Leadership and Management Marketing Strategy Marketing to Healthcare Orgs

Marketing at Scale is the Wrong Focus for B2B Healthcare Startups

Building campaigns and programs to “market at scale” is a laudable goal – but a completely wrong one for healthcare startups that sell to hospitals, physician practices or payers. Instead, they would be much better served by focusing their marketing efforts on revenue-generating activities rather than clicks.

I work with a lot of healthcare startups. Many of those are in the Business-to-Business (B2B) space, meaning that they sell a product or service to organizations (hospitals, practices or payers) rather than to individuals (patients or physicians). For early stage B2B healthcare startups, focusing on building scalable marketing programs is a waste of time and money.

Unfortunately, some angel investors, venture capital (VC) companies and private equity (PE) firms have been advising startups to do exactly this. Just this past week, I had a meeting with a promising B2B startup who wanted my thoughts on how they could achieve what their investor was asking for: “a marketing-at-scale program that will create a splash big enough to capture the attention of potential customers and then to put those interested into an automated funnel”.

I find this advice akin to asking a person who has never run longer than 10min to train for a marathon by running a marathon. It’s just not practical. For startups, what I advise instead is to narrow their marketing efforts and focus on finding buyers who will be receptive to hearing their pitch.

Healthcare is a defined market

There are only 5,000 hospitals in the US. This is a small, well-defined market. No matter who the buyer is, there is bound to be an association that you can leverage to reach them or a list you can buy with all the names of your targets (ie: all the heads of cardiology or CIOs or VP of HR). You can also use websites and phone calls to build your own list of targets.

Why use mass-market techniques like ad-buys or even remnant advertising when you can obtain the names of your target audience?

Avoid people who aren’t ready to listen

In a startup, a key objective is to generate revenue to fuel further growth. It is the job of Marketing to identify and bring in as many high-quality leads (those that are ready to buy) to the Sales Team as possible. It is NOT the job of Marketing to convince people they need the company’s solution. Marketing needs to find people who are already pre-dispositioned to the company’s solution.

Too often, I see startups using marketing programs that are designed to “educate the healthcare market” rather than identify revenue generating customers. For example, putting on a webinar series to talk about the need for their solution or trying to get their thought-leadership articles published by industry media. Both strategies are solid, but not when there is an immediate need for revenue. Save them for later.

Instead, I strongly recommend putting effort into identifying people within your target audience who are “ready to listen” to your company’s pitch and to finding those that are “not likely to be receptive”. As a startup, you want to spend more time on the first category of people and no time on the second category.

But how do you figure out which category people fall into? Here’s one way: conduct a survey either by phone or email or have your Sales Team ask the following questions whenever they meet someone at a tradeshow/conference:

  • How long have you been in your current position?
  • How long have you been with your current organization?
  • How long have you been using [competitor]?

Anyone who has been in their current position less than 12 months or has been with their current organization less then 12 months is unlikely to want to stick their neck out to recommend a startup’s solution. Conversely, someone who has been in their current position for 3 years, has been at their organization for 10 years and has been using a competitor’s solution for 5 years, is a person who is more likely to be willing to take a chance with an innovative startup.

Of course, there are other ways to identify high-potential members of your target audience. You can see who attends certain sessions at conferences (ie: who is attending a session that is talking about the need to rethink an aspect of healthcare that your startup has a solution for). You can also find high-potentials by looking at social media feeds and identifying those that are actively seeking to change their status quo.

Focus on marketing directly to the individuals who are ready to listen.

Arm your sales team

One of the best ways to accelerate revenue at a startup is for Marketing to focus on helping Sales. Too often I hear marketing leaders talk about their email campaigns, their webinars, the conferences they are exhibiting at, but rarely do I hear about the sales support they are providing. That is a costly missed opportunity.

All it takes is one look at the materials used by most startup salespeople and you’ll see what I mean. A jumbled sales deck, a website with dozens of undifferentiated messages, case studies that is older than 12 months and inconsistent email signatures. [Full disclosure: I have been guilty of allowing all of these to perpetuate while I focused on the next great marketing campaign.]

What’s the point of generating leads if Sales can’t close them quickly? Why spend all the effort to move a prospect through your funnel only to have them eliminate you from contention because your salespeople can’t produce the supporting material they need internally (ie: case study)?

I strongly recommend Marketing leaders at startups work closely with their Sales Team to understand the sales/buyer journey and to create materials to support it. For example:

  • A list of articles from trusted 3rd party sites or blog posts by company thought-leaders that can be used by salespeople to keep prospects warm
  • PowerPoint slides that your champions can cut and paste to socialize your solution internally
  • Recent case studies (even if the customer cannot be named)
  • Email template for salespeople to use to re-energize a stalled prospect
  • A whitepaper that details the benefits to all stakeholders (clinicians, IT, patients, admin)

Scale after you get the foundation in place

Building a solid marketing foundation, one that generates revenue is not sexy…and it can be hard work. However, it is the best thing you can do as a marketing leader at a startup company. Getting the names of potential targets takes resourcefullness, determining who is more likely to be receptive to your marketing message requires dedication, and creating materials that will resonate with those select few takes courage.

Don’t be tempted by the siren call of clicks, conversions and CPL. Focus on those later when your foundation is set. Focus on revenue generating marketing activities and you’ll be successful.

About the author

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Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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