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Engage with those hard-to-reach materials managers about more than just price

One of the biggest challenges that a medical device company has is convincing a hospital purchasing manager to talk about anything other than price. Imagine how much impact you could have if your sales teams were able to engage with these non-clinical customers on a much more strategic level, with a focus, not on nickel and diming each other, but on working together to deliver real value to the customers hospital.

Price Negotiations in healthcare

Digital marketing can help to make this happen. How? By remembering the following axiom:

Marketing is NOT what you do TO people, it is what you do FOR them

In essence this means that you need to understand who these people are, know what they want to achieve and recognise what obstacles are preventing them from achieving their goals. Once you know that you can figure out how what you do helps them … and then you have to begin communicating to them about it across a range of marketing channels.

These hospital based materials managers are online right now, searching for solutions to their problem. Once they start to engage with your content you can use inbound-marketing methods to build trust and interest. Rest assured, if you are not working to solve their problems your competitors probably are.

See your non-clinical customers as individuals

Before you can do anything for non-clinical customers you will need to understand who they are. Ask yourself if you could pick them out of a crowded room? Understanding customers is what MD&D is about, healthcare sales and marketing teams have incredible insights into their customers … but this tends to be limited to clinical customers. Many sales reps have problems conceiving of a conversation with a materials manager which is about anything other than price.

Consequently, you need to stop thinking about procurement customers as a faceless morass of price sensitive buyers. You need to get specific about who they are and what makes them unique. In other words you need to segment them … and once you’ve segmented them you need to turn them into Buyer Personas.

So what are Buyer Personas? They are semi-fictional representations of your customers based on observed behaviours, data and educated guesses about demographics, motivations, goals and behaviour patterns. Buyer Personas are useful at every stage of the digital marketing process because they help us stay focused on attracting and converting the type of people we are actually interested in talking to.

Let me show you the way forward with the following crude example.

Step 1. Segment Non-Clinical Customers

I am not going to spend time here trying to sell you on the value of segmentation (that is a whole other post) so I am just going to get stuck in. You can segment your healthcare procurement customers any way you want but for the sake of this example I have taken a simple (and data-free) two-dimensional approach, considering:

  • Level of responsibility/authority (relatively Low to relatively high) &
  • Strategic mind-set (ranging from low/tactical to high/strategic)

 Non Clinical Customer Segmentation

 This gives us four segments to work with:

  1. Low-Low: Pawn – Junior buyer with a tactical mind-set
  2. High-Low: Knight – Junior buyer with a strategic mind-set
  3. Low-High: Rook – Senior buyer with a tactical mind-set
  4. High-High: Queen – Senior Buyer with a strategic mind-set

These segments could be helpful and are suggestive of sales tactics (e.g. bypass the Pawn, educate the Rook, support the Knight and Convert the Queen). However, to drive a digital marketing strategy and win business in hospitals where these segments exert influence you will need to take the next step and delve into exactly who these abstract concepts represent.

Step 2. Convert Segments into Non-Clinical Buyer Personas

To build a buyer persona you need to answer a host of questions about who they are. Here I have taken one of the segments from above (the Knight) and begun to flesh out my picture of who he is.

Remember this is not a real person, but it represents an idealised version of the customer I am trying to communicate with. You can and should interview your customers, review your institutional knowledge (i.e. interview your sales-force), hold focus groups, run desk studies, analyse web traffic and do as much research as possible to help you arrive at a meaningful representation of who your buyer personas are. The good news is that you don’t have to get all of this right up-front. Be open to the idea of adapting and improving the model as you learn more about the customer through your interactions.






Persona Description

Terry the Trader

He will pay for more expensive products that provide unique or efficient outcomes and drive for deep discounts on commodities to pay for that other premium. He will trade one cost for another.



Relatively junior level of responsibility but looking for advancement (more responsibility). A strong grasp of his role and its place in the hospital system.


Male, Early 30’s, Middle Income, Office base.



Tech Savvy, Inquisitive, Broadly strategic approach to problems, Prefers email.





Primary: Drive efficiencies and book savings in line with specific personal targets.

Secondary: Wants to use procurement to positively impact the strategic priorities of his hospital.


Primary: Pushed to achieve a specific % savings in a world of rising costs and diminishing funding. The easy savings are already gone … how can Terry identify other sources of savings, particularly ones that are satisfyingly strategic in nature & won’t break systems elsewhere.

Secondary: Driving meaningful changes through the organisation despite the fact that he has a relatively narrow scope for action / area of responsibility.

What Can We Do

…to help our persona achieve their goals?

Communicate about the efficiencies inherent in dealing with us (volume based discounts, technology solutions, warehousing, delivery and handling efficiencies, order to cash efficiencies)

Highlight product-lines with inherent efficiency profiles that explicitly support Terry’s strategic efficiency needs

Educate Terry on new areas/techniques/technologies which support efficiency in materials management.

Provide support material which aids Terry in driving through organisational change.



Real Quotes

“I will pay more for some products if they release funding elsewhere in the system, or directly support my hospitals strategic goals … and I will negotiate hard on other products in order to pay for that up-front investment.”

“While I can suggest changes, I need to pass through several management stage gates before I can drive a change through. This process requires a lot of effort and evidence”

“I am happiest when I can take a broader view of procurement and how it impacts the system, but I must balance my books as well, that is primarily how I am measured”

Common Objections

There are no efficiencies inherent in your offering.

Not enough evidence to support your claim of efficiencies

Too expensive based on your products performance, I can get cheaper elsewhere.

Satisfied with the incumbent, the area you are focusing on is not a strategic priority right now

Your terms are too restrictive.

Already carrying multiple suppliers in this category.



Marketing Messages

Explicitly link it to his organisations strategic needs. Show how it either directly addresses those needs or releases funds that can.

Value that linkage – commit to a saving (based on whatever framework/model you can approve).

Demonstrate the plethora of evidence and tools you can supply him with to help him install this change.

Show how this change is in line with current thinking both from a medical practice perspective and a materials management/strategic procurement perspective.

Elevator Pitch

Our product line allows you to manage the pressure to act tactically in a strategic world because its efficiency (with a concrete tactical valuation of effort, time or cash) addresses your key strategic issue of [whatever the strategic issue in focus].

You can use these tools to model and communicate the impact of short-term & long-term efficiencies on your hospital.


Step 3. Help your non-clinical personas achieve their goals

 Now you have a good idea of what motivates your customers, what it is they want to achieve, how they’d like to achieve it and what is getting in their way. In other words you are perfectly positioned to work out how you can help them in achieving their goals.

Once you’ve done that you will need to build a content marketing plan that calls-out the content you want to develop and publish to support these customers. This plan should also identify the channels you want to use to promote the content and get it seen. You should also be thinking how you integrate this with your field sales teams.

Your non-clinical customers are online right now searching for solutions to their problems. Are they finding your content or a competitors? Who do you think they are building trust with?

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