“No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.” That was a classic business cliche in the 1970s, and a true one, as a colleague reminded me recently. Now for many Health IT companies (and some platform-based medical device companies) selling into hospitals, it’s the big EMR companies like Epic and Cerner with lots of APIs, apps, and extensions, that beat them out because customers feel the “big boys” are the safer choice.
Let’s say you are a small to mid size company. You can apply key principles of persuasion to increase your chances of winning business in this ultra-competitive space. Here’s a 3-step process you can use:
1. Emotional Alignment: First establish empathy by emotionally aligning with the healthcare customer: a) Acknowledge that when making purchasing decisions like this, some people choose one of the big-name brands because they assume it’s a safer bet. b) Acknowledge that for some hospitals that’s a reasonable way to go. c) Acknowledge – carefully – that for some people it’s a “CYA” decision and that may trump looking at what will be best for the hospital in some circumstances. d) Acknowledge that it can be hard to know when it may be a better choice to go with a smaller, more specialized brand.
Now the customer will feel understood and more open to considering other options. You have disarmed several points of resistance. You rightly have not pitched your brand yet.
2. Initial Decision Guidelines: Second, help the customer know when they should and should not evaluate different brands. a) Give them a few specific guidelines to inform this first decision – whether they should broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands or not (have this as a tool you provide to them too). b) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it does NOT make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands. This step is critical for you to be credible. c) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it DOES make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands. 4) Walk the customer through the use of the initial decision guidelines for their setting.
You have now provided them with a reasonable way to decide if they should explore further and they should have arrived at an appropriate decision. Note you still have not pitched your brand yet – good job being patient!
3. Guided Influence: Third, if and when the initial decision guidelines suggest the customer should evaluate other brands, provide a set of criteria for comparing brands. a) Be sure the customer agrees the criteria make sense, and if needed explain the relevance of each. Be willing to add or subtract a criterion to better fit the customer’s situation. b) Now it is time to talk about your brand. Show how you compare on the criteria. Admit when competitors are better on certain points. Reinforce that in this circumstance, your brand is actually the safer choice. c) Provide specific reasons to believe and an emotionally compelling story to support each of your claim of superiority.
Now do your thing as a professional sale rep to respectfully get an initial commitment, close the sale, or something in-between.
Recognize that once in a while your initial decision guidelines (Step 2 above) will lead customers to stay with the big-name brands, which means you’re done for the moment. That’s OK. You will have established yourself as a trustworthy partner concerned about what’s best for them – even if you did not get the sale. This is customer intimacy in practice, and it will pay off big – if not immediately, then certainly in the long-term.