Increasingly, physicians, hospital procurement departments, health system administrators, technicians, and others who purchase medtech devices 1 are seeking frictionless, tailored, and on-demand customer experiences. Yet most medtech companies continue to rely on push interactions with their field representatives as the primary or even the only point of contact with the healthcare professionals who buy their products and services.
In July 2022, McKinsey’s Omnichannel Maturity Survey of more than 1,900 global, cross-functional medtech leaders measured omnichannel capabilities in medtech against proven best practices. The results show that even small investments in the development of omnichannel capabilities can help medtech firms improve customer engagement and top-line performance. This article examines the omnichannel interactions medtech customers seek and offers five suggestions on how medtech companies can improve the customer experience and satisfy rising expectations for engagement.
Customers value tailored experiences
The ways healthcare providers (HCPs) prefer to engage with medtech companies had been evolving since well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but temporary closures and increased scrutiny of vendor presence accelerated this evolution. In August and September 2021, McKinsey conducted a survey of 761 global medtech decision makers that showed in November 2020, at the height of the pandemic, only 35 percent of HCPs preferred in-person interactions. By August 2021, 58 percent of HCPs preferred in-person interactions with medtech firms—a figure that was almost 20 percentage points lower than prepandemic norms of 76 percent.
That same survey showed that up to 60 percent of HCPs prefer digital or remote engagement when researching unfamiliar technologies, requesting proposals, and purchasing products. However, HCPs still value in-person interactions for certain purposes. During product trials, for example, they rely on medtech representatives to provide product and clinical expertise and to serve as thought partners, and HCPs also appreciate in-person interactions for training and high-acuity case support.
Our 2022 Omnichannel Maturity Survey of medtech leaders found that most medtech companies cannot yet deliver a true omnichannel experience for their customers, but those that have made even small steps have enjoyed benefits. The 2021–22 performance data of companies participating in the survey show a positive correlation between omnichannel capabilities and revenue growth. Companies with relatively mature omnichannel capabilities were more resilient during the pandemic and are recovering faster than their industry peers.
Revenue growth from 2021 to 2022 shows that companies with the highest omnichannel maturity experienced more than twice the revenue growth of those with average maturity. Those companies with the least omnichannel capabilities shrank during the period (Exhibit 1). Companies in the top third of omnichannel maturity outgrew their industry average by a factor of 12, suggesting that their performance may have been because of their omnichannel capabilities. Omnichannel capabilities not only helped medtech leaders protect themselves against pandemic headwinds but also allowed those firms to resume a growth trajectory as the world opened up again.
How medtech players can build their omnichannel capabilities
Although omnichannel capabilities can improve customer engagement and lead to financial outperformance, few companies have yet built them at scale (Exhibit 2).
Here are five ways medtech firms can develop mature omnichannel capabilities:
1. Develop and articulate a clear plan
Most medtech leaders surveyed articulated a clear intent to develop omnichannel capabilities, yet few have translated that intention into a strategy. Only a third of respondents report that their organizations have a view of the customer experience they would like to create, and just a quarter of leaders with that perspective had disseminated it across the organization (Exhibit 3).
One executive at a leading medtech consumables company effectively communicated its omnichannel vision to his team with a video depicting the future of customer engagement, from initial product inquiry to utilization. This helped business unit leaders imagine a radically different customer journey and motivated them to fully support the transformation of the company’s omnichannel capabilities.
Moreover, less than 20 percent of respondents report that their organizations have translated their omnichannel vision into an actionable plan. Some of this lack of progress can be attributed to other pressing needs taking priority during the pandemic. However, most respondents say their organizations do not meaningfully incentivize key executives and managers to prioritize customer experiences.
2. Capture the value of customer data
To design a differentiated customer engagement strategy, medtech companies might consider first developing a multidimensional view of their customers. The best practice is to integrate detailed structured and unstructured data to understand customer preferences and engagements at various touchpoints. Structured data include patient-level claims data, practitioner demographic data (such as age, location, and specialty), practice affiliation, HCP-linked electronic-medical-record data, and transaction histories. Unstructured data from emails, engagement with company marketing media, and sales representative feedback are added to the mix to produce a rich view of the customer and enable personalized engagement.
Our survey found that fewer than half of medtech firms have an understanding of customer behavior beyond basic demographics and historical purchasing patterns. Only 20 percent of respondents say they have clean, analytics-ready data with a comprehensive view of their customers. Less than 16 percent of medtech firms are using data to drive real-time suggestions for optimizing customer engagement.
Medtech firms do not need to wait until they have all possible data in-house and ready to use. They can start by leveraging the data they already have to improve the customer experience. Ethnographic research, which uses observations and interviews to understand how customers think, react, and respond to given situations, can help medtech firms gain a deeper perspective on the unmet engagement needs of HCPs. External-claims data sources can yield valuable insights into HCP practices. Once they systematically compile customer insights using internal and external sources, medtech firms can apply design thinking to develop and optimize customer journeys from inquiry to postpurchase by segment, product, and stage.
One leading capital-equipment player harnessed the power of customer research to redesign its go-to-market strategy for services. The company deployed a small team of design researchers to examine customer accounts to understand how services were being delivered and how well they matched customer needs both articulated and latent. The team used this rich observational data and customer feedback to reimagine its services portfolio and revamp its go-to-market approach with new and compelling value propositions that met its customers’ most important informational needs, leading to improved margins and customer loyalty.
3. Invest in the technology infrastructure
Multipoint customer engagement requires investment in technology infrastructure. Yet so far, few medtech companies have deployed the applications—such as customer relationship management (CRM), martech, and adtech—needed to support commercial activities. Furthermore, even medtech firms with CRM rarely use it to its full potential.
Fewer than half of survey respondents say their organizations have reliable technology architectures. Only 17 percent report their companies have implemented modular architectures, and less than 20 percent believe their organizations’ technology infrastructure provides a competitive advantage. Three-quarters of respondents lack digital centers of excellence to help them scale omnichannel use cases.
With proper commitment and motivation, companies can upgrade their technology capabilities and reap the rewards. Consider one medtech firm with multiple incompatible CRM systems due to recent acquisitions. The organization’s leaders recognized it would be challenging to implement an omnichannel engagement strategy with multiple CRMs, so they worked quickly to transition the entire organization to one. This allowed them to accelerate the development of a robust set of omnichannel use cases, with the added benefit of near-term savings that they reinvested in the business.
4. Attract digital and analytics talent
Most medtech companies still see IT as a back-office function rather than a thought partner for growth. Less than 20 percent of survey participants report that their organization uses IT to improve customer engagement. Companies could take a major step toward true omnichannel excellence by adapting their operating models to give tech and digital teams a more prominent role in decision making.
Many industries, including medtech, have struggled to recruit and retain talent with digital and analytics skills. Only 20 percent of survey respondents agree that their organizations have the talent and skills to harness the power of data using advanced-analytics techniques such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Despite their awareness of this skills gap, only 35 percent of companies recruit the right digital and analytics talent at all levels to continuously upgrade their bench strength.
Medtech firms may want to highlight the purpose-driven nature of their work. Organizations that emphasize flexibility, work–life balance, transparent career paths, and unique company culture may have an advantage in the competition for talent.
5. Enable agile ways of working
Most medtech leaders are familiar with agile principles and have applied them successfully in certain areas, such as software development. However, the culture at most medtech companies historically has not supported the broad application of agile principles to developing omnichannel customer engagement.
Cross-functional squads that include members from field sales, inside sales, marketing, commercial operations, service, analytics, IT, and design can play a vital role in collaborating and testing innovative engagement models for an omnichannel transformation. The good news is that more than half of survey respondents say they already work in cross-functional teams, although only a third report following agile principles consistently.
As a result, only 20 percent of medtech firms are reaping the benefits of using test-and-learn approaches to respond rapidly to market trends. By pairing an agile approach with existing cross-functional teams, medtechs can drastically accelerate their understanding of how to improve customer engagement to attain early results.
For example, a leading orthopedics player established cross-functional squads to compliantly develop omnichannel strategies for priority customers in selected segments. The squads included subject matter experts in product marketing, medical education, digital marketing, and field sales. They launched strategies that produced quick wins in the piloted segments, leading to increased customer satisfaction. These results caught the attention of executive leadership, which gave the teams resources to extend their impact to every customer segment in the business unit.
Organizations that have deployed an agile and cross-functional approach like this have transformed how they engage with customers. They have used their existing data and technology to drive sales through new digital and remote channels, demonstrate value in channel coordination (especially between field sales and inside sales, supported by marketing), and deliver accretive growth. And they typically accomplish all this in a time span measured not in quarters or years but weeks or months.
Small investments can have outsize impacts
Delivering an omnichannel customer experience can seem daunting, but leaders can take heart in knowing that even small investments can lead to increased customer engagement and better business performance. Most of the medtech industry is still developing its omnichannel capabilities, so leaders who act quickly to give customers frictionless, tailored, and on-demand experiences may benefit from stronger relationships and top-line growth.