The Changing Healthcare Marketing Paradigm: A Q&A with Leading Chief Marketing Officers

By Dodge Communications (not verified) on August 21st, 2014

Just as the healthcare industry has experienced significant change over the last decade, so too has our approach to healthcare marketing within the B2B space. Who better to provide the inside scoop than some of the industry’s leading chief marketing officers? In the following Q&A, we chatted with four Atlanta-based CMOs, including Navicure’s Phil Dolan, Medecision’s Ellen Donahue-Dalton, Vendormate’s Gary Johnson and Streamline Health’s Randy Salisbury to hear firsthand how they see healthcare strategy evolving from a marketing perspective.

Dodge: Over the past five years, what have you perceived to be the biggest shifts in marketing’s role within a business-to-business setting? How have these changed your role and/or your approach within the healthcare market?

Dolan: The biggest shift that I've seen is that marketing can now be relied on as a significant B2B lead generator for sales. It used to be that the marketing department's role was limited to creating brand awareness and "buzz"—issuing press releases, managing the website and social media, and creating collateral for sales.

Marketing automation technology now enables marketing to initiate and own relationships until enough trust and interest has been established to shift ownership to sales. Effective marketing and sales teams no longer begin “pitching” upon meeting a prospect. Instead, a more disciplined mindset has developed. Good marketing and sales people now realize that they can begin asking of prospects only after they’ve given something first—it’s a two-way street. In my view, true customer relationship management has been realized only in the past five years with most companies. Marketing automation and disciplined lead nurturing has activated it.

This new era of customer relationship management (CRM) is especially important in the healthcare market where, despite significant consolidation over the past five years, it remains highly fragmented. Unlike other B2B markets, healthcare is largely a small- and medium-size business (SMB) market. Yes, the enterprise—or healthcare system—segment has grown significantly with aggressive M&A activity, yet even within this segment buying decisions are not always made for an entire organization. It is still incumbent upon marketing and sales people to establish and maintain numerous relationships within an organization to ensure they are in front of buying influencers when decisions are made.

Donahue-Dalton: Years ago, in healthcare technology, marketing was mostly responsible for brand definition, awareness, demand generation – the traditional marcom functions. Today, marketing is still responsible for these areas, but the responsibilities have greatly expanded to include market strategy, insights, identifying searching and buying patterns, solution packaging, pricing, digital presence, social community and network building, customer experience...the list could go on and on. Marketing in most successful IT organizations is broad, and yet under pressure to measure investment throughout its many processes, initiatives and activities.

Johnson: In my opinion this can be categorized into three major shifts: 1. Heightened focus on defining the value proposition in terms of the value to healthcare buyers across total cost, revenue, quality, outcomes impact, regulatory compliance, etc. 2. Greater emphasis and efforts on creating qualified leads for inside sales/field sales. 3. Identification of the market opportunities and unsolved problems customers are facing today and in the near future (ACA and other drivers), for purposes of educating and being a thought leader, for new product/service innovation, and for selling current products and services to new high-value problems. 

Changes as a result of these shifts are redefining priorities for the marketing function from its current focus of perhaps traditional marcom or product management, which is further compounded by the necessary use of new technologies/skills to pursue integrated lead generation/nurturing campaigns.

Salisbury: One of the biggest shifts has been the fairly rapid evolution of social media, which has further enhanced the voice – and the influence – of the consumer/end user. It’s another form of consumer/end user activism really, that demands marketers pay attention to the specific ways in which clients and prospects best consume information. It has led us to listen much more intently to our target audiences, and to more actively pursue a 360-degree view of their space…to better understand how they best receive marketing messaging/input and how they use it.

Dodge: Measuring effectiveness continues to grow ever more important in our world of healthcare marketing communications. How do you accommodate this?

Dolan: The combination of sales and marketing automation has enabled marketing departments to clearly demonstrate the value of our function to the VP of sales, CFO, and CEO. To that end, content marketing has become a key tool of our B2B marketing trade. Being able to demonstrate marketing’s contribution to lead generation and revenue growth has earned marketing an important seat at the table in strategic planning and budget allocation. At a micro level, measuring metrics such as delivery rates, open rates, click rates and response rates enables marketing to immediately understand what is working and what isn’t, making us more nimble than we’ve ever been in leveraging marketing communication that works, and dumping what doesn’t.

Donahue-Dalton: We accommodate measuring effectiveness of marketing communications by investing in tools and managing process data points throughout the demand generation cycle. As a result, determining the effectiveness of our marcom programs is relatively easy. Looking at the broader picture, we determine our value by examining the whole demand generation process based on metrics like a full pipeline, shorter sales cycle and an optimal close rate. It takes tools, a solid end-to-end process and tight governance.

Johnson: For marketing communication, how to measure effectiveness is more difficult now because of the multiple ways target audiences want to receive their information, and then measuring the impact/cost of each on its own and in combination (e.g. they saw your education presentation at a conference, then went to your website and viewed an education-solution video, downloaded a whitepaper/case study to help educate their stakeholders to move ahead). But keep it all in context – the end-game is to be the recognized supplier or partner of choice for the issue, so your sales people don’t burn up time “advertising” in sales calls.

Salisbury: We deploy tools and processes that capture metrics whenever possible, and proactively engage all stakeholders to request feedback and direction. We take all of this input, analyze it against our goals or campaign objectives and then refine and revise strategies as necessary.

Dodge: Along the same lines, what are some of your tips for effectively aligning with the sales arm of your business given its inexorable link to marketing?

Dolan: The very best step that an organization can take is aligning sales and marketing goals so that senior and middle managers are motivated the same way. That way there are no competing agendas and both organizations are usually aligned on how to deploy resources, including people and money. Shared revenue, bookings, and lead targets are a great start.

A means to that end is getting aligned on what lead management processes and metrics should be. Who is responsible for generating leads? How many? How should marketing and sales align on campaigns? For instance, once marketing deploys a campaign, what should trigger a follow up from sales? At what point does marketing “hand off” a lead to sales? What qualifies a sales opportunity? Unless marketing and sales are aligned on these types of questions, they won’t be working together optimally.

Donahue-Dalton: At Medecision, our sales and marketing organizations are tightly aligned in a number of ways. First, the executives (myself and our Chief Revenue Officer) have a close relationship and are highly supportive of each other’s goals, programs and processes. We naturally collaborate. Second, we have invested in a strong sales operations team, with tools and team members who help us orchestrate marketing programs to enable the sales team and help close deals. Third, we carefully define and align goals and major job objectives (MJOs) of the sales and marketing teams so that efforts of both teams are effective and productive. Finally, we value everybody's role – the person who launches the outbound campaign, the person who maintains the CRM, the person who supports the sale, the person who closes the deal. They’re all part of our collective success as an organization. 

Johnson: First, align around revenue goals, and the sales pipeline goals that need to be achieved, such as qualified leads, conversions, etc. Second, examine sources of volume (ideally define customers/prospect targets) to focus efforts.

Lastly, create 1-to-1 messaging for sales conversation (what the business problem is, why act on it now, why you) that fits the positioning/value proposition communicated in broad based messaging. It’s important to do this for each of the titles/personas involved in the buying decision, not just the primary contact.

Salisbury: We plan early and often to ensure our teams are on the same page, continually pursue feedback and affirmation to monitor progress, and clearly distinguish the respective roles. We use a single source/tool to track all sales activity against each marketing program and provide instant feedback to sales – seeking their input as to how our activities can better serve them.

Dodge: What is the biggest challenge facing healthcare marketers today, in your opinion?

Dolan: The quickly changing external dynamics of the market itself are posing a greater challenge than internal marketing and sales dynamics. Changing payment models, industry consolidation, regulation, and what seems to be growing interest in buying more products and services from fewer vendors seem to be at the top of the list.

Donahue-Dalton: As a healthcare IT marketer, in my opinion, the biggest shift in healthcare marketing in the past five years has been the changing roles and requirements of the buyers. Payers and care providers are faced with profound changes to their organizational, operational and economic models, and their procurement of technology solutions is highly individualized and nuanced. The implications for marketers? You have to work harder…to differentiate your offer, segment the market meaningfully, and sharpen your product packaging. In this tumultuous setting, marketing is tumultuous as well.

Johnson: Vendors’ product/service value proposition needs to clearly address providers’ needs of cost reduction, improving quality scores and enhancing patient outcomes and impact on reimbursement and regulatory compliance. Without this, healthcare marketers risk their product/services being labeled as commodity and being eliminated or forced to reduce price, especially as providers consolidate vendors per category.

Salisbury: Market uncertainty and the resulting noise, which disrupts or disables the pursuit of strategic initiatives.


Cynthia Porter, MBA

President,Porter Research Healthcare IT Market Research

What a great group of CMOs to learn from. I will share many of their views in our market research services with our clients Thanks for interviewing some of the best in marketing

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