Challenges and Opportunities in Selling to the Healthcare C-Suite
By Harriet Butler
There’s a common saying about selling in healthcare: When you understand one health system, you understand one health system.
With the increasing complexity involved in navigating complex Integrated Delivery Networks (IDNs), there are no easy solutions to winning the business. Meanwhile, as the healthcare environment moves away from the fee-for-service model to value-based care, hospital executives’ expectations are changing. For those who are selling into the so-called C-suite, including senior executives and other top leaders, that means a shift for them as well.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that senior-level audiences have different demands and expectations than many salespeople are used to dealing with. From getting the appointment to interacting during the meeting, calling on senior executives requires a more strategic approach and a different set of skills.
We recently surveyed strategic account representatives and executives in the Medical Device and Diagnostic marketplace to learn a bit more about their experiences calling on senior leaders in today’s healthcare environment. We learned that some of their top challenges include gaining access and having a compelling, value-based reason to meet, among others.
A particularly revealing data point from the survey is the fact that only 21% of respondents felt “highly confident” in their ability to bring value to an executive-level conversation. We also discovered that 18% were “not confident” that they could bring value or have had no executive conversations in the past six months.
All of these factors affect how medical device, diagnostics, pharmaceutical and other healthcare sales organizations prepare their teams to step up into the carpeted side of the hospital.
The Power of Beliefs
While salespeople need to build new skills to address the unique expectations and demands of healthcare leaders, they also need to develop the necessary mindset to call on senior executives. In fact, when it comes to selling successfully to a senior leadership audience, a salesperson’s beliefs, values and ability to create value for customers are often more influential than their selling skills.
There are five key belief dimensions that influence executive sales success:
- View of Selling to Executives: Your belief in creating value for health systems and executives.
- View of Abilities: Your belief you can be successful selling to this level of customers.
- Commitment to Activities: Your willingness to do what’s necessary—applying all the tools and resources—to be successful, every single time.
- Belief in Solutions: Your belief that what you have to offer brings value.
- Values: You have the integrity, honesty, work ethic, credibility, etc. to excel.
How can you help your salespeople expand their beliefs? One-on-one coaching is critical. Work with them to consider new possibilities for themselves. Ask them what they might do and say that’s completely outside their comfort zone. Acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal to be nervous. And focus on helping them develop and believe in the actions, feelings, behaviors and abilities that support a successful conversation.
A Different Customer with Different Priorities
In addition to potentially self-limiting beliefs, many salespeople struggle to succeed at the executive level because they assume the same approaches they use with other customers will work here, too.
The problem is, senior executives’ priorities and goals are different. In their decision-making process, they’re thinking about specific business drivers, like enhanced patient care, cost reduction, revenue growth and third-party partnerships. What this means is that selling to them is less about asking questions and more about helping them connect the dots. The salesperson has to bring insight that aligns with the executive’s strategic imperatives and helps them solve a problem that’s bigger than what’s in the representative’s product portfolio.
Successful salespeople do this by:
- Understanding the priorities of senior executives and how those differ from the priorities of clinical or financial decision-makers
- Recognizing how business drivers impact decisions
- Knowing how and when to get involved in the decision-making process—it has to be early.
- Researching, doing the homework and coming in to the meeting highly prepared for that strategic discussion
This last point can’t be overstated. When working with senior leaders, there are no shortcuts and often no second chances. Thorough planning, preparation and research are non-negotiables. Eighty percent of what the salesperson would typically uncover through interviewing the customer should happen instead in preparation for the conversation.
Ultimately, selling to the C-suite in healthcare is a different game, one that’s highly dependent on the person’s beliefs, values and ability to create value at a strategic level. Not everyone is cut out for it. But with the right training, coaching and tools, your executive-level salespeople can step up to the challenge, become valuable partners to their customers, and make a significant positive impact—on the business and on people’s lives.