David Line | April 07th, 2021

It’s universally acknowledged that in account-based marketing (ABM), no two approaches will be the same. That makes it hard work. But the return on the investment needed is worthwhile, as many surveys attest. This is doubly true in healthcare, where the needs, procurement processes and regulations of healthcare providers (HCPs) vary so widely, as do healthcare professionals’ communication preferences.

McKinsey did some research on the latter recently, factoring in the deluge of content and communications in the COVID-19 era. What’s striking is that there are very few unambiguous findings: 16% of healthcare professionals in Europe wanted more emails from pharma companies, for instance, which sounds low until you see that only 18% didn’t want them. Some 30% wanted to hear from pharma reps about the impact of COVID-19 on their speciality, while 24% weren’t interested. 28% wanted to hear more from pharma companies about remote working; 27% didn’t. Setting up a generic campaign based on such paltry insights is bound to produce mixed results.

This reinforces the point that for healthcare, as for any complex industry with a time-poor, discriminating audience that is drowning in content, there’s no shortcut in the research stages of devising an ABM programme. It takes time and effort to accrue. And when it is rolled out, it needs to be personalised to the right degree and tailor-made to yield even more account-specific insights.

As in any sector, ABM in healthcare requires a co-ordinated internal effort before launch:

  1. Get buy-in across the business
    While the marketing team should never “go it alone” in any campaign, targeting key HCP accounts needs an extra special team drive, with sponsors at the highest levels co-ordinating functional stakeholders into client-centric teams (and deciding on KPIs).

  2. Carefully identify your targets
    Building from the co-ordinated approach, with direction from the sales reps and relationship managers, you should identify key accounts liable to benefit from ABM only with careful deliberation. They could be brand new; more often, they will be existing clients that are deemed most likely to increase their spending with you, given the right prodding.

  3. Research, research, research
    The next, intensive, phase should be to build a holistic understanding of the targets: their history and buyer journeys with you; their current and future needs; their status within their markets; and the issues liable to confront them soon. Relationship mapping will be crucial, even down to the individual stakeholders or procurement bodies with the most decision-making authority.

    Reps will obviously be a crucial source of this information: the McKinsey research found that HCPs had become more willing to accept reps’ visits as the pandemic evolved last year (though this varied by country) – a trend which presumably has accelerated as more and more vaccines have passed trials, and the need for information on each prospect has mushroomed.

  4. Distil findings into content
    The success of ABM depends to a great degree on distilling the research findings into content you know is going to appeal to the small audience you’re targeting. Rather than just pitching a treatment, for instance, it might be better to start by addressing some of the specific issues facing each decision-maker - from telemedicine to regulations to battling administrative costs, to name just a few hot topics. And, of course, it pays to determine the type of content as well as which channels are likely to appeal.

  5. Measure and adjust
    ABM campaigns must be conceived as long-term, during which tactics are subject to change based on assessment of results on an ongoing basis, and depending on the data tools you have at your disposal and the KPIs identified at the start. Think yearly, rather than quarterly. Even if part of the aim is to speed up the sales cycle, a fire-and-forget initiative is unlikely to stick, even if it works once. Once you commit to ABM, you’re in it for the long-haul.

Ultimately, ABM is about cultivating long-term relationships. Over time, the effort this takes will pay off: Salesforce did some research among healthcare marketing professionals recently that found 70% thought connected customer journeys had a positive impact on client loyalty and their willingness to recommend products to others.

That means, in effect, that if you get it right ABM will end up paying for itself.

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