Top-performing medtech companies are upending their traditional go-to-market (GTM) strategies by augmenting their field sales forces with remote-sales organizations. In addition to better meeting the needs and preferences of physicians, hospital procurement departments, health system administrators, technicians, and other customers,1 the shift to a hybrid sales approach has been demonstrated to unlock growth opportunities and reduce the cost to serve across care settings.
This article examines the reasons medtech companies are accelerating efforts to build remote-sales organizations, approaches for using remote sales as part of GTM strategies, implementation considerations, and tips for getting started.
Customers have adapted to remote interactions with medtech companies
Increased interest in hybrid sales within medtech companies is fueled mainly by an increased willingness of customers to engage remotely with sales reps—a shift that began in the pandemic but, according to our research, is likely to become permanent (Exhibit 1).2
Although physicians’ preference for in-person meetings with medtech sales reps has rebounded since November 2020, it was still below prepandemic levels (58 percent compared to 76 percent) as of August 2021. Moreover, the proportion of respondents who indicated a preference for video interactions grew more than fivefold, from 4 percent before the pandemic to 22 percent, and the proportion who selected the phone as a preferred mode of interaction grew from 18 percent to 38 percent.
Additionally, customers are asking for options on how to engage with medtech companies, depending on where they are in their buying journey and what they are trying to accomplish. In a finding that is in line with other B2B industries,3 81 percent of physicians and 89 percent of procurement professionals who participated in the August 2021 survey said they prefer to use more than one channel as they engage with medtech companies. Furthermore, our research shows the preference for remote interactions is not limited to logistical tasks such as coordinating demos and scheduling deliveries and service appointments; physicians also prefer to learn about product updates and access product support through remote engagement (Exhibit 2).
In response to these evolving customer preferences, medtech companies could consider not only setting up a combination of remote and field channels for engagement but also tightly coordinating them to provide truly omnichannel engagement with clinical and nonclinical stakeholders. Indeed, companies that have made the shift successfully position remote sales as one element of a broader omnichannel transformation that will improve their overall ability to engage consistently and effectively with their customers and stakeholders.
Challenges of remote sales in the medtech industry
Moving away from the traditional, in-person sales approach could be considered especially challenging for medtech companies given the characteristics of their products. First, the products are complex and need to be evaluated extensively by healthcare providers and procurement professionals prior to purchase. Second, sales reps or clinical specialists often accompany physicians using the equipment during medical procedures to provide guidance on its use.
Perhaps as a result of these dynamics, the conventional wisdom within the industry has long held that medtech products can be sold only via high-touch, in-person engagement by charismatic sales reps with a Rolodex of contacts as their stock-in-trade. The progress of leading medtech companies, however, is flipping this script and dispelling some long-held industry myths (see sidebar, “Dispelling common myths about remote sales in medtech”).
Choosing a remote-sales model
There is no one size fits all approach to augmenting field sales with remote sales. Leading medtech companies have successfully implemented a variety of models based on their product portfolios, the needs and preferences of healthcare providers and procurement professionals, and their strategic objectives for the remote-sales organization. These leaders typically have adopted one of three approaches to remote sales (Exhibit 3).
Remote selling for lead generation. This top-of-the-funnel approach focuses solely on generating and qualifying opportunities that are transmitted to field sales reps to close the sale and provide ongoing service. This model is especially effective for products that are not sold at highly concentrated academic medical centers but are instead sold across a large number of smaller accounts (for example, physician offices and long-term care facilities) or where a company’s low market share and lack of established relationships limits its reach today.
Remote and field hybrid selling. This approach pairs remote sales reps with field sales reps to improve the customer experience and potentially broaden support to include, for example, fielding questions about products and discussing value propositions. For example, a remote-sales rep has the capacity to dedicate time to a site procurement leader while also scheduling product demos that a field rep can conduct in person. The two share a joint quota, which is higher than the quota of a solo field sales rep. Successful implementation of this approach requires close collaboration between the field sales and remote-sales teams to ensure clear and consistent messaging to healthcare providers and other customers.
With all these models, the primary goal is to drive top-line growth by supporting outreach to accounts.
End-to-end remote selling. This model—in which all aspects of the sale are handled by a remote team—could be effective for reaching select accounts such as smaller physician offices or those located in underserved rural areas. In these cases, a remote-sales team can perform all steps of the buying process, from sharing information about new products to providing quotes and placing orders. After the sale, the team can maintain the account’s business by conducting regular business reviews and identifying new sales opportunities. In sectors that rely heavily on product demos, a clinical specialist may need to visit the account to support the demo process, although maturing virtual-reality technology may render even this in-person step obsolete. Indeed, given the lower cost to serve compared with field sales, the remote model may allow the company to dedicate a sales rep to underserved accounts for the first time. Many companies pilot the end-to-end remote-selling model in open territories (those with no sales rep assigned to them), and then scale up to cover more accounts with end-to-end remote sales once they can demonstrate the model’s success.
The choice of models is guided by the medtech commercial organization’s strategic objectives for the remote-sales team, including how the team fits into the broader GTM model. Homing in on the appropriate model includes identifying the products and services the team will support (for example, new product launches or service contract renewals) and the account types and individual stakeholders the remote team will engage with (for example, procurement leaders for specific care settings, healthcare specialists, or buyers at size-based accounts based on their size).
One medtech company opted for the combined remote and field sales model to develop and close deals and provide after-sales support for a product that requires extensive in-person interactions, first for product demos and then to support initial use of the new device during procedures. Another medtech company sought a model that supported frequent, remote engagement with physicians to remind them of the suitability of their medical device for certain common treatments. The company retained a field-sales force to cover larger territories (for example, major hospitals and big cities) but used an end-to-end remote model to cover rural areas and other territories with low sales potential. In both cases, the chosen model supports the company’s growth objectives.
With all these models, the primary goal is to drive top-line growth by supporting outreach to accounts—to generate leads, provide additional support across the buying journey, or offer dedicated support for previously ignored accounts. Additionally, this enhanced account support can come at a lower cost compared to hiring additional field sales reps to perform outreach activities.
With their vision and strategic objectives defined, medtech companies could then adopt four B2B selling principles.4
Focus on talent. Companies can consider creating a data-driven process to hire and develop world-class commercial talent. While success in remote sales requires many of the same skills and attributes as field sales, the detailed talent requirements should fit the chosen model. For example, lead generators exhibit a strong drive to seek out new business and have the resilience to place many more calls than are likely to bear fruit. Remote-sales reps working with field sales reps excel at collaboration and work well on teams. And end-to-end remote-sales reps may be successful if they have both an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to maintain longer-term account relationships. Many current field sales team members, including junior or associate reps, may be a good fit for newly created remote-sales roles and may be drawn to these roles because they require less travel, have more predictable hours, and typically provide a higher ratio of fixed to variable compensation.
Hiring sales reps in cohorts, when possible, can be effective for promoting camaraderie. Ideally, the remote team is placed in a single office where they can share tips and tricks, benefit from daily in-person huddles, and participate in frequent roleplaying sessions. For cases in which the company must look further afield to hire qualified talent—for example, with some sales reps working remotely all or part of the time—these team members will need to be properly equipped to be fully productive. It will also be important to bring teams together in person for key events such as training sessions and national sales meetings and to use online tools—for example, chat tools, file-sharing apps, and regular video-supported team huddles—to build community and promote knowledge sharing.
To develop new team members, including sales reps and supervisors, and set them up for success, the company can consider mapping out an end-to-end learning journey customized to the goals and structure of the emerging sales organization and embedding it initially into general onboarding. Learning modules within this journey could be aligned to the specific types of interactions these remote reps will encounter on a daily basis. For medtech companies, in-depth product training is essential; remote-sales reps often complete the same product training modules as field sales reps. It is also critical to support the development of remote-selling skills to ensure sales reps can confidently interact with different account stakeholders, and (for hybrid models) hand off opportunities to field sales reps. These efforts may incorporate adult-learning best practices such as role-playing and simulating real-life examples. Meanwhile, a remote-sales manager can provide ongoing support and coaching. Time devoted to training can be balanced with selling time (Exhibit 4).
Incorporate remote sales as part of an agile, responsive GTM model. Medtech executives can strive to organize the GTM model to bring the best of the organization to every customer interaction. Irrespective of which remote-sales models a company uses, the remote team will need to coordinate with other groups that are also part of the broader GTM organization: remote sales, field sales, key account managers, clinical specialists, customer service representatives, service engineers, and more. This is a critical element of an omnichannel model.5 For example, increased reliance on digital-marketing outreach will translate to a steady source of leads from these digital interactions (for example, requests for follow-ups from emails, social outreach, or webinars) that may require the remote-sales team to follow up on. Additionally, partnerships with analytics teams can support using lead scoring to rank customers for remote-sales teams to follow up with based on engagement as well as other customer attributes.
Steps to promote coordination across all customer engagement channels include the following:
- Establish aligned incentives to encourage impact-driven collaboration. For example, in the hybrid-selling model, incentives are tied to a quota shared between both sales reps. There can also be special incentives for the number of leads closed jointly or field sales rep follow-ups on leads generated by their remote-sales partners.
- Delineate clear roles and responsibilities and aligning on a customer contact strategy. This entails defining customer sets for digital outreach, clarifying follow-up plans by the remote-sales and field sales teams, and ensuring that all customer contacts are tracked to avoid duplicate outreach. In some cases, other channels, such as customer service, could flag opportunities to remote-sales teams.
- Create alignment at the management level. Managers within each channel organization can communicate transparently, reinforcing the benefits of collaboration and celebrating success stories of how remote-sales team members work with others to generate impact.
Leverage insights. Medtech companies have access to a breadth of internal data—for example, installed base information, purchase history, and customer service call records—and external data, including claims data, physician publications, and data from affiliates, such as group purchasing organizations and integrated delivery networks. These data combined with analytics capabilities could unlock insights to help remote-sales reps develop their customer outreach strategies and guide them on how and where to spend their time.
Medtech companies can go further and glean insights to identify specific accounts or contacts to target, for example, for cross-selling opportunities based on purchases of complementary products. With more advanced-analytics capabilities, machine-learning models can predict churn or recommend the next product to buy from a portfolio of thousands.
Insights also come in the form of performance metrics shared with sales reps, managers, and team leaders. When they contain leading and lagging indicators, individual performance dashboards can identify specific areas of development. For example, a remote-sales rep whose opportunities are consistently stuck in one funnel stage may benefit from coaching on specific selling skills. The dashboard can also help reps manage their time and pipeline.
It is also important to report on initiative-level successes, such as a remote-sales organization’s performance against specific commercial objectives aligned to customer segments, product segments, or select marketing campaigns. Last, lead and revenue metrics can complement customer experience metrics and employee satisfaction survey scores to ensure the remote-sales organization is best supporting customers and the commercial organization.
Enable technology. The nature of remote selling requires sales reps to make and receive phone and video calls, but the technology to do this well goes far beyond a simple phone. Starting with the basics, every sales rep needs a good headset with noise-canceling abilities; a large external monitor to look up customer information and screen-share product brochures, videos, and the like with customers; a professional background display; and a dedicated phone number. Several computer telephony integration (CTI) tools such as those frequently used by contact centers can not only manage outbound dialing and route inbound calls but also collect information on call activity that can help assess individual and group performance. For example, these dashboards can show the number of inbound and outbound calls, connection rates, length of calls, and other metrics that can help yield quantitative “call quality” metrics useful in coaching and performance evaluations. Where local laws allow, CTI tools can also support making call recordings, which can then be reviewed with sales reps and managers together to provide detailed feedback after specific interactions.
These CTI systems can also integrate with customer relationship management (CRM) tools to streamline call workflow. When a sales rep places a call, the customer’s information can be automatically displayed. Once the call is completed, the interaction history can be automatically logged in the CRM so sales reps do not have to manually input call information. Especially in hybrid-selling models, the CRM can function as the “single source of truth” with all members of the commercial team by having ready access to the full call history. As CTI systems become more sophisticated and integrate new analytical tools such as natural language processing and sentiment analysis, they may be able to automate real-time call feedback on performance in each individual call without requiring a manager to listen in and provide coaching.
Medtech companies vary widely with respect to the sophistication of their hybrid-sales or end-to-end remote-sales models today; most companies, however, can make quick, meaningful progress to build or scale remote-sales channels. An effective starting point is to find a section of the organization with supportive sales leadership and to align on a clear business goal, such as improving lead generation for specific products, improving cross-selling in large accounts, or reducing cost to serve the many long-tail accounts that may each deliver a small amount of revenue. The organization can then quickly set up a pilot, limiting risk by starting with a small cohort of sales reps (typically five to 20) and focusing on accounts that are already underserved or have untapped potential. Organizations can start with technology already used in their contact centers and use existing CRM systems and lead-generation algorithms. While the time to revenue impact depends on the selling cycle, most of these remote-sales pilots can break even in less than two years, quickly generating returns that can be invested in the organization.
The ability for medtech companies to shift their current selling models to address already changed customer behaviors will impact their top- and bottom-line growth potential in the coming years. As medtech companies become more omnichannel, implementing remote-sales models will be a key element in maintaining strong customer experience and driving growth.