In 2020, a tidal wave of the future crashed down on top of B2B sales, drastically impacting the healthcare industry. The waters are still rough, but we can see well enough to know that B2B healthcare sales have changed for good. And we know well enough that to survive, sellers must adapt, because buyers already have.
Lessons from B2C
From the start of the pandemic, B2C businesses, with their well-established ecommerce platforms and nimble digital strategies, were, for the most part, able to sweep in and respond to consumer demand with ease. Consumers, for their part, adapted like champs to faster, digital-first ways of shopping and entertainment.
B2B companies with agile, omnichannel marketing strategies in place have also (minus supply chain and worker shortage issues) continued serving their customers well — though not all were prepared to weather a wave the size of a global pandemic.
But healthcare companies that relied heavily on traditional sales strategies and outdated digital practices before the pandemic largely had a tougher time engaging customers, especially new ones, when doors to hospitals closed, face-to-face meetings stopped, and trade shows were canceled.
When rough waters of Covid-19 retreat (and eventually they will), perhaps certain sellers suppose they’ll simply return to meeting customers face-to-face and all will be fine. But the fact is, two years have gone by, and those customers have changed.
Point of no return
Healthcare customers today are more technically savvy, virtually engaged, and responsive to digital than ever before. In fact, digitally native millennials make up the majority — 35% — of the workforce as a whole and represent 31% of practicing physicians and 51% of RNs, according to the VP of human resources at IU Health.
These customers know what personalized, digital-first services have to offer (they’re consumers too, after all), and they’re ready to be served quality information in equal measure. They’re also ready and eager to jump aboard with companies able and willing to provide what they’re looking for.
To swim with these big fish and stay competitive going forward , traditional sellers will have no choice but to adapt to customers’ demands and reach them where they are, or sink.
Omnichannel. The name alone sounds… ominous. But is it?
What exactly is omnichannel?
Omnichannel is a customer experience strategy that uses the best and most relevant practices from both in-person and digital marketing, giving customers what they need, when they need it.
With the right technology (robust CRM software), data, and combination of strategies, omnichannel allows sellers to improve customer engagement and conversions by aligning content more precisely with customer preferences.
Customers encounter targeted messaging that speaks to them, answers their questions, and earns their trust at each channel they visit. They become more receptive to engaging with brands they see most often and are more likely to convert with them.
Implementing a fully operative omnichannel experience takes time, practice, and forethought. Some companies may need to design strategies from scratch, upskill sales reps, or even add new technology. In all cases, the most important first step is learning exactly who your customers are.
Know thy customer
Successful companies know their customers, and they know their customers’ customers, and they know all potential purchasers. To make sure their entire team of marketers, sales reps, and content producers understand who their target audience is, they create buyer personas, as many as necessary.
Buyer (or “customer”) personas answer questions like, “Which type of surgeries does my target audience perform?” “How old are patients with this medical problem?” Also, “What are their pain points?” “What questions are they asking?” “What problems are they trying to solve?”
Surviving the wave of the future
To help healthcare companies learn to swim in an omnichannel world, we’ve outlined five high-impact, lower-cost digital strategies below:
5 tactics to help your omnichannel strategy
Optimize your content
As with your overarching digital marketing strategy, there’s no magic formula for creating the most effective content strategy, but the most important rule is to create content that’s valuable to your customers. Ideally, content marketing caters to your customers’ pain points. In doing so, customers are more likely to be receptive to your product or service because they actually need it.
When deciding on content topics, think back to your customer personas, especially their pain points, and aim to answer typical questions they may have. For example, one study by EPGHealth.com found that continuing education remains “the paramount information” providers want from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. Healthcare companies might consider offering physicians more options in this area.
Another idea for content topics comes from content marketing company Contently. They suggest healthcare companies can establish a strong presence “simply by reporting on the research and innovations being developed inside their own company.”
Why is content so potentially high-impact? Although some digital-first brands in telemedicine and healthtech (Medley, for example) use content as a competitive advantage, most healthcare companies have yet to do so.
In fact, 63% of healthcare companies on the Fortune 1000 list have either “a limited content presence or no owned content,” even though people search Google for answers to 1 billion health questions every day.
And some of these people just may be your target audience. A study by HealthLink Dimensions found that 90% of HCP respondents read articles, journals, and watch videos at an average rate of 30-60 minutes per day.
Site design can impact how, or whether, your audiences find the content they came for. A poor or outdated site design can also sink your brand’s credibility, says Stanford’s Behavior Lab. In fact, when it comes to brand credibility, “46 percent of people believe that ‘design look’ is the number one indicator and can be the determining factor for bounce rates and conversions.”
Blogging is table stakes in content marketing today. No healthcare marketing strategy would be complete without informational articles to pique the interest of your target audience or “thought leadership” pieces from experts at your company to provoke industry discussion. Keep in mind, however, that successful B2Bs do much more than simply post articles for the sake of publicity. Your blog page is an important place to educate your audience and create value for the world at large.
Video is another powerful value-add to your strategy, one that can help your company establish credibility and connect with customers new and old. And remember, YouTube is the second largest search engine tool so not only can you use video to educate customers, but you can help increase SEO rankings as well.
Live chat, chatbots, AI
The benefits of adding an autonomous machine-learning chatbot (or “chatbot”) to your website are almost too numerous to list in one place, but for starters, chatbots can:
- Conduct key tasks
- Answer visitor queries (thereby freeing up staff resources)
- Improve organizational efficiency
- Enhance the overall customer experience (CX)
- Capture data to use later for personalization
- Deliver lead generation
- Inform process improvements
Chatbots can be the first step toward scaling globally and supporting customers 24/7. Not all require coding and many are low-cost or free to download or create. Natural language processing (NLP) and AI-powered chatbots and conversational agents are smarter, more intuitive, and yield the best return on investment.
Analytics and data
A strong baseline of insights into customer preferences and segmentation will inform your vision and help you understand what content your customers prefer to engage with and via which channels. Learning when and where to use different channels will help companies reach HCPs and other potential customers by tracking customer journeys.
In addition, McKinsey points out, “analytics can help medtech with additional product solutions that can complement their current purchases and create value for the HCP, the healthcare facility, and the patient.” (Although they’ve singled out medtech, analytics help all companies.)
Once you’ve created a well-designed site and produced valuable content, invite your customers to the party. Email reigns supreme as the most effective outreach method, with one survey reporting that 45 percent of business leaders believe email campaigns were “the most effective digital channel for generating new sales opportunities during a product launch.”
Most importantly, email remains the method providers most clearly prefer for outreach, “regardless of whether they are based in hospitals, offices, or other healthcare facilities,” according to a study by HealthLink Dimensions.
Related Reading from Emerged: The Power of an Email and the Art of the Follow-Up
The time is now
Covid-19 was like a tidal wave that stirred up and changed the world — and not just the world of B2B. The experience, devastating for so many, exposed strengths and weaknesses within people, governments, industries — and yes, even marketing strategies — that most of us didn’t know existed.
The waters are calming down now, we may even be seeing some light. It’s time to get out and learn to swim with the big fish. Doing so will keep us all afloat and even thrive in the next wave of the future.
And should you have questions, our team at Emerged is composed of healthcare experts ready to help you craft a successful strategy.