The Sales Vs. Marketing Conundrum in Healthcare

The Sales and Marketing functions in many hospitals in India still work independently of each other. There are invisible boundaries that separate the two and often it is considered heretical to get the twain to meet. The Marketing folks are the smart and savvy guys, who sit in their cloistered offices working on the holy grail that is called ‘strategy’, while the sales guys are the lowly folks, who need to sweat it out in the ‘field’. They are the ones who chase ”numbers” and perpetually suffer from their tyranny, while the Marketing folks grapple with the subtle nuances and the neat turns of phrase of advertising communication and the like. The sales folks are street smart, the Marketing guys worldly wise, the sales folks are rough at the edges, the Marketing guys are all suave and well rounded, the sales folks are the ones with their sleeves rolled-up and with their hair in the eyes, while the Marketing guys are impeccably turned out with neatly gelled hair, all in the right place…you get the drift.

Well, while one can go on in this vein, citing their differences, the fact remains that unless the Sales and Marketing folks work together, neither can really achieve great success. Yet, in many hospitals they hardly interact, leave alone work together.

The blame for this sorry state of affairs lies at both the ends of the spectrum. The sales people are programmed to chase, they are given no respite from the continuous and if I may add mind numbing quest for revenues. They do not have the time and even the inclination to sit back and think. A sales person, sitting idle, would soon enough invite the wrath of his supervisor. He would be labeled as a lazy day-dreamer who lacks ‘drive’ and ‘initiative’. On the other hand a Marketing person will have all the time in the world to think through each and every piece of communication that passes through his hands. He will weigh the pros and cons of the ‘copy’ and the way it is laid out in the ad. He will hold forth on the relevance of the ‘image’ that adorns the ad and of course the smallest detail like a misplaced comma or the uneven size of the font will not escape his attention. After all, he has been taught that God lies in the details.

In all this he will forget that the purpose of the advertising is perhaps to help the sales person drive in a few more customers through the hospital doors!

On the other hand this is what happens when sales guys try their hands at Marketing. Some time back I had the occasion to attend a sales review meeting at a hospital. The sales guy was holding forth on launching a few specialized clinics and the idea was to create communication informing the local community about the introduction and the benefits of these clinics. I recall one of the clinics to be launched was the ‘Heart Failure Clinic’, which offered specialized advise and support to patients in Heart Failure. The sales head briefed the Marketing team about the clinic and requested an ad. The Marketing team, sent out an ad, which talked about Heart Failure and exhorted patients suffering from heart failure to come to the clinic. The communication failed to inform the readers how to identify their condition as ‘Heart Failure’ and when exactly to approach the clinic. Strangely, it was also not very clear as to how a ‘Heart Failure Clinic’ was different from a routine consult with a cardiologist! ”If I am having a Heart Failure, wouldn’t I call the Emergency and rush to the hospital rather than wait for an appointment at the Heart Failure Clinic” asked a baffled HR person sitting in the review.

It was a mindless piece of communication done at the behest of the sales person, who was in a hurry to launch the clinic and a lazy Marketing guy, who wasn’t too bothered with the outcome of such inane advertising.

Now if only the Sales and Marketing teams had sat down together and looked at the issue at hand, which was how to drive cardiac patient volumes in the hospitals and come up with a plan, things could have been very different. Maybe a ”Heart Failure Clinic” might still have come up and the Marketing guy would have pointed out that it was best to market a Heart Failure Clinic to referring doctors rather than consumers in general. After all, isn’t Heart Failure a condition that will be identified by a local community doctor and would subsequently be referred to a ”Heart Failure Clinic” in a larger hospital.

If only the Sales and Marketing teams in hospitals forgot their differences and worked together, they could achieve so much more…together.

Marketing The Healthcare Marketer

The Healthcare Marketer is always struggling to make his presence felt. In many hospitals and some very large ones at that he still continues to be a shadowy presence, someone who gets the job done, which may mean getting an ad developed, a brochure designed or an event organised and little else. The Healthcare Marketer’s role in most Indian Healthcare organisations remains a passive one, more of a messenger than anything else. This honestly need not be so and the blame for this sorry state of affairs also rests squarely with the marketers.

Healthcare Marketers need to emerge out of their self restricting cocoons. They need to take fresh initiatives, bring new ideas to the table and be seen and heard more often. It is time that the Healthcare Marketers turned their skills inwards and got busy with marketing themselves. They need to establish their own equity with the medical folks and make them understand the value that they bring to the table.

Healthcare Marketers must be active participants in the life of their hospitals. They need to be at the hospital floors more often, observing and gleaning insights from customer interactions. I have come across many marketers, who seem to operate more in the realm of woolly ideas, mostly suggested by their advertising agencies, who themselves have very little understanding of life in a hospital. This is the surest recipe for disaster because these are precisely the ideas that are likely to be shot down as the people running hospital operations will instinctively know how impractical these are. Thus the healthcare marketer along with his Teflon coated agency, would emerge looking completely out of touch with reality, reinforcing the existing belief that these guys know nothing and work out of their ivory towers, located at some 30000 ft.

Healthcare Marketers also need to forge win-win partnerships with the medical folks. I have come across marketers, who believe that the medical folks should stay confined to their OT’s and consult rooms and they  have scant understanding of marketing. This is as far from the truth as it gets. I have learnt over many hard years that medical folks and hospital operations people, who interact with customers know a lot more about customers and their real issues than any marketer can really hope to. It is always wise to spend time with the doctors talking with them about customer insights, about what might work in the market place and about their daily challenges. I have always made a great deal of effort to befriend doctors, particularly who have a keen sense of patient handling, good understanding of marketing communication and who themselves are exceptionally articulate people, well read and with wide-ranging interests. They are the ones, who will support new ideas, set up new medical programs, drive experiments with customer experiences and help bail out a marketer, when some day he will inevitably find himself in a corner.

Here is a word of caution as well. While, it is good to get suggestions and ideas from many sources, a healthcare marketer should have the wisdom and discretion to sift through those ideas and incorporate those, which add to the campaign and discretely drop those, which must not be accommodated. Many a times healthcare marketers make the serious error of letting the medical folks literally dictate the ad copy and the content as well, which causes a lot of heart burn and shoddy communication. This helps no one as when the communication fails to achieve the desired results, the marketing guy cops all the blame and comes under unnecessary pressure.

A Healthcare Marketer must be totally honest and transparent in his work.The campaigns that go out in the media, must first debut internally. Put them out on the hospital intranet, mail it to key stake-holders, put up the posters in the hospital cafeteria and come up with innovative ways of internal selling. It is important that the Healthcare Marketer is seen in action by those who matter with in the hospital. An invisible marketer, however brilliant he may be, will always be something of an oddity in the hospital.

And finally, sometimes it is good to do a bit of chest thumping and the good old-fashioned boasting. Thus celebrate a campaign that delivered a great return on investment, talk about the 10000th guy enrolled in that CRM program, which now in an year’s time contributes 20% of the top-line and bring the house down with that innovation that won the big award.

Let folks sit up and take notice, and come to you for that next break-through idea that only you can conjure!!!

PS: Well, a little chest thumping from me as well. This is the 150th post on this blog. Cliched as it may sound, when I started writing this, I of course had no idea that one day we will reach this landmark. Over a period of time, I guess the blog acquired a life of its own.My most sincere thanks to all those who read my stuff and provide me feedback, support and encouragement.

And special thanks to my friend Syamant Sandhir, for starting me off. 

The time of the AOP

spreadsheetIt is again that time of the year, when folks like me get busy churning out fancy annual operating plans (AOP). I dare say that some times this exercise turns into a great farce, a tug of war where there are no winners and everybody ends up on the floor exhausted.

Now don’t get me wrong. An annual operating plan, which spells out the annual goals of the business enterprise, the revenue projections, the budgeting of costs, the complex analysis is an integral part of managing a business. The AOP is essential as it helps set the agenda, gives direction and helps allocate scarce resources in alignment with business goals.

However, while these objectives in themselves are laudable, the AOP often gets hijacked and becomes an exercise in conjuring up fancy numbers, which are no more than wishful thinking of the powers that be in an organisation. The AOP than becomes a football, which is kicked around and the spreadsheets keep spewing numbers till a set catches the fancy of the powers that be and voila, you have got an Annual Operating Plan.

Here are a check list of things that I would definitely do, while preparing an AOP.   Continue reading