I’m always amused when a client asks us to devise a shortcut approach to accelerating their growth. And mature institutional clients (such as health plans, integrated delivery systems, etc.) request this magic as often as the smaller, more entrepreneurial companies.

We hear the same misguided request from large and small software, population management, occupational health, health information research, and medical device companies.

Typically, someone has developed a new product or service line that they just know will offer great value to their prospective customer. “It should sell itself!” They’re under pressure from whoever funded that new product or service to quickly demonstrate market acceptance and achieve targeted return on their investment.

Only Market When You Know Your Market

There is no question that massive industry disruption from factors (including the devolution of providers, care settings, and health technology, industry transition to value based reimbursement, increased price, regulatory, and competitive pressure, etc.), is creating extraordinary opportunity for suppliers of innovative new products and services.

So it’s no surprise that multiple enterprises across the industry are getting creative either defensively, offensively, or both, depending on who they are and the particular set of market dynamics impacting them.

But even those who should know better still sometimes seek a shortcut to customers that avoids the time and investment required to understand their market through tactical market research and planning. It’s a classic case of “ready, fire, aim”.

They want to immediately chase as many opportunities as possible as quickly as possible in the belief that since their product is terrific, success is mainly a matter of exposure to buyers.

And of course, the results are usually predictable – enormous time, energy, and money spent churning the market, bad first impressions, misaligned conversations, mis-aimed proposals, and precious few profitable deals.

Think Like a Buyer

Make no mistake: to a certain extent, the hesitancy to invest in strategic and tactical market planning is understandable. Too often this process becomes a pedantic, consultant-driven process and black hole of research, data, and overly comprehensive analysis. This is a failure of client service, focus, and expertise in market alignment and strategic planning. And frankly, it is also usually a symptom of lack of industry experience as an actual buyer.

Thus, there’s a reliance on process rather than a focus on actionability and practicality. The best market strategists and tacticians have both sold and bought products and services across the industry. They understand what drives buyers in various situations. This understanding can powerfully inform the design, and prioritization and focus of healthcare marketing and sales strategy.

To avoid wasting resources and achieve target growth and revenue objectives, there’s no substitute for reasonable, practical, and actionable strategic and tactical market planning. In our recent eBook “Accelerating Growth as a Specialty Provider” we discussed 8 steps comprising a solid approach.

These same steps, properly focused, apply as well to market planning for all healthcare products and services:

1. Multi-factor Capabilities Inventory

Clarity on Multi-Factor Capabilities and ‘Sources of Value’ that Can Be Offered to the Market

This can be narrow or wide, depending on your organization, but should consider not just product/service but all supporting capabilities as well. These might include sales and contracting process, delivery and implementation capacity and process, ability to scale, marketing and sales capacity, etc. All of these capabilities need to be aligned with each other. But you don’t have to boil the ocean. A quick internal scan by experts knowledgeable on what the market wants can quickly help to focus on those areas offering the greatest opportunity. Leave the rest for later.

2. Market Alignment and Valuation

Alignment with What and How the Market Wants to Buy

Just because you think you’re a genius and your product is gold doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will agree. And even if they do, they might not accept your price, your sales and contracting process and terms, or your delivery and implementation process. Understanding how you align with your prospective customers across multiple dimensions will allow you to focus your attention where it can have the most impact.

3. Competitive Assessment

Understanding Drivers of Current and Emerging Competitors’ Success

Most vendors either don’t do this enough, or go way overboard. It’s rarely important to know details about your competitors’ activities at a prospective account level. But it IS important to understand in general why and how your competitors are being successful. Are they seeing, understanding, or offering something you are missing?

4. Differentiation, Positioning, and Branding

Differentiated Value Proposition with Supporting Positioning and Branding Strategy

No genius product or service designer wants to hear that their innovation is viewed by the market as a commodity. The under-appreciated secret of strategic marketing is that all smart buyers default to assuming anything being offered is a commodity. This means they get to force you to compete on price.

The marketer’s job is to convince the buyer that the offering is as unique as possible and worthy of quick selection at the asking price. Developing this story and supporting it with appropriate messaging and collateral is key. But again, targeting these efforts on the most likely opportunities, and focusing on your target buyer’s receptiveness to certain types and styles of messaging is how you avoid trying to address the entire market at once.

5. Target Markets & Channels

Intimate Knowledge of Potential Market Segments and the Channels to Access Them

Segmentation is the key to prioritization and focus. On the assumption that you can’t and shouldn’t mass-market to everyone at once (there are occasional exceptions), you need to understand who and where are your highest-value and probability buyers, so you can focus your resources on them. And critical to segment opportunity pursuit is the leverage offered by identifying and using the most efficient market channels to reach them.

6. Market Strategy

Integrated Prioritized Approach to the Market Aligning Services, Market Segments, Channels, and Resources

The market strategy is where the pieces above all come together. The strategy drives the prioritization, funding, and scheduling of all activities and resources necessary to achieve your performance objectives for growth, revenue, market share, and profitability.

7. Implementing a 1-3-5 Action Plan

Comprehensive Program Plan to Execute and Evolve the Market Strategy Over a Moving Five-Year Time Horizon

This plan combines an integrated and aligned 5-year vision, 3-year strategy, and rolling 12-month tactical action plan into a single set of activities to be managed as a program – a related set of projects and sub-projects. This approach provides for accountability of program leadership for both execution and ongoing alignment between all the components.

8. Strong Execution

Organizational Ability to Successfully Execute the Marketing Strategy

Obviously, the whole exercise is wasted without strong and expert plan execution. Formulation and execution of an optimized, comprehensive, and actionable strategy is a complex undertaking. But the return on investment in doing it well is extremely high. Most organizations find that the capacity, expertise, and broad market knowledge required to support such an effort is not all available internally.

Your best executives and managers are busy with day-to-day operations. This cannot be some single person’s part-time responsibility. Most parts of your organization will need to participate. Consider utilizing an external partner specializing in enterprise growth and operational performance assurance to coordinate your planning and ramp up.

In our growth and innovation practice, we spend a fair amount of time counseling clients that what they need is not a magical shortcut. The challenge is to design and focus each planning step above on practical and actionable execution. Every planning activity should be focused on positioning to pursue the highest value AND highest probability opportunities as quickly and successfully as possible.

To learn more about how your enterprise can benefit from practical and actionable strategic market planning, check out the free eBook:

Accelerating B2B Growth – Marketing for Value Based Healthcare free eBook