What If You're Selling to Hospitals and You Have Minimal Healthcare Experience?

“I’ve spent the last seven years in the automotive industry, streamlining logistics.  Our company has figured out that hospitals aren’t very efficient, so we’re bringing business principles to hospitals.”

So announced the head sales guy of a startup during the early Internet days as he sat across my desk, hoping for Georgia Hospital Association’s endorsement.  As Executive Vice President, I was the first stop for companies seeking a working relationship.   

There were two things wrong with his approach.   First, his arrogance was palpable.   Although few people point to hospitals as sterling examples of efficiency, his approach betrayed a serious lack of respect for members of the hospital community.  Physicians, therapists, nurses, executives, and others have devoted many years of formal education and, in many cases, years of hands-on experience dealing with highly complex clinical and patient care management issues.  Having a brash, young-ish sales person puff his chest out, announcing that he is there to “fix” hospitals, does not go over well.


His second problem was broadcasting through his naiveté his “outsider” status.  Although there are times when an outside perspective can breathe new life into systems, it’s also helpful to have a basic knowledge of those systems.  This guy wanted to demonstrate how the newly introduced Internet could streamline the procurement process.  “Do you want me to demonstrate how easy it is?” he asked.  “What should I order?  Bandaids?”  

What physician would ever get on the Internet to buy “bandaids”?  In my 24 years of meeting with vendors hoping for association endorsements, I could usually sniff out a healthcare newcomer within about four minutes.

Any time someone is selling a clinical product or service, tipping their hand as a hospital “outsider” can be a real impediment.  Many within healthcare are rather unforgiving when it comes to tolerating “foreigners” who implicitly claim clinical expertise.

So, what should you do if you have limited healthcare experience and are offering a clinically related product or service? 

·         First, treat hospital personnel with utmost respect.  Although they may lack certain technological or executive skills, they are in their position because of expertise developed over many years.

·         By all means, learn as much as you can about the area your product touches.  Don’t mispronounce terms.  Learn important definitions and the meanings of relevant acronyms.  And for goodness sake, remember that HIPAA is spelled with one “P” and 2 “A”s.

·         If your product touches patient care and you personally don’t have much of a clinical background, it’s vital to point to others on your team with the credentials and credibility to get you past the front door.

·         Recognize the need for clinical and/or operational verification of your product or process.  Blinded research studies validating your methodology are the gold standard but are difficult and expensive to arrange.  Lacking that, being able to point to referenceable pilots or demonstration projects will go a long way.

So respect, humility and preparation will serve you well as you interact with the clinical world.