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Growing Up Digital

Digital marketing, communicating to customers through the internet, social media and on-line events, is finally coming of age in the medical device space. Early adopters had started using digital years ago. During the pandemic, with restricted in-person access to clinicians, many companies expanded use or jumped on board for the first time.


There are several phases that companies seem to go through on their journey to implement digital marketing. Each gain in sophistication yields higher return on investment. The companies that get to full integration first will gain the first mover advantage, and likely reap the greatest rewards. However, in the highly regulated and traditional high-contact sales approach of the medical device industry, fully deploying digital means some significant reengineering of infrastructures, processes and attitudes.


Novice – Digital Advertising


As journals and newsletters have moved away from print to digital formats every medical device company has learned to do banner ads and click throughs that go to landing pages and websites. Contacts come through the website and are generally sent to a field rep as a lead. The promotional review SOPs do not change from the ones used for brochures. If digital advertising occurs on social media sites such as LinkedIn, the company team gets trained to not respond to any comments, just like and share the content. Other than adding non-product posts on trade show attendance, company events or new customer adds there is no transformation of the content or approach. The results will be the same as the historical ROI on ads in print journals or a tradeshow prospectus.


Journeyman – Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is an approach that says demand gen comes from educating customers and moving them through the early stage of the sales funnel through digital assets. Companies at this stage start focusing on the same approaches taken by direct to customer and SaaS B2B companies. Marketing plans now include strategies for SEO, branding, customer personas, and specifying voice. Usually this includes more information in more sophisticated forms on the website, adding a YouTube channel and on-line in-service education. Many also start to leverage digital analytics, email funnels, lead scoring, retargeting, and some limited responses to customers comments on social media. Companies run educational events, webinars, and panel discussions. Some also begin to publish articles and posts of value to target customers but not specifically product focused, with the goal of attracting prospects and building community.


Companies at this stage start to build a digital world where customers can find information on their products that do not feel promotional. It generally requires updating SOPs, designating trained responders and making promotional review processes faster and more efficient. It does entail a little more regulatory risk, and the regulatory team needs to get comfortable with that and get up to speed on digital best practices. Traditional sales teams often see all of these efforts as lead generation. Leads that come in through digital are handed off to field reps to close business. This generally improves close rates and shortens sales cycles but are seen as augmenting the traditional sales process and supporting a primary in-person sales channel.


Practitioner – Sales and Marketing Integration

Fully integrating digital marketing into the sales process makes field reps more efficient and changes the way they spend their time. They spend less time cold calling and educating customers, and more time on demonstrating product and closing business. Digital literate reps deploy digital tools to accelerate their sales process. They send personal invites to appropriate webinars and send links to video and web pages instead of emailing pdf sheets. They make sure all of their contacts are in the CRM so they get digital nurture and activity tracking.


Getting to this level of integration requires some structural changes in the organization. The silos of sales and marketing need to come down. No lead attribution wars or KPI competition, no complaints about lead quality, just better collaboration to the end goal of building business. The reps need the lots of fresh content automatically updated onto their computers and tablets, and training on when to use it and how to share digitally. They also need to embrace marketing as their partner and provide input on what is working best and why.


This creates a real shift in the business. It rewrites the sales process and roles and responsibilities. But getting to this stage creates an efficient team and optimizes both the customer experience and revenue growth


Innovator – New Frontiers

As the medical device market matures into digital marketing there will be many opportunities to innovate. For example, moving away from product specific webinars to hosting peer to peer customer collaboration on clinical data, guidelines and best practices. Delivering customized programs for IDNs and GPOs. Leveraging digitally literate physician influencers on Twitter and other social media channels. Building in more customer experience tools including clinical and tech support, e-commerce ordering and support of clinician customer patient outreach. All of these are opportunities that start with embracing the opportunity and getting comfortable with the risk of the immediacy of the digital world.


Many direct to consumer, and B2B companies such as SaaS businesses, have for a long time had a fully developed digital marketing acumen and integrated digital approaches to revenue generation. Most clinician customers, whether they are buying a new car or a new surgical tool, are used to learning about products from the internet. The time has come for med tech to fully embrace the digital world and rebalance the commercial approach to match today’s world.

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