The product- and rep-centric model in medtech has always been the dominant driver of successful business models in the industry. For a long time, medtech companies have relied on the strength of their in-person sales channel to deliver product innovations to customers, with other channels of customer engagement playing, at most, only a limited supporting role. Many medtech leaders have continued to enjoy commercial success despite some long-standing market trends that are creating increasing pressure to evolve this customer engagement model. These trends are not new, but the disruptions associated with the pandemic have amplified them:
- The definition of the “customer” for medtech is expanding beyond the core clinical and surgical medical device end users. Administrative stakeholders in hospital management and the C-Suite are involved in purchasing decisions, other physicians may diagnose and refer patients for a surgical intervention and even patients themselves are playing an increasingly important role.
- These customers already have expectations of a multichannel or omnichannel experience for their interactions with medtech manufacturers, based on what they experience as individuals in their personal and professional lives.
- Many commercial organizations continue to face pressure to drive productivity and efficiency improvements, while also maximizing the impact and effectiveness of existing field resources.
Few medtech organizations were prepared for the rapid emergence of remote and digital interactions with their customers catalyzed by the pandemic. Some got lucky in scrambling together urgent initiatives to enable field teams to maintain the continuity of customer engagement. While we’re seeing a return to in-person engagement in many sectors of the industry, medtech leaders should be looking at their commercial models and asking, “Are we really serving our customers the way they want to be served?” and “How can we magnify the impact of our customer engagement by augmenting customer experience beyond the face-to-face channel?”
Although the face-to-face model still dominates as the primary interaction channel for medtech, recent ZS research with medtech customers (including surgeons and hospital administrators) shows that customers already have significant engagement with other channels. Specifically, they are engaging through virtual and remote interactions via video or phone with medtech representatives during and outside of clinical procedures, as well as through emails, websites and other online information sources. These customers told us that their interactions with medtech do not align to their preferences, and many are not satisfied with their experiences across virtual and digital channels today. These insights confirm the need for medtech companies to evolve their customer engagement strategies.
Our research found that two in five surgeons are already engaging virtually at least once per month with medtech reps, either during a procedure or at other times. While online, 75% visit manufacturer websites at least once per month. Email contact is similar; 70% of surgeons engage at least once per month by email with medtech manufacturers—and half participate in weekly, or even daily, email contact. While these already seem like high percentages, more than 50% of surgeons expect virtual interactions and website usage to increase in the coming two to three years.
Even clinical support during procedures, often the foundation of customer engagement and success in medtech, will see a further shift to a virtual or hybrid model in the next few years. Our research found that surgeons anticipate only half of their future interactions with manufacturers for technical support in procedures will be in-person. The rest will be virtual interactions, supplemented with content available via self-serve digital channels. These needs and preferences will vary—by industry segment, device complexity and individual customer—but it's clear the in-person model of customer support alone will not be sufficient to maximize commercial success in the future.
The trends are even more pronounced among hospital administrators: Three in five engage virtually at least once per month. Of this group, 75% expect these virtual interactions to increase in the future. Given the increasing importance of nonclinical stakeholders in the buying process for many medtech industry segments, it will be crucial for companies to adapt customer engagement models to serve this customer segment better. The interactions, content and channels needed for nonclinical stakeholders will differ from the familiar face-to-face model of surgeon engagement.
According to our research, only half of medtech’s customers state that they are satisfied with interactions with medtech companies, and that those interactions are aligned to their engagement preferences. Medtech leaders must evolve customer engagement models to adapt to customer preferences or risk losing those customers. They may also miss out on growth opportunities (product launches, for example) by relying only on sporadic in-person interactions with loyal customers to generate awareness and demand.
The next-generation model for medtech manufacturers will be to engage with customers using a blend of in-person and remote interactions, harmonized and integrated seamlessly with digital and online channels and informed by deep insight into customer needs, preferences and actions.
According to a recent global ZS benchmarking study of executives in the medtech industry, 80% of medtech leaders already consider omnichannel and digital customer engagement a strategic priority.
Despite the initial adaptations that many companies have already made, ZS identifies four areas for medtech leaders to focus when considering what it will take to drive the evolution toward an omnichannel customer engagement model:
- Vision and strategy. Have a clear vision and definition of customer-centric engagement across the organization and in the context of individual business units, commercial teams, products and brands. For example, you should be able to articulate when and where different channels should be used to support specific customer journeys to meet your growth objectives. Make sure this vision is informed by a strong baseline of insights into customer preferences and segmentation. Understand what kinds of content your customers prefer to engage with and via which channels—either at a segment or an individual level.
- Organization model and capabilities. Make sure your organizational structures, RACI and competencies are fit for omnichannel execution. Decide whether your go-to-market models need to evolve to reflect additional remote interactions. Find out what degree of upskilling and change management your field teams will need to support this evolution—for example, improved competencies around hybrid engagement, account planning and management and the use of analytics. The marketing function is often relatively underdeveloped in many medtech companies today. Figure out what changes are needed there—such as shifting toward a campaign-driven and customer-centric marketing approach.
- Technology. Your existing technology investments should be aligned to your strategic priorities and use cases for omnichannel engagement. Assess to what extent your current infrastructure supports the use of digital technologies for digital customer engagement initiatives, such as rep-orchestrated emails.
- Data and analytics. Make sure you have the data fundamentals in place (data quality, 360-degree customer data and integration of disparate data sets) to ensure commercial teams have the right customer insights to inform their decisions. Ensure you are ready to leverage automation of analytics to generate the customer insights that can drive marketing and sales decisions, such as a suggestion engine to support field team actions.
Even with the recent disruption and innovation acting as a catalyst, it will not be easy to drive change without deliberate focus across these areas. Medtech companies that invest in omnichannel capability development as a strategic priority, putting customers and their experiences at the center of their commercial strategy, can expect to see the positive impact on their business as a result. Those who do not evolve may soon find themselves left behind.