Andrea Johnson

B2B Healthcare Sales: 5 steps to sell to a financially challenged industry

How do you sell to an industry that:

  • Is regulated within an inch of its survival?
  • Is so mired in complexity that even its most productive members are barely making a profit?
  • Has paper-thin margins and will soon be losing money even though it will have more business than ever?
  • Has been so completely transformed that a sales professional who was at the top of his game merely four years ago could very well be at the bottom of it today?

These are the questions anyone marketing to the U.S. healthcare industry is struggling with right now. Bob Ainsbury, Vice President of Global Healthcare Strategy for Infor, is finding the solution in simplicity.

“Healthcare is a very complicated space. It has nurses, doctors, nursing assistants, administrators and patients. They tend not to have coffee together; their cars tend to be in different parking lots. They went to different colleges and come from different economic strata,” Ainsbury explains. “Yet, they all have to work together well to overcome healthcare’s challenges.”

His organization has spent months clarifying the essence of

  • what these customers need, and
  • how its solutions – which range from transactional to highly complex, enterprise-level products and services – can singularly meet that need.

They came up with two complementary statements — “We help people work together better,” and “We help systems work together better” — that would become their foundation.

The foundation to stop:

  • Sales from acting as facilitators who depended on experts to relate product benefits to challenging issues
  • Pedigree-style selling where value is based on company stability, strong financing and market share

“You cannot use pedigree when you’re dealing with a marketplace that everyone recognizes has changed,” says Ainsbury.

And, the foundation to start:

  • Transformational-style selling where Sales so confidently articulates industry issues and solutions that the customer gains confidence, too

“We wanted Sales to say, ‘We can see over the next ridge. We can take you to the Promised Land. We understand the forces that are shaping you, and you are in good hands with us because we get the marketplace and where it’s going,’” Ainsbury says.

Simplifying complexity

“Distilling services to the simplest essence is a very important skill in motivating a sales force. I think technology companies can get too much comfort from the details,” admits Ainsbury.

Ainsbury uses this distillation process:

1.  Gather a diverse, qualified team with members who are expert at:

  • Packaging and communicating information
  • Strategy and industry issues
  • Your products and what they do for customers
  • Selling – your rainmakers
  • Facilitating conversation – Ainsbury strongly recommends leveraging an outside organization

“Choose people who would enjoy getting outside their niche and influencing what is going to happen in the larger organization,” Ainsbury advises.

2.  Review and discuss the most compelling marketplace issues and all of the internal strategies your organization is using to respond.

“It’s sort of like taking a buffet and making just one nice meal,” says Ainsbury. “However, this ‘meal’ took many months of preparation. We did intensive research so we could field almost any prospect question about the marketplace and provide an erudite answer.”

3.  Test the messages in the field.

“We wanted to have the evidence to show Sales that the messaging really works. It’s sort of like showing off the biggest losers on a weight-loss program to demonstrate the value of it,” he says.

4.  Roll it out gradually.“Don’t expect sales professionals to shed everything that gave them success in the past, and assume they’ll embrace this entirely new approach,” Ainsbury warns.

“In our case, some sales professionals were able to deliver the new messaging as if it was their own instantly; they needed no coaching,” he continues. “Others were so entrenched in pedigree sales and facilitating that they were overwhelmed. Don’t make them eat an elephant in one sitting.”

This is why he advises gradually giving Sales the tools to be successful. Over the course of nine months, Ainsbury’s team provided the following:

  • One or two slides, reflecting the new, transformational-style selling that could be inserted into an existing presentation.
  • A short, amusing film of an elevator pitch – in an elevator – to show them how transformational selling is done.

“It was completed on a shoestring budget and was just enough to tweak their interest,” says Ainsbury. “After all, how can we get Sales to sell to their customers in a different way if we don’t sell our selling tools in a different way?”

  • A curriculum that included workshops, small group sessions and online training. Each walked sales professionals through real-world selling situations, and tested their ability to master the approach.

“We wanted them to get so comfortable expressing this strategy that they could communicate it impromptu – on a whiteboard or even a napkin – any interesting, interactive way that isn’t pre-baked,” Ainsbury says.

“We developed this provocative approach where a salesperson can say, ‘Hey, you’ve got five minutes? Let me draw you a map of where healthcare is going and what we are doing about it,’” he continues. “Of course, this won’t work when you have 60 people – 30 of them coming in from another state – for a WebEx. But you can be much more intimate in your explanation and encourage interaction. It does require you know your field inside and out.”

  • Regular seminars with external experts on forces shaping healthcare.“We wanted to give them an opportunity to get an answer to that tough question a CIO asked them a couple of months ago; we’re providing them the context of industry understanding from authorities outside of the company,” says Ainsbury.
  • An opportunity to practice the new strategy at major trade shows.

“It was a more casual environment to test the new language; it allowed them to wear these new clothes for a bit without disrupting the normalcy of their own pursuits,” he explains.

5.  Embrace this as a process, not a project.

“You always have to be willing to change,” Ainsbury says. “There’s a paradoxical conflict between determination to see through what you said you’d do, and the wisdom and agility to change – to move to a different place – when you find conditions are different. Knowing the nuances of this is the essence of success.”

The program was instituted a year ago. However, the sales cycles for Infor’s healthcare products are often longer, so Ainsbury can’t yet provide any quantitative ROI.

“It would be disingenuous if I gave you some statistics at this point … we’ve had significant year-over-year growth during the past three years, but that could be due to a combination of factors,” he explains. “What I can say is we’ve achieved our goal of giving our sales professionals the confidence to directly speak to the issues that their marketplace cares about most.”

Sources

Corporate Visions – Outside organization that the team used to help facilitate conversations

Ainsbury recently presented these concepts at the Corporate Visions annual conference; see his presentation materials at www.ainsbury.com/corporatevisions

Related Resources

B2B Marketing: On Occam’s razor and value propositions

How ECI Telecom Discovered the Surefire Sign that Sales and Marketing Are Aligned

How Content Strategy is Transforming an Entire Marketing and Sales Organization

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  1. | #1

    Very well said madam, and I also like the ideas that are portrayed here… ““Choose people who would enjoy getting outside their niche and influencing what is going to happen in the larger organization,” Ainsbury advises.” is one of my favorites… thanks

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