My colleagues and I recently wrote an article in which we addressed the paradoxical nature of change in the medtech industry: In response to market forces coupled with healthcare’s continuing evolution, medtech customers are changing quickly in many ways, yet from many other perspectives, they appear to be standing still. How can medtech companies make the necessary investments to prepare themselves for future success while still shoring up their profits today?
As I reflect on some of the ideas highlighted in our article, I’m struck by one fundamental group that’s crucial to helping medtech companies not only weather all of this change, but also flourish and thrive: the commercial operations/analytics organization. However, in order for that to happen, commercial operations organizations need to evolve.
Historically in medtech, the commercial operations group has been an unsung hero for the business—the back-end service group that keeps everything running. They’re often not even noticed unless, of course, something goes wrong. This is the group that makes sure that commissions are paid correctly and on time, that makes sure sales reports go out, and that help reps, managers or business leaders track down answers to myriad questions. Like Captain Picard of Star Trek, when a sales leader mutters, “Make it so,” the commercial operations team goes to work.
Most commercial leaders appreciate well-run commercial operations organizations that act as the support teams keeping the ship running smoothly. Many, however, don’t consider commercial operations to be a strategic business partner. To be successful in this new world, however, I believe that this team needs to move from the background to the foreground, and to take on the role of a business advisor. Rather than just making things happen, they need to have a role in:
- Anticipating/predicting changes in the customer markets
- Understanding issues and recommending commercial model changes
- Developing the processes to manage the business through all of the different market changes
- Guiding business leaders to make decisions backed by data and insight
This means that many commercial operations organizations need to change. In addition to deep functional and analytical expertise, the organization needs to have deep business understanding and strong problem-solving and communication skills. It needs to bring in some diverse skills sets, whether via field sales managers or marketing analysts, or even looking outside of the medtech industry. The best commercial operations leaders I’ve known have broad commercial expertise and have a seat at the table when the business is making strategic decisions. For some organizations, this may mean structural or reporting changes so that the commercial operations leader is seen at the same level as the sales or marketing leader.
Medtech companies also will need to invest in their commercial operations and analytics capabilities to ensure that they have the tools and processes needed to be more nimble and agile in this new environment. They need to change their mindset from considering commercial operations a cost center to seeing it as a business driver. I’ve certainly seen some organizations beginning to make this shift, and they’re seeing the payoff from the additional investment in people, tools and processes. Commercial operations leaders also are starting to drive the process by building a diverse team with broader capabilities; by reducing tactical or manual work through process improvements, automation or external partnerships; and by getting up to the bridge and helping their Captain Picard determine what to do—before receiving the directive to “Make it so.”