Selling Med-Tech in the Post-COVID19 World
World-wide disasters always have lasting consequences. We find ways to do things differently in a crisis, and then never change back to the way it was before.
When the towers fell I was working in the blood processing equipment business in Boston. One of my largest customers was the American Red Cross, and they needed some of our blood freezing equipment ASAP. I needed to meet with the Red Cross leadership, but there were no planes or trains in or out of Washington or Boston. So I tried for the first time this new technology called Webex. That was my very first web conference and on-line presentation, and my business life has never been the same and on-line meetings and presentations have been key to driving my productivity and efficiency.
Years before the HIV crisis had created a different kind of shift. Until that time blood was nothing to worry about. Splashes in the lab were common and we wore white coats because a little spill stained your clothes. Now I have completed the OSHA required annual blood borne pathogens training dozens of times, and universal precautions and biohazard policies are routine. My life is safer because of it.
The Corona virus pandemic is the latest cause for earthquakes in our economy and in our ways of doing business. The long-term impact is not yet clear, but it is possible to make some predictions.
A new level of cleanliness will become standard all public places including offices, with hand sanitizer available on every conference table. Carrying wipes to clean your airline seat and hotel remote control will be routine. People who are sick will stay home from the office or face the wrath of healthy co-workers.
Certainly, the working from home and virtual company trend will get a big boost. Those last individual holdouts who still believed that working from home meant eating cocoa puffs in your PJs in front of the TV at 2 pm in the afternoon just got a reality check. As someone who was an early adopter of the home office, I know I am never more efficient and productive than when my commute is down the hall from the kitchen. Not only does it save time and aggravation, but the ability to throw in a load of laundry while writing a launch plan helps with my work life balance and stress level. By definition, on-line meeting and collaboration will also get a boost with even the technology luddites learning how to do Skype, Zoom and Google hangouts.
Another trend that will pick up speed as a result of this crisis is digital marketing and the art of the electronic cold call. In the face of this crisis the word from hospitals is that sales reps are not welcome. No extraneous bodies in the building, even patient visitors are discouraged. Even reps that gain entrée by helping with elective procedures and surgeries are out in the cold as all elective procedures are postponed. Purchasing processes are on hold as hospitals erect tents outside of their EDs to screen patients. Obviously if you are selling to the medical specialties at the front line of the crisis you forget about sales and just reach out to offer help in any way possible.
But, what if you are selling to a specialty not swept up with Corona virus patient care? Practicing good social distancing you can’t get in front of you customer. So what is a med tech sales rep to do? Go for the cocoa puffs and PJs and wait it out? I predict that the most successful sales reps will find new ways to reach out to customers and prospects during the crisis, and the most successful companies will find ways to provide content and air cover during the crisis. By definition this has to be through digital. Sending papers, webinars, CME credit opportunities, even interesting content that is not directly product space related. Maybe even a funny meme or note to say you are thinking of your customers as they weather this crisis. Offering to help write clinical protocols, sending information on maintenance and service of equipment, all of these could be valuable to continue to deepen customer relationships. Learn to leverage these approaches in this time of crisis, and continue to deploy them in the future will help with both near-term and long-term success.
There is no avoiding the setbacks of a world-wide crisis. No business is immune, and business needs to be secondary to the well-being of society. But learning to manage business in these times of disruption can teach us skills that if integrated into daily practice provide benefits far into the future. So put down the cocoa puffs. Find a way to learn something new from our current immediate disaster.