The Uneconomic Buyer

My recent research into the healthcare buying process has revealed a new character: The uneconomic buyer. By now, we all know about champions, advocates, technical buyers, influencers, and even adversaries. But the uneconomic buyer is a different and fascinating role.

The distinguishing feature of the uneconomic buyer is this: A purchase by them or someone close to them will actually cost this buyer money—hence, it is uneconomic for them to support the buying decision. Frequently, they actively undermine the purchase or kill the sale altogether.

In healthcare, physicians and hospitals can find themselves in very difficult positions. For example, an OB/GYN physician builds a practice based on surgical solutions and women’s health. When a new procedure performed by an interventional radiologist becomes available, the OB/GYN must refer her patient to the interventional radiologist. But in doing so, she replaces her surgical procedure with the interventional radiologist’s procedure, and the OB/GYN may lose control of the patient. The result is a loss of income, and that makes the OB/GYN physician an uneconomic buyer.

But the healthcare market is complicated, so it doesn’t stop there. Let’s assume that for the interventional radiologist to do the procedure, he needs capital equipment which the hospital must purchase. The hospital sees an opportunity, but if it provides this capability to the interventional radiologist, thereby reducing OB/GYN surgical procedures, overall utilization of the operating room could decrease, and that reduces return on investment. In this example, the hospital has become the uneconomic buyer.

There is no formula for handling the uneconomic buyer. A proper strategy depends on many insights. How profound is the problem? What amount of profit is at risk? Are the concerns overblown? Is the clinical improvement substantial enough to warrant the risk to the uneconomic buyer? What story do sales reps need to actualize with their customers?

Because the answers and insights are always different, handling the uneconomic buyer differs from case to case. To determine your strategy, we recommend a three step approach:

  1. Research the motivations and resistances of the players in your market.
  2. Develop a strategy to address the situation based on that research.
  3. Execute with marketing content, sales tools and training for the sales organization.

The research must provide the deep insights needed to understand this dynamic—it is not “research-as-usual.” In most cases, for example, surveys or data analytics on a website won’t provide the insights needed. Instead, qualitative interviews that focus on uncovering uneconomic buyer dynamics are critical because if you don’t have the necessary insights, your strategy and execution won’t be effective.

If your product is meeting a difficult reception in the healthcare market, look for the uneconomic buyer. Meeting that buyer’s needs may be the key to your success.

Tony Signorelli is President of Signorelli Consulting Group, a customer engagement consulting firm where ideas matter.


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