We’re in an odd phase of the pandemic where we haven’t yet beat the disease, but businesses are begging for some semblance of normal life—and revenues. Michael, Scott, and Jared discuss the challenges that healthcare vendors are facing as marketing and sales indicators have become impossible to project. In this episode, you’ll learn how marketing and sales can team up more effectively, how to move forward when funnels and pipelines are frozen, and the importance of small, measurable wins.
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Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare. But how do we keep up? The days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone, and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans. And many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell.
Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys and focus instead on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together. And here are some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your paradigm shift.
Michael: Welcome to “The Paradigm Shift of Healthcare” and thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts with my co-hosts, Jared Johnson and Scott Zeitzer. On today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about the challenges that healthcare vendors are facing, as we’re in this weird middle phase of the pandemic. We’ve certainly not beat the disease yet, but there’s this big push to try and get back out there and have some sort of semblance of normal life by reopening a lot of different types of businesses.
At the same time that that’s happening, there’s a lot of news coming out, you know, with all of the different healthcare vendors on what their financials look like, you know, for the first half of the year. So, a lot of several publicly traded companies have been sharing the numbers over the past several weeks. And it’s not been pretty for a lot of them. There’s been some, you know, major shortages in sales, and all the projections for any plans that people had for what their sales were going to look like this year are completely, completely changed.
We’ll be talking in a future episode about how sales teams are facing these challenges. We’ve got a guest that’s gonna be coming for that. But today, we’re gonna be looking at marketing specifically, and this is going to be a conversation that we’ll have as the three of us guys. So, as we’re diving into this, let’s talk about the specifics of the pressures that marketing teams are facing. We know that everything’s changed. We know that everybody’s got a lot of pressure that they’re dealing with, but what are the specifics of that?
Scott: You know, just to jump in quickly on that, you had mentioned that some of the larger companies are reporting terrible numbers. We all have friends who have been, or are working for smaller companies where they’ve furloughed staff, both sales and marketing management. The numbers do look terrible. And anybody who’s listening to this in the med device industry, you know, there’s a lot of lines out there that might not be doing that great, but it doesn’t really matter because we’re selling so much of something else.
And as COVID has done across the board, it really does show weaknesses a lot. Those cracks appear, and they don’t seem to go away. And so, it’s hit those small companies, I think in some ways even harder. It’s just been something.
And now, to your point, here we are kind of waking up, we’re talking to more and more surgeons who are opening up their practices and trying to move and groove. We know the hospitals are trying desperately to actually make money, you know, have elective surgeries, take care of people, all those good things. You know, Jared, have you talked to a lot of people on your side? I know you have a lot of marketing buddies. You’re a marketing guy. I’m the sales guy kind of smiling at the two of you guys.
Jared: Yeah, well, I can tell you for one that line has blurred between marketing and sales. And I think one reason is because the market has frozen and it is not clear when it will completely thaw. There are pockets that have thawed. But for the most part, everyone in the industry is seeing some semblance of their pipeline either kind of disappearing or at least kind of fogging up. It’s not very clear who’s at what stage of marketing anymore, and it’s not clear how to reach them. And it’s not clear what the projection is.
So all the things you’re kind of used to in marketing of preparing an audience, preparing prospects, and generating leads, generating demand, protecting your brand, building your brand, all those things, there’s no clear answer on really any of it right now. And there’s no signal for sure of when it’s going to become clear again.
So, or even down to things like customers who used to be loyal might not be loyal anymore because somebody else might just make one thing easier for them. They might reduce some kind of friction in their experience, and people just might say, “Well, you know, I’m gonna go with them even though I’ve gone with you for years.”
So, a lot of challenges out there, just the uncertainty, how it applies to marketing, it’s really hard to say, “Hey, we’re…you know, how are we going to hit our plan 100% this quarter, this month?” The parts of the handoff with sales I would say are, they aren’t any more clear than anything else going on with marketing right now.
Scott: Yeah, you know, I’m thinking about pipeline and triage. You know, as the owner of a small business, the first thing I did was think about, like, who are my key customers? How do I keep them? How do I interact with them first? I know Michael, from a marketing perspective, that was something that you and I talked about, and I think a lot of the vendors that we’re talking with, they’re in triage mode too.
Michael: Certainly, certainly, yeah, and just trying to say like, are we still able to provide all the basic things? Are we still giving them everything that they need? You know, as we’re kind of going through this list of all the things that marketing is facing kind of like on that front line, you know, in terms of this is where I expect customers to be and this is how I expect that they would behave, there’s also sort of that, you know, some of those companies that have that marketing and communications role that they share, and so you have to kind of take both sides of that. And all of those communications plans have completely changed.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely.
Michael: Right. Like all the things that we intended to tell our customers this year are completely different. And as we’ve said many times on the show before, now we’re trying to find ways to say things like, “Hey, we’ll be there for you.” And either we’ve already established that rapport with our customer to where we have the right to say that, or we haven’t. And there’s all kinds of people that are, you know, that have kind of come across as this weird kind of hollow thing where they’re saying they’re gonna be there for us, but it doesn’t make sense.
But yeah, in terms of, you know, thinking about, how do you sort of like protect that line? For the people that did invest beforehand, getting back out there and saying, “Hey, you know, we are still here. We’re still getting the job done. We’re still getting things done for you.” You know, and I think all of us have these examples, for the companies that we actually care about, that have actually have shown some initiative towards their customers in the past, like, it was actually a reassuring message. It was good to know that, you know, all of our credit card companies were still in the game, and all of those other services that we think of as being so important.
Scott: Yeah, you know, I’m thinking about a lot of these medical device companies basically having to go out to their customers and saying, “We’re here for you, and here’s how we’re gonna get it done,” because you’ve built up a tremendous amount of trust. And I shouldn’t just say medical device, the pharma companies we work with are doing the same thing.
But again, it’s like you’ve built up this trust, they are your customer, and I feel that a lot of them have been trying desperately just to get to those customers and say, “Hey, we’re here, and here’s how we’re going to take care of you.” Because if you don’t, if you don’t have good, nimble plans on how to effectively communicate and keep those current customers happy, thinking about two years from now, which is the standard, you know, marketing is always like, “Hey, I’ll help you out with whatever you need right now, but I got to keep focusing on a couple of years from now.” But you guys know, hey, man, all bets are off.
Michael: What does it look like right now for marketing and sales to work together? Because this is one of those like nice to haves that, you know, a lot of people were talking about like, “Oh, you know, we should all get along, and we should have everybody talk together,” and all that sort of stuff. But it’s not a nice to have anymore. It’s, this is how you’re going to survive now. So what does that look like?
Scott: I think it looks like a lot of smaller, quicker hits that are measurable. Jared, what about you?
Jared: Smaller for sure. I think we’ve got to think smaller. We can’t think…like marketers can easily think a lot of times in the way that, “Let’s create a video that’s going to go viral, and that’s how we’re going to reach more people. Let’s go start some program that’s going to just light the world on fire, get a lot of attention.” Attention is not the currency anymore right now, it’s trust.
And so that is coming by thinking smaller, by thinking individually, by thinking more of in marketing terms account based marketing, which is targeting that prospect, or that lead, or that potential client, what did they need in particular? Creating content and marketing around them instead of creating things in a general way and seeing who’s attracted to it. It’s a different approach, it’s something that’s been around for a long time.
But thinking about really everything in a marketing program, from an account based marketing standpoint can be helpful. It’s really looking into the relationships that you already have. And the fact that everyone is so overwhelmed with information right now, so you’re not going to get more leads in a pipeline or a funnel right now by overwhelming people with information. We’re already overwhelmed. So we have to think of other ways to do it.
The way that keeps popping up, and it’s funny because it’s a tenet of good marketing, and it always has been and yet I’m seeing it applied more now than ever, is empathy first, then information. Show people that you understand what they are trying to go through, show them you realize how quickly it’s changing in the things you’re saying and the conversations you’re having with them, and the way in which you are attempting to improve a relationship with them.
So you kind of take features and benefits, your typical part of a marketing conversation at some point, and just put those out of the conversation for now. Don’t think about features and benefits. People, just every single one of us, every human being on this planet right now needs more empathy. So if we lead with that, then we provide information that’s useful.
It’s not rocket science, it doesn’t sound like it, and it really isn’t. But now is the time to really think about that. So marketing and sales instead of thinking, who gets credit for something? Who starts the conversation? Where do you hand it off to me, I want it? You know, I want this part. Let’s work together. Let’s think about who you’re really trying to target, how you can truly benefit them, and then go from there.
Michael: I saw a post recently from Mark Schaefer, who does a lot of marketing work, written a lot of books on the topic. And he was talking about, I think he had gotten like one of those gentle interview requests like, “Hey, would you be able to give us some feedback on how you think branded content should be working right now?” And this was maybe even pre-pandemic. “But you know, what does branded content look like? Talk to us about the funnel, and all these kinds of things.”
And his response was like, “What funnel? What are you talking about right now?” Like that concept is so completely blown out of the water right now, for a lot of different reasons, not just because like customers are behaving completely different than they have before. So you know, a lot of those like checkpoints that you would use to say, “And now they’re at this stage of the process,” those kinds of guidelines are kind of gone.
But his big thing that he was even pushing at the moment was the way that people are looking to identify solutions to their problems isn’t the traditional model. It isn’t like kind of what you were saying Jared of like, somebody published all this information and now I’m going to go jump in and try to find like, what’s the right fit for me? It’s just, “Hey, what did you guys hear is a good service to use for this problem?” That kind of peer-to-peer recommendation, cool, that’s what I’m going with, I’m going to jump in, I’m going to give it a shot.
Scott: Instead of being that long term strategy, it’s this tactical of like, what can I do for you now?
Jared: Yeah, How did I build the trust with you before, so that we can talk about what I can do for you now? And that…if trust building wasn’t a big part of what the company had done before, they got a lot of ground to catch up on.
Scott: Oh, I agree. And you know, that goes back to like, man, I’ve already built up trust with my current group, what do I need to do to you know, just make sure they’re okay? And how do I interact with them and give them what they need? Which by the way is very helpful in terms of how you would reach out to people that you may not know as well, your current group of customers that you’ve always been with that you’ve always partnered with to come up with long-term plans that you’re talking to now that, you know, are taking the time to slow down enough to talk to you, they’re probably giving a lot of fodder to marketers on what to say to people that you don’t know as well, but you want to get to know them better.
Michael: That’s for sure.
Jared: One of the best things that I learned from working with a copywriter in the past was really, really paying attention to like the specific phrases that potential customers are using. So let’s say that I’m looking for a new phone, just to have a completely generic example here, but I’m looking for a new phone and on these different review sites, everybody’s given all these different, you know, comments about like why they feel a certain way, “This phone works for well for me, because…,”and here’s the list of reasons, and here are the exact phrases that they’re using.
And, you know, as you’re talking about that, Scott, in terms of like, what are the things that they’re saying, you know, from the marketer standpoint, those are the phrases that have to be in your copy, you know, to get really, really specific with it, to get very tactical with it. Those are the things that have to go in what you’re saying. And then how are you equipping the salespeople with that same language? You know, how can you keep these concepts and make the most out of every single thing? Because marketing teams and sales teams, but marketers for today, like we are facing a lot of pressure, we do have a lot of things that we’re trying to accomplish. Everything that you’re doing has to serve multiple purposes. And you have to look for how you can extend that content, extend that language as far as you can.
Scott: Yeah, there’s no doubt about that. You know, I was thinking about, you know, marketing and sales has always been an interesting dynamic, and who does what, who gets credit for what, as Jared had brought up? And now it’s very important that that communication is open internally.
Sales is hearing a lot about those signals, like what do you want to hear now, you know, from your current customers. Or the customers that you were so close to getting but could never get but might now be able to because Company X is just not there, I think it’s critical that sales and marketing are working more closely with each other to really listen about what their needs are today, today. How can you help me today? I think you and I were joking, Michael, about seeing commercials where they’re, you know, talking about how, you know, it’s just this very kind of like, “We’re there for you.” No comment on what they’re going to do for me, just that they’re there for you. And it’s like, yeah, that’s great, man. Click, next, what are you doing for me? Not how…like, give me specifics.
Jared: Yeah, at that point it’s like, it’s probably doing more bad than good to say it and have no specifics. Not only are you just creating noise, you’re just giving even more reason to ignore you in the future.
Scott: You’re right, Jared, that whole like, “Look, man, I’m overwhelmed with information. If you can give me something helpful right now, something that I can use right now, that is great.” And that goes back to what we’ve all been talking about. It’s like, you got to think a little bit smaller, a little bit more tactical. I’ll go back to something measurable. You know, if I’m in the marketing suite, and I need to go into the C-suite, I’m hoping that I can come up with something to show progress. Because those cash flow numbers, they’re not as good as they used to, and you don’t have as much time to produce and get trust.
Michael: As you do have to start looking for different stats, like as you do have to start looking for different things to be able to show off, you know, one of the things that kind of came to mind first was, you know, there is this constant blending of marketing with other roles. It seems like we’re never happy to just leave marketing as it is. But there is a lot more overlap now between marketing and customer service.
And as companies are getting squeezed tighter and tighter, I think there’s the line between like, hey, how are we growing? But what’s the line of retention at least? If I can’t show off all the ways that I’m going in winning new customers, how am I protecting the relationships we do have? How am I showing some sort of trust metrics that I can show off to say like, “Look, this person reached out and needed something, and we were there. And we kept this business because we have answered that question so effectively.”
Scott: Yes, indeed. I think that’s just a critical win for both sales and marketing as a team to go back. And again, how can I help you? How can I measure that I’m helping you? And then after I’ve settled that, I’ll get back to worrying about what’s going to happen in 2022, when, you know, quite frankly, I don’t know what 2022 looks like. The heck, I don’t even know what the end of 2020 looks like.
Michael: Right. I’ve heard Jay Baer recently, he’s a really popular marketing speaker, keynote author and consultant to a lot of Fortune 500 companies. And just recently, the way he has put it is that no one knows how anything works anymore. So just assume all your customers, all your prospects, all your leads, they don’t know how your business works anymore.
He explained even something as simple as going out to get his first post COVID haircut recently. This was maybe just a couple of weeks ago. And he said, that normally didn’t take any answers that he’d have to go ask for. But in this case, he listed off 13 questions he had to ask now about how it works. How do you get a haircut? How do you know what…you know, what are their safety measures? Do I have to schedule? Dada, dada, da. He was like, “This used to be a thing that I didn’t even have to ask a single question. I now have to ask 13 questions. And here they are.”
So if you think about that, if every single type of business has exploded, meaning no one knows how it works anymore, well, there’s a way to build trust right off the bat. And it seems really simple. But if that means everyone’s out there, and I do believe this, I think everyone’s out there saying, “Please explain this to me.” Like we’re all begging for someone to explain how things work right now. So, build trust by answering those questions, by being there, by being transparent, show don’t tell, always lead with that basic human empathy, that’s always going to win.
And so for a medical device company, for a marketing team, anywhere in there that’s looking for that, I would just say make that connection all the way through to the patient’s health. If you don’t do that on a regular basis, make the connection with what you’re trying to do, with what relationship you’re trying to create, with what you’re trying to generate some demand for so that there’s eventually a sale associated with it.
Be able to make that connection and connect all those dots, and think of yourselves if you haven’t before as the one who’s going to guide people through the landscape. And it might seem like stuff is obvious to us. I mean, I know plenty of institutions who think, look, we posted once on our social media, we have the little banner across the top of our website, so everyone knows how everything works now, because we put it out there.
Scott: I’ve had many a conversation with practices that we talked to, quite a few practices about, you’ve got to get more specific about every step that you’re taking. These are the COVID-19, and keeping the patients safe, the practice safe, and the building safe, etc. I’ve had practices say, “yeah, but I said I follow FDA guidelines.” And I just kind of laugh and I go, “I don’t even know what the FDA guidelines are.”
So what are you doing when I walk in? You know, are you measuring my temperature? You know, I bet you Jay Bear’s 13 questions that a lot to do with like, are you wearing a mask? Are you cleaning? Are you washing your hands a lot? Is there social distancing going on? I mean, if that’s happening for a haircut, and it is, imagine what needs to happen for a practice.
Now let’s move it up to a med device or pharma company. How are you getting me my product? How is the sales force safe? There was a lot of built in things that are there, but we need to remind everybody what that is. And that’s a big place just to start with, how are we keeping everybody safe? How are you keeping your own staff safe so they can take care of the surgeons out there, the doctors out there? What are you doing to protect all the patients that ultimately your product is helping in the end? These are the things that need to be said. And guys, we can build trust very quickly and effectively by doing that.
Jared: We’ve thrown out a lot of ideas here, and I wanted to kind of try to drill down on these so that we have like, hey, here’s the thing that I want you to take away from today’s episode. Because if you’re in healthcare marketing, if you’re working for a vendor service that helps out with hospitals or with practices, you know that you’re under pressure, you know that you’re facing a lot of struggles right now.
So those few things that we can kind of take away from this, what I wrote down here, in terms of like what I heard everybody’s saying was like the number one thing that’s appropriate, because listening, I was listening to you guys and listening to your customers. And that requires now that partnering up with sales to a much different degree.
But it also I think requires that partnering up with your customer service as well, anywhere that you can get that kind of feedback, you’ve got to be getting it in there. And that leads to empathy, or Jared, what you were saying there. And then I would say the third point being getting tactical with it. What is the thing that I can do for you today that answers your challenge right now? Is there something else that we should add to that kind of core list of three, or is that really kind of our big focus for today?
Scott: I think that’s a good start. My perspective on this is, it’s COVID-19, is going to show every crack, every pain point in your business. And getting back to basics, getting back to building trust with your current group of customers, and going from there with specifics that you can measure, that you can walk back to your boss, walk back to the C suite, that’s the win, right now. You can worry about next year and the year after a little bit later. We’ve had a real curveball thrown to us. We’re not trying to hit it out of the park, just trying to connect, a little baseball.
Jared: I would say the one thing that’s clear is that things probably aren’t going back to the way they were. We’re probably not going back to 100% of plan pre-COVID anywhere in the economy, anywhere, so especially when we’re talking healthcare companies, healthcare vendors. We’re not going back to the same revenue levels, we’re not going back to the same ways of engagement, and we’re not going back to the fact that we can count on something being the same three months from now.
The way that we behave, the way that healthcare is experienced, it’s going to keep changing. And so, being okay with the uncertainty means we’re going to have to set our sights a little closer and say, “Maybe all I can do right now is set my plan for this quarter. I have no idea what’s going to happen after that. I can’t set an annual plan right now.” You know, I can’t set goals for a pipeline or for a funnel because people are not going from step A to step B to step C like they are supposed to, and so we don’t know how to do that anymore.
But what I can do is I can still see how many people I can get to step Z, you know, wherever they are, somewhere in the process. I can still work with people on that part and that part, and take some smaller steps. I think it comes back to the concept of thinking small. I think it comes back to the concept of let’s not waste our time just waiting for things to come back, they’re not going to go back.
Scott: They’re not coming back, you’re right, you know, it’s not this V shaped recovery. It is going to be a situation where right now, Jared, your point is very well taken. It’s like, what can I do this quarter? And that’s probably pretty good long-term, we don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen to quarter…
Heck, anybody listening to this right now, is anybody making any big vacation plans about where they’re going to fly? Of course not. I get it, if you have to go somewhere, you’ll do what you need to do. But no one’s making long-term plans right now. And thinking that your customers are is just crazy talk.
I think it’s about figuring out what to do this quarter, listening, starting to think about like, man, as things get back to more normal, maybe one day there will be a vaccine or better modes of treatment, etc, etc. As that starts to get better, then you’ll have to start thinking about rebuilding your pipeline.
Right now, if I were giving a pep talk to my marketing team and I have many times, it’s like, “Tell me what we can do this quarter. What are our wins for this quarter? Don’t worry about 2022 yet. What are the wins for this quarter?”
Jared: All right, guys. I think that’s a good talk on what we can cover for today. If you are in marketing, and you’re trying to figure this space out right now, the short-term wins, that’s what we’re looking for. So wish you all the best with it.
Scott: Yeah, man, everybody stay safe, stay well. And yeah, short-term wins that are measurable, are lead measurable.
Jared: All right, thanks guys.
Michael spends a great deal of time with the healthcare industry both professionally and personally, which gives him the perspective of what stakeholders on either side of the care equation need.
He began coding in 2008 and subsequently shifted his attention entirely to online marketing. Michael completed his MBA in 2018, focusing on the intersection of healthcare and marketing.
Scott Zeitzer, president of Health Connective, has been in the healthcare industry for his entire adult life. After earning a masters in biomedical engineering, he sold medical devices (total hips, total knees, trauma devices, and CMF devices) to orthopedists and neurosurgeons for nearly 10 years.
In 1998, Scott started Health Connective to provide web and application development for a variety of business, eventually choosing to focus on healthcare companies.
Jared builds innovative healthcare brands through digital strategy and engaging content that turns heads. He is a keynote speaker, prolific content creator, host of the Healthcare Rap podcast and author of Connect the Docs: Put Digital Health Into Practice.