LeQ Medical

Communicating the ideas that are changing medicine


What Do Doctors Want?

The doctor as customerIf you are involved with a business or service in the medical world, you are dealing with physician-decision-makers. These are not quite the same as physician-customers, since in many cases the doctor is selecting a product that he will never use and never pay for. All he does is make the selection. In some organizations, there are committees who help make these decisions and they may also include hospital administrators. If you are in any way trying to sell products to them, either through marketing tactics or direct salesmanship, you have got to wonder. What on earth do doctors want?

Many people approach medical advertising as if it were similar to advertising car insurance or a bar of soap. Those products have very nice sales models. The manufacturer advertises to the person who will select, pay for, and use the product. But when it comes to medical sales, there are three entities involved and some of them involve multiple individuals: there is the person who picks out the product, the entity (often insurance companies) who pay for the products, and the patients who actually use the products. In many cases, these groups have never met or meet only tangentially.

What this does is complicate medical marketing, yet many people approach medical marketing as if it were like selling a car. Medical marketing is different because the person who selects the product is more important to your sales effort than those who pay for it and those who use it. So you have a fractured approach. And for this you need to know why doctors think the way they do.

First of all, I am quite sure that if you wanted to sell a doctor a cruise vacation or a sportscar or a new smartphone, the traditional advertising approaches would work. But when a doctor is being a doctor and doing doctorly things like deciding what prescription to write or what pacemaker to implant, he thinks in a different way. Here are some crucial observations:

  • Doctors are readers. I know most advertising folks will assure you that nobody reads ads and nobody reads anything, but doctors read a lot. They like to read, particularly about medicine. You might think that the pharmacokinetics of your new drug is boring, but if you have a doctor who has patients who needs that drug, he or she loves reading about that stuff. Do not be afraid to provide information in the form of words.
  • Doctors are analytical. When making professional decisions about medical products and services, doctors want to see evidence. Data from clinical studies, cost data, statistics about adverse events are all important to his or her decision. They like their evidence to be neutral in tone and construction. Sure, you can design some nice-looking charts or add a medical illustration to your marketing efforts, but keep the tone neutral, serious, analytical.
  • A spreadsheet is better than a beauty shot of your product. Doctors want data, facts, and at least a reasonable attempt at making a scientific case for your product or service. When you show them beauty shots of the product or happy patients or other “fluff,” it not only turns them off, it makes them think you don’t have a case.
  • Doctors are busy. Sales reps play an important role in the medical sales process because they can often reach the doctor with information and support (particularly important for device sales) when other avenues of communication fail. This means you have to train your sales reps. I’m not so sure that company-driven “here’s how to sell” programs are worth much, but I know what is important. It is important that your sales reps know how your products or services work, how the competition stacks up, and the current state-of-the-art in the field. Train your reps in those areas.
  • Doctors do not spend a whole lot of study time online and even if they ever did navigate to your website, they would probably not go there seeking information about your products. They might go to your site to look up information they need because they already had your product, but they wouldn’t be there seeking sales-type messages. So don’t build a website for the sake of advertising. (Besides, competitors mine your website for those sales messages–why help them out?)
  • Give a doctor compelling reasons to buy your product, such as, new time-saving features, greater accuracy, improved performance, less repair or downtime, lower acquisition costs, cheaper prices, fewer adverse events, faster results, less pain, better outcomes, higher levels of patient satisfaction. Give them lots of reasons, as many as you can, and back all of them up with facts.
  • Marketing is about introducing a crisis, worsening the crisis and creating discomfort and then providing the solution. For instance, if you have developed an abuse-resistant narcotic analgesic, lead with statistics about prescription painkiller addiction (it’s a huge problem, prove it), then add that doctors are in a very awkward position because sometimes patient need these products but other times patients are trying to get these products to abuse them (and mention lawsuits, while you’re at it). Then when the doctor is very concerned about the problem of chronic pain and how narcotic pain relievers are both necessary and potentially abuse-able, introduce an abuse-deterrent product and provide a diagram or description of how it works and some statistics. That would sell. You don’t need a beauty shot of the product or a glossy brochure with happy patients. You need to make a case, and that involves introducing a crisis. I once heard it described like this: “Chase your customer up a tree. Now throw stones at him. And, then, bring him a ladder and help him out of the tree.”

Medical marketing and medical advertising have gotten a tarnished reputation of late because so many medical marketers are trying to approach doctors as if they were selling toothpaste or vacations instead of providing valuable medical products. Doctors want evidence, not fluff.


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