Have I got a bridge for you …

Over the years, I have been approached on multiple occasions by various individuals and companies, some established and some startups, asking me how to best sell to doctors. The item being sold was far less consequential than understanding how to get physicians excited  about a new product. The dynamics of marketing to physicians is foundational to companies like “Big Pharma”, which are constantly trying to get doctors to purchase and/or prescribe their latest medications.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies are only one part of the whole picture. All you need to do is attend a major medical conference and you will see rows and rows of booths, each pushing a different stent, operating room device, electronic medical record system, dedicated tablets for medical needs and so much more.

The fact that doctors are so strongly targeted for achieving sales is sometimes counterproductive. In many medical services and hospitals, the decision to purchase a particular item may have very little to do with the physicians that use it. Obviously, budgets ultimately determine the list of options that anyone in the healthcare sphere has for acquiring new materials and equipment. Many times, it is the chief financial officer [CFO] who speaks to the chief medical officer [CMO] who together ultimately decide what gets bought. Any individual doctor might have very little influence in such purchasing decisions. Therefore, the whole dynamic of marketing and then selling to physicians is often quite difficult.

Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the rabble. If a particular device or method of treatment is recognized as being superior to its alternatives already on the market, it becomes much easier to convince the CMO and CFO to add the particular item to the budget. Therefore, when a representative of a company approaches a room full of physicians with a slideshow intended to convince those physicians that they need the item being sold as much as they need oxygen, the “pitch” must be perfect. If the doctors accept the salesperson’s arguments, the collective will push to have the item added to their arsenal of disease fighting weapons.

In my personal experience and in many conversations with physicians, I have personally come to the conclusion that the most important slide is the first one after the name of the company and product. It is this slide which will set the tone of the presentation and which will either grab the attention of the audience of physicians, or lose them to their mobile phones and tablets [or perhaps to the centerfold in “Cellular Biology Today”].

When I’m consulted about a marketing presentation to doctors, I  strongly recommend that the first slide incorporate three points. The first point explains that the item being discussed saves time for the physicians using it. Doctors always feel rushed and desperate for even an extra few minutes a day to take a breath. If the item in question can truly save a physician a minute per patient, that adds up to a lot. For some physicians, they will appreciate that the time saved is equal to an increased potential for income. If a doctor is able to end their day half an hour earlier, that may allow the same doctor to see one or two more patients [and be paid for this]. Other physicians will appreciate the opportunity to leave their practice or office earlier, and perhaps even early enough to share dinner with their families. That could very well mean the world to many physicians.

The second point on the slide should explain that the item in question saves money for the physician, or increases income for the physician. Imagine that the item in question is some type of testing device which allows an examination to be done for 20% less cost. If the physician is charging the insurance of the patient the same amount, this ends up as added income at the end of the day. Alternatively, the item in question may be a new type of device that allows for testing to be done in the office, which previously required shipping of the blood sample to an off-site lab. By doing the test on-site, the patient’s time is saved but more importantly, the physician can charge for the test. In the world of medicine, testing is a huge source of income for individual practices, hospitals as a whole and separate labs. If the item in question can allow physicians to partake in the financial windfall from such testing, the doctors’ interest will definitely be peaked.

The third point on the slide should explain that the item in question reduces the medico-legal risk to the physician. It is fair to say that doctors live in constant fear of being sued. Even when a physician has followed procedure and acted appropriately, a patient may still sue the physician if the results of the care were other than expected. A classic example would be a patient who presented for a plastic surgical procedure, and ended up with a less than optimal result, despite the surgeon having done everything exactly according to the book. If the item in question can somehow reduce the risk of poor outcomes, and thus reduce the medico-legal risk, everyone in the room will perk up.

Unfortunately, in many cases there are bad outcomes because the staff did not follow the standard protocols. For example, a doctor or hospital may be sued for administering the incorrect medication. Imagine that the presenter is displaying a new computerized medication cart which makes it almost impossible for a nurse or physician to dispense the wrong medication to a patient [unless there is clear intent to do so]. Considering how often medication errors occur just in the United States,  a digital cart could definitely reduce the frequency of such errors and thus reduce the likelihood of being sued.

Please note that these three points don’t really speak to the effectiveness of the treatment, or the reduction of a patient’s pain, or improved screening for cancer. Of course, all of these elements are key to proper medical care. But when trying to sell a service or device or treatment to a room full of doctors, I believe that it is critical to reduce the sales pitch down to these three points. The physicians will remember these three points and they will likely parrot them back to their superiors and eventually to the CMO and CFO. With enough voices repeating the same three points, it will be hard to ignore the argument in favor of purchasing the item discussed. Of course, this is not foolproof. But I feel very sure in saying that initially focusing on these three points will catch the attention of a medically oriented audience.

This same approach would actually work well with a group of investors in the medical field. One does not need to be versed in medical terminology in order to understand the significance of these three points. From my own interactions with venture capitalists, they also very much appreciate focusing down a presentation to these three points. Once these key points are internalized by the investors, the presenter ultimately can then focus on the issues of available market, production costs and potential revenue and profits. When all put together, an in-depth presentation about a product [whether it’s a new kind of soap or a whole new type of imaging device] should be no longer than 10 slides. Most importantly, if the audience is not “sold” on the item halfway through the presentation, the last few slides will likely make no difference.

Due to my background in technology and medicine, I have sat on both sides of the slideshow presentation. At times, I was the one presenting and at other times, I was representing others who wished to know the potential of a new product. I can say quite confidently that any sales environment is difficult, all the more so when speaking of the huge sums of money involved in many medically oriented purchases. In my personal experience, which I can honestly say is extensive, this three-point approach works well. For those people reading this blog post and who will be making a presentation to physicians and/or investors, I would suggest that you at least create a version of your presentation based on these three points. Afterwards, by testing the 3-point presentation in front of your own colleagues and test group, you can decide if this approach is best.

Whichever approach you choose, I wish you the best of luck. If you succeed in selling products that ultimately help patients, then we all benefit.

Thanks for listening

My website is at

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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