The first rule of selling into healthcare: you have to speak their language.
To understand important trends in the healthcare space, we spoke to Harry, the former CIO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, for his take on how you can deliver a value-added pitch that addresses the specific complexities of the healthcare sector.
Harry shared key steps to take to differentiate your solution from the hundreds of other vendors targetting healthcare organizations.
Healthcare Interview Highlights
Harry, why don’t we start with a bit of background in your experience within the healthcare industry and your time with CareFirst?
Oh well, thank you. I’ve been in healthcare IT for almost all of my career and what’s so fascinating to me is that companies like Kaiser Permanente, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Coventry (which is now an Aetna company) are all facing such similar issues. The platforms, the underlying technologies, the things they need to drive their business, there’s so much similarity from player to player. So when you think about the challenges of selling into a complex healthcare company, they’re often similar kinds of challenges from company to company depending on where you go.
Given that most of our listeners are enterprise sales teams, what should technology solution providers keep in mind when approaching healthcare in 2020?
Well, let me start with kind of one of the big gorillas. Everybody is struggling to get their arms around cybersecurity in healthcare because of regulations like HIPAA. The penalties for failure are very steep. So if you go back to around 2015 when there were some major breaches, there was a major scramble in the healthcare industry to upgrade security technology and there’s been significant year-over-year investment. A lot of that’s has been in point solutions as technologies emerge, but I think there’s a big trend now to try and get to more end-to-end platform solutions because it’s too hard to manage multiple technologies.
Another area that’s emerging as a very big player in healthcare is obviously the Cloud, but again, it’s complicated by the HIPAA regulations. So there’s been a hesitancy. Healthcare moves slower than some other industries to get to the Cloud as they step very carefully around the cybersecurity risk of having patient data in the Cloud. If they’re doing it right, they should be stepping carefully. They should be engineering the security property because the big players like Amazon and others, AWS, they have the appropriate security pieces if configured properly.
The last big trend is around big data. So every payer I’m familiar with has invested significantly year-over-year in data warehousing, often using legacy concepts. But those complex structures are very expensive to maintain, very time consuming, and often don’t always get to all the analytics company needs in a fast nimble way. Big data offers a lot of value including speed to market, but there’s a whole retooling of both the enterprise data world, the skill set of the team, and it can be quite a complex multi-year transition. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that space as well.
My next question relates to budgeting. When do you find is the best time for a vendor to approach healthcare organizations? Is the beginning of the fiscal year too late?
The companies I’ve worked in have been anywhere from two billion dollars to $50 billion and they’ve all had similar budgeting cycles. So in advance of a January 1st calendar year, new budget, we would begin March, April, and May the prior year. Even though the year is fresh, beginning to form up and frame up our plans for the following year. And by July and August, the plans of what we’re going to do are pretty well set and we’re beginning to build estimates and costs around those. So by September, we’ve got a rough budget, we’ve got clear articulated plans for what we intend to do.
And the only exception are those late-breaking kind of events where there’s a cybersecurity event or some other change in the business that triggers a flurry of activity that was unplanned for. But the majority of the IT spend, in my experiences, is well set at least six months before the budget year begins.
I’m curious to hear your perspective for vendors who are approaching healthcare and maybe they do have Fortune 1000 penetration but not deep experience within healthcare. Do you think it’s more important to demonstrate?
When vendors sit across the table from me, I’ve often been surprised in initial meetings that they ask me incredibly basic questions about the industry. And I think to myself, “Boy, you didn’t do your homework. If you don’t know these very basic questions, why are you wasting my time?”
You may not really need to know the healthcare space to implement a solution, but you certainly need to know the healthcare space to get a seat at the table with a senior executive and be able to talk their language to get past that threshold to get to your technical solution, which may be the best thing out there. If you can’t demonstrate that you understand the pain of a specific industry in the language of that industry, I think you often don’t get past that first date.
I’d love to hear an example that comes to mind as far as a pitch that really resonated with you and made you walk away thinking, “They nailed it.”
Yeah, so that’s a great question. I mean, there’s probably a number of dimensions that make a great pitch a great pitch. For me, I’ve always found it to be a turnoff when somebody tries to come in, in what’s a complex sale, and they think about more like a used car sale and try to walk in the door and close a deal. So that to me doesn’t work.
What does work is really a consultative sell, where they’re coming in and educating me, telling me things about the industry and technology trends That’s true value-added. It’s not just a data dump, it really adds value to my ability as a leader.
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