and how that can help. If they are a beat reporter covering retail, they are looking at what this means for the retail industry and how this is drastically changing the way we shop.
Your tone needs to be helpful and thoughtful. You must not be viewed as ambulance chasing.
Don’t go dark. Don’t shut off your communications campaigns because we will come out of this eventually and the companies that have maintained a communications program will come out on the other side much better.
“Put yourself in your client’s shoes. The more money you can help them you will make them heroes because it will save jobs, including theirs. If you help them bridge the gap, they will want to be your partner.”
“In the old economy, two weeks ago, delivering a positive ROI in 9 months was the benchmark, now you have to deliver a tangible ROI in 12 weeks”
“Be a true partner. Share in the financial pain now by cutting your prices so that you can make more money together in years 2 and 3 of the relationship.”
1) Team Members. Overcorrect in ways to make sure they are clear you care about them and their family and are open to anyways to support them. If you do this you don’t need to apply accountability, they will do the work anyway.
2) Customers. Make it clear your teams and resources are here to help them in any way possible in general and in the use of your services. Offer up you are open to ideas on how your services can be adapted to meet any changing situation on their side.”
“Hardcore “selling” will be perceived to be insensitive/inappropriate right now but we need to be visible and talk with clients and listen to their challenges and determine how we can help — even if our ‘help’ isn’t our products or services. When we genuinely help we strengthen the relationship and that is of utmost importance right now.”
“Despite the turbulent times right, we also have a big opportunity to focus our attention online. This is especially true as a consultant who sells “advice/IP/coaching/value” where in-person meetings aren’t possible anymore.”
“Probably the best piece of advice for folks in sales and marketing is to be authentic. Recognizing that customers and prospects likely have needs that are way more mission-critical than whatever you are marketing or selling is probably #1 and having the tone of whatever you communicate reflects the fact that you are listening as much as speaking is my top recommendation. People will remember that when things eventually get back to normal”
Being viewed as an authority will make your career bullet-proof. It will set you apart as you move up the career ladder. Experts and authorities are valued more by their employers and likely to be paid more.
And if selling is part of your job description, it will make it easier for you to connect with prospects. In fact, they will seek you out.
It also gives you independence. If you are hankering to set out on your own, you need to be an authority in something.
Why you should become an authority
Companies are always looking for expertise. Even in the deepest recession. Just being good at what you do is not enough. To be really successful, you have to stand apart as being a go-to resource for a particular topic.
If you are an authority, your friends and your extended business network will refer opportunities to you.
When strangers are searching for experts on LinkedIn, you will come up higher in their search results.
If you really commit to it and publish more widely than on LinkedIn, when people search the topic on Google and YouTube you will come up.
It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have or where you are in your career, you can be an authority on something.
You don’t have to be the next Gary V, but you can become recognized as an expert in something you are passionate about in your field.
It doesn’t matter how narrow your subject matter is. One of the best examples of this is Shannon Roddy. Shannon is an authority in helping merchants sell better on Amazon.
A few years ago, he was a web designer working for someone else. He was given the task of helping a client rank better on Amazon. This turned into a passion, and he has become a recognized expert by focusing on learning as much as possible about the topic. He posts about the topic, writes articles, speaks at events, and creates videos.
He has committed to being a recognized authority on the topic. In the last few years, he turned this passion into a training business, and he is taking off like a rocket.
Find your passion
What is one thing that you are professionally passionate about? Can you identify what you know a bit more about than your peers? What can you teach others? What do you love to learn more about?
Whatever this is, you can become an authority on this. It’s then about becoming even more expert in this, sharing what you know with your network, and above all, earning the right to be considered an authority.
Set yourself a daily challenge to learn something new about this topic and share it.
Start sharing posts and write a monthly article about your (business) passion on LinkedIn if you only do one thing.
If you are new to Healthcare, selling to healthcare organizations, especially selling to hospitals, can be very intimidating. My first meeting at a large hospital was terrifying.
I arrived, dressed in a suit, briefcase in hand, I walked through busy hospital hallways with clinicians in scrubs running from room to room, patients roaming the halls in smocks, scary-looking equipment being wheeled by.
It certainly wasn’t like meeting with a bank.
The executives spoke a language that was completely alien to me, using acronyms I had never heard. They discussed operational and financial issues that were Greek to me.
It was like entering a parallel universe.
The good news for anyone coming into healthcare is that there are many similarities to other industries you have worked in. Healthcare organizations act like large corporations in most ways.
They are financially driven, they buy technology to solve problems, they have defined processes in the way they buy, they want to lower costs and increase revenues, and they are full of smart people who want to be good at their jobs.
But, there are some important differences that you have to understand. For anyone making the transition to healthcare, you must learn these things.
So, if you can master these issues, you are on your way to being successful.
The Seven Major Differences Selling to Healthcare
1. Healthcare is like a parallel universe with a different economic model
Healthcare is a multi-trillion-dollar industry with a different economic model. Many healthcare organizations make hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in revenue but behave like they have no money.
Most of their consumers (also known as patients) don’t pay for most of their services.
In most cases, insurance companies or the government charge fees, and it is the employers and taxpayers who provide the funds.
So why is that important? It means that healthcare organizations have to wait to get reimbursed for the services they have delivered.
These services are based on codes for each procedure. There are hundreds of thousands of these codes, and the pay rate for each differs depending on where you are in the country and many other variables. Forecasting is a headache. They rarely get reimbursed what they expected as the payor negotiates for lower rates.
It takes a long time to receive payment
Imagine trying to run a retail business like this? The cash flow of a healthcare system is a nightmare.
Tip: Learn as much about the money flow in healthcare, especially the changes happening in Washington. You will understand your customers better, and you will also pinpoint new opportunities early.
2. Healthcare organizations have a different purpose
Most healthcare providers are Not-for-Profit. So, while they take in hundreds of millions in revenue, the majority of organizations are not doing this to make a profit.
Their purpose is to cure people and the health of their community. They are commercial organizations. And so, their motivation is not happy shareholders but a higher purpose.
Many organizations are faith-based.
This is important because, when you are selling to healthcare systems, raising revenues and lowering costs is important, but you can’t lose sight that patient care is the most important issue.
3. Sales cycles are incredibly long
When selling to hospitals, everybody will tell you that the sales cycles are very long. I am going to dedicate a future blog post to this. The reality is that there is not much you can do about this, but you have to factor this into your business model.
Therefore, if you have a business that sells into other industries, expect that selling to healthcare will take 50-100% longer and build this into your business plan.
4. The complex sale is even more complex
Why? The sales process typically involves more people and different stakeholders with very different needs and expectations. Understanding the stakeholder map is critical.
These include IT, medical, nursing, informatics, security, finance, purchasing execs, and a few subject matter experts have thrown in for good measure.
Everyone gets involved, and as decisions are most often by consensus, everybody gets a voice.
5. Many people in healthcare have little business experience
Many stakeholders you will meet selling to hospitals, e.g., doctors and nurses, have very little experience working in the business.
They are typically smart people, but you may have to go the extra mile to explain the commercial benefits of what you are selling. For example, my physician business partner had used email for years but had no idea what Outlook was.
6. Healthcare organizations are often more loyal
In my experience, healthcare organizations stay with their vendors longer than in other industries. Why? Firstly, they are not as ruthless as more profit-driven organizations, and there is a lot of risk in switching. This is the positive side of the long sales cycles.
7. Technology lags behind other industries and moves slower
Healthcare organizations are more risk-averse and more financially constrained the businesses in other industries. Consequently, they innovate more slowly, and technology lifecycles are often longer.
There is a lot of legacy technology, even faxes and pagers. You may need to integrate with technologies you don’t see very often in other industries.
Was just reading about NRC’s ransomware attack. This is the stuff of nightmares. NRC is a business associate with hundreds of healthcare systems and has patient data on 100,000s (maybe millions of patients).
The attack could have started by someone innocently opening a phishing email.
These are getting more convincing every day. I almost fell for one the other day from a LinkedIn connection. I was a mouse click away.
A ransomware attack like this cripples an organization and hurts its clients too.
NTC had to shut down all its systems immediately. They basically switched the business off! More importantly, it is devastating to client trust.
NRC clients immediately complained that the attack impacts their operations because they use NRC data in determining what to pay their physicians.
I ran a secure communications business and we sweated minor outages as our lives depended on it.
Just thinking about a ransomware attack makes me want to throw up. It could have buried us.
The article details the impact of other attacks. Don’t read this late at night.