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How to Pitch to Healthcare Systems—As Told by Health Innovators

Pitching isn’t easy. Finding someone to pitch to isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. After all, one must navigate a large system—using the right connections—before even reaching potential customers face to face.

In the field of medicine, this can be particularly tough. That’s why three representatives from 1776 partner MedStar Health invited startups to a roundtable discussion about pitching to large healthcare delivery systems.

Director of Presence at the MedStar Institute for Innovation Ed Tori kicked off the discussion by differentiating between users and buyers in the health system.

“Remember, the user is not necessarily the buyer,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, and frontline staff are busy people. In order to serve them, your product must fit into and improve their workflow.”

After all, stakeholders’ wants, needs, and values can vary dramatically. While particular elements of a pitch may remain constant with every presentation, certain points should be tailored in order to connect with the individuals to whom you are pitching, Pete Celano, director of consumer health initiatives, and Paul Plsek, innovator-in-residence, both said.

That means entrepreneurs should do their homework before talking to potential buyers.

“We once experienced someone who approached us with a bundle—something like seven services were packed into one product,” Tori said. “If you’ve done your homework, you know which systems are already in place. It may be that your potential buyer only needs one or two components of your bundle.”

It is important to get to know your potential customer. “Interview” them and understand what their particular needs and wants are. Then, describe how your product can help reduce the friction and meet those particular needs and wants.

Celano described one company whose pitch was succinct. It packed a punch because it was clear that the company understood the potential clients’ needs and how best to serve them.

“This particular person provided dirt-simple metrics to show us that, across the board and even at other companies, this solution was applicable, sensible and economical.”

Celano went on to discuss how crucial it was that the core message be captured in five words or less.

“Someone presenting an item should not over explain. If you truly believe in the service you’re going to provide, be confident, be precise, and don’t feel the need to fill any silence,” he said. “There will be a silence after you finish your statement and it will make you uncomfortable. Don’t fill it.”

Plsek emphasized the difference between staying true to one’s own product and altering certain points of a pitch in order to better connect with a given audience.

medstar roundtable 2“Prepare to be stopped and work outside of your planned pitch. Know that your solution is still strong, but understand the specific interests of stakeholders,” he said. “Analyze which aspects of your widely applicable product pertain to the people before you, and draw attention to those particular assets.”

“In other words, knowing your users is key,” Plsek says. “For example, can physicians feel confident and professional using the technology in front of a patient? Will support staff view the product as making their work easier?”

The roundtable session also offered entrepreneurs the chance to ask questions. Here are a few:

Q: What if there’s a great idea, but no one to work with? What’s the best way to find a potential customer?

A: Many health systems provide the names and bios of key leaders. LinkedIn searches may be helpful, but any way to find the person who knows a person who knows a person will work. Meet that first connection, get to know them, familiarize yourself with their needs, and propose your solution.

Be personal and respect their time.  Writing “Dear Colleague/Doctor” gets any message tossed in the shredder. Use that initial contact as an opportunity to listen and learn more about workflows and needs as that will help you identify other potential stakeholders.

Q: What specific precautions should be taken when altering a pitch?

A: It comes down to who is receiving the pitch. Imagine speaking to a doctor…using the phrase “improve outcomes” might actually be insulting. At the same time, “increase revenue” might lead the doctor to say, “That’s not my problem, that’s the executive’s problem.” Find their values and speak their language about their concerns.

Also, don’t overstate your relationship with other healthcare organizations. Talking to a nurse at a hospital is not the same as talking to the institution. Potential customers will ask and it will result in lost credibility. Use that nurse at Johns Hopkins to find the big names at Johns Hopkins.

Q: How does MedStar Health hear about startups with potential?

A: Sometimes internal MedStar Health leaders will reach out to us at the MedStar Institute for Innovation expressing a need. We will then go out to find a company that fits that specific need.  Many times, that first contact comes from word of mouth.

Tori added, “This really highlights one of the major benefits of a place like 1776.”

Q: How does a small, relatively unknown company stand out in a field that relies so heavily on certainty surrounding a product?

A: One way is to pay close attention to new regulations because few have  pre-existing experience in that space. Know what’s to come. It’s all about anticipation.

Another way to stand out is with compelling metrics that your product is better. Celano gave an example using the 10X Advantage. “If you can prove to me that your product can provide a 10X deficit from a trusted brand, you’ll have some serious attention.”

Also, don’t use the words “pilot” or “trial.” These words suggest that the solution has not yet been completed, and no company wants an unfinished product. Use the terms “limited release” and “demonstration”—and don’t do those for free.

Q: What small issues usually halt a capable solution from going forward?

A: Predict and remove objections early, otherwise they won’t hear anything else you are saying. Use language carefully so as not to create new objections. Provide value in a way that is  “short and to the point.” Avoid the nightmare scenario of digging an inescapable hole.

It’s important that the entire product is functioning. Saying that you’ll be able to integrate with the EMR is not the same as integrating with the EMR. That one flaw is enough to shoot an entire product down.