Now that we understand how a customer defines a “partner”, it’s time to discuss how to become one. If you missed it you can access it here.
Remember in our vernacular a “partner equates to a trusted business advisor.”
Here are the critical elements to help you rise above your competitors and stand – out in a meaningful way with true differentiation that will be difficult to mimic.
1. It all starts with having the right people on your team.
It makes sense that as the market has changed and become much more sophisticated, so have the skills required by your sales people. Spend time defining what skills and experiences are needed to be seen by your customer as a “trusted advisor”. Consider asking your customers what they believe the needed skills are.
We believe the profile of an effective strategic account manager today includes:
a. Strong business acumen
b. Strategic Insight
c. Organizational awareness
d. Comfort with senior management
e. The ability to influence others
f. Drive for results to influence others
2. Invest in your people’s growth and development.
As stated, selling to hospitals is extremely complex and you are dealing in a purchasing environment that has been consciously structured in an attempt to commoditize your products or services. In order to work effectively with hospitals, it is essential that sales people understand how hospitals think, how they make decisions, what challenges they face, how they are structured, how they are funded, etc. We call this hospital business acumen and it’s a requirement not a nice to have.
3. Develop a deep understanding of your customer’s situation.
Before you can build a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, you must develop a deep understanding of the customer. Some areas of focus should include:
a. What are their strategic objectives?
b. What are their operational issues, challenges and gaps?
c. What is their financial situation?
d. What political and market forces are they dealing with?
e. What is their organizational structure and how are decisions made?
f. What are the individual priorities or wins for your key customer contacts?
g. What is their perception of your industry?
4. Become a planning partner to your customer.
Customers will embrace vendors who can act as strategic partners and help them to understand and address their issues and opportunities. Utilize your understanding of the customer’s business environment to apply solutions that your company can provide. Be available to your customer even when there is no immediate sales opportunity.
5. Lower the level of risk associated with buying your product or service by offering evidence of outcomes that are valued by your customer, proof sources and guarantees.
Customers are more risk adverse than they have been in the past.
6. Continuously evaluate, measure and improve your performance.
This should include regular business reviews with your customer and jointly established metrics.
7. Establish key relationships at all levels of your customer organization.
This will require other people from your organization to work with the customer, but all under the coordination of the Strategic Account Manager.
8. Turn sales initiatives into corporate business initiatives within your MedTech company.
This includes making sure your leadership team is aware of and supportive of key customer business initiatives and the application of cross functional resources within your company to support critical customer issues.
Being seen by your most important customers as worthy of a long term strategic relationship will take hard work and commitment at the highest levels of your company. Few companies have executed this strategy effectively, but those that have, represent the 7% that are viewed by customers as worth a long term relationship. These are the companies that are avoiding RFPs or have RFP’s that appear to be written for them. These are the companies who are building loyalty with customers that is blocking out competitors. These are the companies that are achieving significant market growth in unparalleled times of challenge for hospitals and hospital systems.