By Skender Daerti on Mar 16, 2020 3:38:58 PM
Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity
- R.I. Fitzhenry
Uncertainty (noun) (un-cer-tain-ty) -
lack of sureness about someone or something; an almost complete lack of conviction or knowledge especially about an outcome or result
Uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds chaos. Uncertainty is the root of panic. To say that we live in uncertain times is an understatement. We are uncertain about the true impact of a growing pandemic. We have yet to identify the extent of its economic impact. What we can be certain of is that the world will likely never be the same. Change is now upon us.
The thing about uncertainty though, is that beyond the chaos, fear and panic, it also creates opportunity. Whether the result of forced adaptation or innovation, solutions to both old and new problems are discovered. The first step in developing solutions is to clearly identify and categorize the issues. Some of the challenges that exist for Medtech companies in the current environment are:
- Supply chain disruptions – as more component products are sourced globally, there will undoubtedly be disruptions in Medtech companies’ abilities to manufacture their products. Additionally, as manufacturing plants are forced to work with skeleton crews, real-time responses to demand spikes will be challenged
- Cancelled/postponed elective procedures – as non-emergent patients seek to avoid potential exposure around healthcare facilities/offices, the volume of procedures and the demand for many products will decline.
- Restricted access to providers – there are ongoing discussions regarding some healthcare facilities posing temporary restrictions on all non-essential personnel effective immediately
- Providers’ focus – what may have been a priority for a healthcare provider a month ago, may no longer be so today, as all attention and resources are focused on emergent situations
- Corporate travel restrictions – Many Medtech organizations lack robust field teams as they rely on a few sales-focused individuals to travel around covering large territories. How do they effectively respond to customers’ needs?
- Unscrupulous business practices – undoubtedly, there will be individuals who will seek to profit from times like these, engaging in practices like price gouging. These practices could have long term ramifications industry-wide.
Depending on the severity and longevity of this uncertainty/disruption, the Medtech industry could potentially experience negative repercussions. On the mild end, we may see a slight interruption of sales and profits as sales cycles get elongated. On the more severe end, there could be sizeable sales losses resulting in mass layoffs (this is the least likely scenario to occur as of the time of this writing, but there is certainly a non-zero chance that it could happen). Regardless of the situation’s pervasiveness, a disruption of some sort is inevitable and those organizations embracing change, and strategically implementing solutions will be the most successful.
What are some of the strategies Medtech organizations should seek, in the short term, to optimize their potential for success? Here are a few thoughts:
- Find ways to reach prospective customers outside of person-to-person contact: This is a foreign concept in our industry, but other “new-age” industries have been practicing these principles for years. Become more engaged in social media/email marketing strategies; develop/outsource to inside sales teams; further engage in local community workshops and events.
- Virtual education of customers/prospective customers: “Consultative sales” practices have led to the greatest success for organizations in the last decade as the Medtech buying process has evolved. A large part of consultative selling involves educating a prospective customer; effective educating IS effective marketing. Build a robust e-learning platform for your organization to effectively educate prospects/customers on your brand/products remotely. Incorporate a “full feedback loop” into this education process to measure the extent of a prospect’s/customer’s engagement with your materials.
- Telecast educational presentations: Members of the clinical community are hungry for education surrounding new products/procedures/practices. That is the primary reason why they attend trade shows and conferences. As more of those events are cancelled, a vacuum for education for cutting-edge technology/procedures is created. Work with a media communications company to develop a webcast event/series and promote it throughout a targeted community. Add CE/CME credits to the experience to attract further interest from clinicians
- Create a more flexible field force: This is 2020 and there is no defined method for how a field team should be setup. Today’s organizations need to practice “efficiency investing” when developing their field infrastructure, focusing on 3 dynamics:
§ Quality and effectiveness of personnel and messaging
§ Ability to rapidly respond to changing dynamics in any region/territory
§ Ability to effectively and efficiently balance the demands of both growth and maintenance accounts.
Companies should ask themselves questions like, “what is my ratio of sales personnel to clinical personnel?” If the ratio is highly skewed to one side, the infrastructure may not be optimal to address the three dynamics presented above. Build a foundation of organically grown talent and augment that with outsourced sales/clinical talent as the scope of demand requires. The best way to react to changes in demand is to have a workforce that is capable of scaling.
- Use this time wisely: If we do find ourselves in an era of declining sales activity, utilize the time effectively. Rather than asking why something is not happening, make something happen by using the time to develop new strategies for the future. Conduct market research activities via focus groups, voice-of-customer surveys and interviews. Take the information derived from these exercises and recalibrate/reposition your organization for future success so when the market normalizes, your organization will be optimally positioned.
- COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE: The primary mistake organizations make in times of difficulty and uncertainty is to withhold information from various members of the team. Leadership tends to justify this practice by convincing themselves they are doing it to protect the other members of the organization. However, this creates a vacuum of communication, where chaos and distrust manifest. Be transparent about your challenges and let people know that activities are taking place to manage the organization through the tough times. People don’t always need answers, but they do need to know that efforts are being made to find the answers.
Uncertainty is challenging, but without the proper adjustments and adaptations, it will simply present problems, when what we really need are new solutions. The Medtech industry needs to thrive. Providers and patients rely on us to guide them through these uncertain/difficult times. Find a way to lead through this change and you will be successful… because some sense of change is likely going to stay for the long term, and we all need to persevere.