Why it's hard to sell the best medical products – and what you can do about it


In a recent meeting, some of my customers described their frustration with having a product that is clearly superior to the competition, but which they often have trouble selling. We were talking about a technology which in almost every respect was safer, faster and more accurate than other, similar products.

Of course, it would be easy to blame the "price". After all, even if your product is better, stakeholders will primarily look at their costs (i.e., your price) before making a decision. However, in this case, the price of the superior technology was equal to that of the other not-so-good products.

So let's step back for a second. A large medical company was having significant challenges selling a product that added no extra cost, and which offered significant advantages over existing technologies.

A few of my Health Economics colleagues would claim this to be a case of a “dominant product” that could be supported with models and analyses to quantify savings for healthcare providers. I would say they were right – although this is NOT be the first step the company should take.

Welcome to the concept of Value Communication.

In my previous post, “Teams, not tools, communicate value”, I described how most commercial teams engage with doctors and clinical decision-makers, but not with financial stakeholders such as purchasing managers, hospital directors, or tender committees.

Taking it one step further, companies must pay close attention to the type of value message derived from their product features. If this seems obvious, then consider some real examples of what medical technology representatives said when asked why their products were better:

  • “We have a very strong brand.”
  • “Our operating system is based on Linux.”
  • “Because it is cheaper for us to produce it.”

I personally have heard each one of these rationales, and do not find them humorous at all. On the contrary, to me they demonstrate the disconnect that exists between senior management and the field professionals who meet daily with healthcare providers.

It's probably fair to say that most healthcare stakeholders are looking for different answers to justify the use of your product. Thus, I want to share with you the main steps of the Value Communication process we follow at ValueConnected. It will eventually clarify the value messages that the market expects, and why.

  1. Start with the pain. The strongest value messages respond to a problem in the market, not to an “opportunity”. If a hospital's department head is complaining about how long it takes to diagnose certain conditions and your technology speeds the process, then it has a crystal-clear value message that needs little explanation. However, the situation will be different if you approach the same hospital professional and claim that your technology is easier to use, or provides more data points for analyses (which might further delay results!).
  2. Quantify the benefit. Here you will need to make some basic (again, basic!) calculations on what type of savings your customer can generate by using your technology. Just remember that you can not only save them money, but also physician time, nurse time, hospitalization days, clinical visits etc. Hint: It is always a good idea to know the cost of a hospital day in your country. Ask your Market Access colleagues for this if you do not have it already. And if you can't find it, contact me. I will be glad to share the figures we have for the U.S. and major European markets.
  3. Adapt the message to the decision-maker. Now that you know the problems in the market and can quantify the benefit of your technology, work on one or two (no more) statements that will represent at least 70% of your commercial teams' message when they approach decision-makers. For example, in the situation above, we would prepare the teams to approach the head of the department with the potential reduction in days for diagnosis and the implications for shorter hospitalization periods within that same department. The rest is … well, the rest.

So before plunging into an in-depth study of your device's technical specifications and features to find an “opportunity” to explore, start talking to the market to identify the existing pain points.

Remember: opportunities are subjective, yet pain is real.

Finally, I invite you to join our new LinkedIn group, “Value of Medical Technology”. In this forum we'll talk about pricing strategies, approaching decision-makers, adapting sales messages, applying health economics to marketing, accelerating reimbursement through value, and many other related topics.

Sounds interesting? I hope so. I personally invite you to get engaged in discussions, ask questions and share your thoughts now:

See you in the next post!