Medical device marketing teams are facing unprecedented times as we roll into the back half of 2020. Working as unsung heroes, these teams have been spending the last few months putting out the day-to-day fires of COVID-19 supply management and ensuring delivery of necessary equipment to the hospitals that need it most. They have re-forecasted demand, sourced raw materials from new suppliers, adjusted manufacturing processes, and created innovative new products and testing systems to help address the pandemic. They have been firing on all cylinders.

And now it’s “back to work”—only that it’s not. Because everything has changed.

Managing the Transition

As companies emerge from COVID-19 constraints, marketing teams are struggling to refocus their respective work roles and manage the transition back to the workplace. And the challenges that marketing teams are facing are more daunting this year than ever. Product launches have been delayed, sales have been lost, and trade shows have been cancelled. We’re coming into business planning time and marketing teams will be forced to reckon with the usual “do more with less while at the same time achieving exponential growth” beast. Only this year, there’s more pressure than ever as teams look at how they can make up for lost time and dollars while managing supplier and manufacturing issues and other critical gaps in infrastructure.

Medical device marketing teams must address four key challenges as we close out 2020 and look to 2021. There are other challenges, of course, such as dealing with regulations that include European Medical Device Regulation (EU MDR) and complying with the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) requirements, to name a few. But in many cases, teams were already working to address those. The challenges outlined below are either due directly to the COVID-19 pandemic or have been greatly exacerbated by it:

  • Hospital revenue loss
  • Increasing role of procurement
  • The transition to the ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and telemedicine for care
  • Pressure to market when sales can’t get in the hospital door

1. Loss in Revenue: Add Value Beyond the Device

The Challenge:

The pause in elective surgeries and reduction in the use of the healthcare system for non-emergent cases have caused hospitals to lose hundreds of millions of dollars and lay off tens of thousands of healthcare workers. And while postponed non-emergent surgeries will be rescheduled, the floodgates won’t open back up automatically and it is likely that patients will need some time before they are fully comfortable going to the hospital.

That means already tight budgets are going to be trimmed to the furthest extent possible. Hospitals will be actively looking for additional ways to cut costs leading to further pricing pressure and a rise in requests for proposal (RFPs).

The Opportunity:

Medical device companies have an opportunity to play a role in helping the hospitals solve these challenges that are bigger than the price of the device. By providing needed value-added services and support for hospitals that help address challenges such as infection control, patient throughput, and emergency room wait times, medical device companies can position themselves as indispensable partners.

2. Increasing Role of Procurement: Consider Their Needs and Make Them a Target

The Challenge:

The role of the hospital procurement department has been on the rise for the past few years, but now their role is more important than ever. The ability to realize savings targets may mean the difference between the life or death of the institutions for which they work. Medical device marketing teams have traditionally avoided procurement, engaging with them primarily as part of a value analysis committee conversation at launch or during contract renegotiations.

The Opportunity:

Medical device marketers can consider proactively designing alternate pricing structures—renting capital equipment instead of requiring an outright purchase—or using performance- or outcomes-based contracts and/or risk-sharing agreements to help mitigate the risk of a price war.

In addition, medical device companies need to make procurement a key customer, identify their pain points, and develop messaging and marketing strategies designed specifically for them. Only by considering procurement as a true target and doing the same sorts of customer segmentation and voice of customer research that have traditionally been done with clinical audiences will medical device companies begin to evolve their value proposition.

3. Transition in Care: Rethink ASCs and Telemedicine in a Positive Light

The ASC Challenge:

Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of surgical procedures flying out of the hospital and into the more than 9,000 active ASCs in the United States. As patients start to make post COVID-19 healthcare decisions, the ASCs may be an even more attractive option. Having a procedure performed in an ASC may be perceived as safer, more convenient, and less expensive. However, many medical device companies have traditionally focused their sales and marketing efforts solely on the hospitals. Those that do have a sales and/or marketing team dedicated to the ASC often relegate them to a secondary or support function, significantly reducing the allocation of resources and marketing dollars.

The ASC Opportunity:

Medical device companies need to recognize the ASC as a valuable customer target and tailor their business and sales models, along with their product lines, to address the needs of this group. Companies can look at providing lower-cost options and a streamlined product offering that takes into account the procedures performed in a given institution. Because this group is rarely called on, time and attention are even more appreciated—and it doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Companies can have a significant impact with digital customer engagement activities that strengthen the relationship over longer periods of time.

The Telemedicine Challenge:

The sudden surge in the use of telemedicine due to COVID-19 poses an interesting challenge. For many medical device companies, telemedicine doesn’t pose much of a threat since most of the devices that companies sell are for surgical procedures that can’t be performed remotely (at least at this time). However, as hospitals, clinicians, and patients gain more experience with telemedicine and providers continue to improve the experience and efficiency of the systems, it may be hard to go back.

The Telemedicine Opportunity:

As the use of screens are becoming more ubiquitous and communicating one-on-one as a talking head becomes the new normal, marketers have an opportunity to shift the conversation online and in front of the screen. Companies look at alternate ways of marketing to clinicians and interacting with customers such as eDetailing, which has never taken off for many medical device companies. But now, maybe it can.

4. When Sales Reps Can’t Get in the Door: Make Digital Marketing Paramount

The Challenge:

The role of sales and marketing in a post-COVID 19 world will fundamentally change—at least for the next six to 12 months. Most conferences and shows have been postponed, so big data launches and podium presentations, product rollouts, and opportunities to engage with many customers at one time have vanished virtually overnight. Key opinion leader and advisory board meetings have been cancelled, so influencer marketing is on hold. And we fully expect hospitals to continue to limit access, which may reduce rep interaction to product and supply delivery only.

The Opportunity:

When the sales team is actually barred from access and other in-person marketing efforts aren’t available, the role of digital marketing rises to the occasion. Recognizing the importance of digital marketing, medical device companies have established websites, created email newsletters and product announcements, and posted to LinkedIn and Twitter. However, firms have a tremendous opportunity to broaden their digital approach. With limited in-person communications available, it is imperative that marketers shift conversations and engagements online. Marketing teams can invest in digital assets such as videos, webinars, and eDetailing programs. They can use those assets to target customers with the information that they are most interested in via face-to-face web calls and sophisticated automated marketing campaigns, measure and track the results, and modify programming based on the data.

Conclusion

The challenges medical device marketing teams are facing are no doubt great and the effects from the COVID-19 pandemic will be tough to deal with. But by offering valued services to hospitals that go beyond the device, considering procurement and the ASC as key customers, shifting the sales conversation from the hospital to the screen, and supplementing with digital and ongoing customer engagement strategies, marketers can turn a pandemic into a platform for change.

  • Melissa Wildstein

    Melissa Wildstein is the President and Founder at The Matchstick Group, an agency that specializes in the medical device space. Since the company’s inception in 2011, she has been the Chief Whiteboard Officer and creative problem solver leading a team of account, strategic, digital, and creative talent doing extraordinary work on behalf of their clients.

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