Go-to-market Phase I: who is going to buy and why?

In my last post, we discussed how inadequate organizational focus on go-to-market planning and preparation can lead to (literally) leaving revenue on the table. In this post, we’ll begin to explore what it looks like when go-to-market planning is done well – and what it takes to make that happen.

Commit to be great

I know that may sound cliché. But hear me out.

Companies know commercialization is important. They are usually more than happy to recruit a Sales leader and start staffing when they believe they are ready for feet to hit the street. And they accept selling expenses as a huge new line item in their budget.

But maximizing revenue performance requires a different level of planning and preparation than simply recruiting a Sales leader/team. Think about the level of commitment investors and other Board members demand to achieve market access. Why wouldn’t ensuring that the sales team is armed for success out of the gate be just as important?

Specifically, imagine how the early sales trajectory might be different if the Board and investors required the company to provide a new Sales leader with:

  • the profile of targets who are most ready-to-buy?
  • a value proposition that has been tested and proven to be effective with those buyers?
  • selling materials and training to confidently and effectively engage prospects?

The companies who achieve their commercial potential start by committing to be great. They gather information to determine who is going to buy their product and why. They develop plans and resources to facilitate an efficient sales process. And they execute with discipline and metrics.

Let’s dive deeper into the first of these pillars for successful commercialization, building an information foundation.

Who is going to buy and why?

Simple question. Would you ever design a product without user input? Of course not!

Then why would it make sense to design a communications plan and a sales process without input from the buyer decision makers?

Initial high-volume users generally come from the early adopter segment. These are frequently community-based providers who are willing to take risks with less proven or refined products because they have a vision. The early adopter profile is typically different than that of the academic advisers (i.e., KOLs) who have guided the company through early-stage product and clinical development. Consequently, it is logical to seek the input of early adopters directly through market research.

The goals of research at this stage include answering these questions.

  • What is the value proposition through the eyes of the buyer decision-makers?
  • How do we best position the product with these early adopters?
  • Who are the ideal patients and situations for the product?

The process typically begins with interviews with a limited number of providers. Important areas to explore include:

  • What are their goals for management of the problem?
  • What are their current approaches to the problem?
  • What are the unmet needs of their current approaches?
  • What is the impact of these unmet needs?
  • How and why do they believe the company’s product might be better than alternatives?
  • In what situations do they think the company’s product would be better?
  • What impact (e.g., clinical, strategic, financial) might they achieve if the product worked as expected?
  • What questions or concerns would they need addressed before trying/purchasing the product?
  • What would be compelling proof points to address those concerns?
  • More generally, how do they talk about this subject? What language and words do they use? What are the emotional hot spots?

Interviews provide invaluable insight into the issues and concerns of buyers / users. And they can provide directional answers to questions such as “how many of these types of patients do you see” or “how often would you choose this procedure for these types of patients.” But in many cases, companies want to build sales plans and forecasts with a higher level of precision and confidence. And that requires market data.

“If we only knew…”

Consider the problem of sales force sizing. If we could accurately determine how many physicians or hospitals might become users and how many patients they might treat, we could make a much more informed decision regarding how many reps we should hire. Additionally, we would be in a better position to forecast revenue and determine quotas.

Frequently, these estimates are made by whoever is creating the spreadsheet, or by uninformed guesses from executives. Sometimes companies benchmark to “similar” firms to assist with this process. But finding a firm that is a true match to your company and market situation can be very challenging. Additionally, the “squishiness” of this “best guess” approach can lead to internal battles and indecision.

A better approach is to source or gather objective market data to better inform this decision. These answers can sometimes be found in clinical papers or purchased in market reports for a few thousand dollars. Additionally, for a price that is usually beyond the means of many pre-commercial companies, secondary data can be sourced from well-established healthcare data vendors.

In many instances, however, companies need to perform a quantitative survey with buyer decision makers. The value of a survey is threefold.

  • Like a clinical study, a survey can provide a higher level of confidence (i.e., “statistically significant”). And the information gathered can increase the precision and alignment around commercial launch decisions and forecasting.
  • A survey can answer questions specific to the company’s product. For example, “How many ideal candidates for the company’s product does a physician see in a month?”
  • The survey may provide powerful “sound bites” that can be used in the sales process. For example, “Doctor, you are not alone. Did you know that 74% of your colleagues are also seeking a better way to perform this procedure?”

Odds and ends

It’s worth noting that we have not discussed a health economics / reimbursement assessment for providers and payers. The reason is that no product should even get to this stage of commercial launch preparation without a firm understanding of the health economics impact. So the assumption here is that we would already understand financial implications, and be ready to bake them into our launch preparation.

Similarly, clinical data is generally gathered as part of the market access process. Clinical study results are therefore integrated into the launch strategy as they become available.

Finally, depending on the product and situation, additional information may be needed. For example, for a product in which a patient plays an important role in procedure selection, market research with patients may be required as well.

In summary

The principles to enjoy great success in commercialization are no different than achieving any other audacious goal. The first principle is a commitment to be great. And that means applying the same intensity, focus, planning and know-how to commercial launch prep as to any other mission critical initiative.

Phase I of the commercial launch process is to build a data-driven information foundation. By knowing who is most ready to buy and what is compelling to them, the Sales team can focus on the right target with the right message from the get-go.

In our next post, we’ll start to explore Phase II of go-to-market preparation – developing plans and resources.