The Pursuit of the Elusive Digital Health Sales Leader – Are You Up for the Chase?

Posted by Emily Leinbach on February 12th, 2019


Originally published on LinkedIn by Josh Gottlieb (Managing Director, Digital Health) and co-authored with Sean Walker (Partner) at The Bowdoin Group.

Sales leaders are in high demand across all industries, but because of the specialized knowledge required in Digital Health, the right candidates are not always readily available.  Not only is the healthcare ecosystem’s rapid transformation driving some of these challenges, but the competition is fierce as the Digital Health industry hits record growth rates.

We specialize in executive searches for Digital Health and have placed multiple sales leaders recently.  The reality is that you have to be very disciplined about creating a compelling story for your company and focus on finding the best sales leadership fit.  Here’s the truth from the trenches:

It is unlikely that you will find someone who has expertise selling into all of healthcare’s various stakeholders.

In a previous article, we explored the convoluted (and dynamic) landscape of stakeholders in healthcare that sales people must address.  Stakeholders (payers, employers, providers, pharma, and more) are crossing into each other’s domains, working together to deliver a better, more integrated, value-based service.  

What does this mean for sales leaders?  Previously, expertise selling into one or two of these stakeholder groups would be enough.  Today, it’s become far more important to understand how the broader healthcare ecosystem is connected than to have expertise in all of the areas—great leaders can flex in specific areas they don’t know as well. The right person is a fast study.

Selling products versus services is different in practice. Can one person sell both?

The healthcare landscape has changed so much that many technologies have service elements and vice versa.  Take, for example, our client, Cricket Health, a company that combines traditional medical practices with technology-enabled education and telemedicine into a seamless experience for kidney patients.  Their sales leader needs to understand how to sell both products and services because their solution is a combination of both. This overlap is happening more often in Digital Health as the market shifts, so many firms are opting for expertise in one area and filling in any gaps with strategic hires (e.g. digital marketers to support sales efforts, high level and sophisticated salespeople, versatile product people or advisors who can support the go-to-market strategy for services companies).  In some cases, it takes a village.

Digital Health sales leaders are a hot ticket—you may need to rethink hard and fast job parameters.

Digital Health is booming and companies are fighting for the best talent, sales leaders notwithstanding.  Just like real estate—it’s a buyer’s market. Many are asking for more autonomy, higher base salaries or commission percentages, more performance-based equity, and greater flexibility, like the ability to work remotely.  With the power in their hands, be prepared to make some trade-offs to find the right person. You’ll also find that sales leaders may have multiple offers, so get ready to act quickly. You’ll be happy you did.

Don’t discount the up-and-comer.

Many companies know they need someone to lead sales, but aren’t sure exactly what type of leader that is—a VP of Sales, CRO, CGO, or someone else, for example (what’s the difference? find out here).  Companies typically want someone who has built strong teams before or who excels in a high growth environment.  With competition as fierce as it is, that’s not always feasible. Depending on clients’ needs, we like to present several candidates and we usually throw in an up-and-comer—someone who has the ability to build a team or go to market with a new product or service, for example, but may not have extensive experience under their belt.  We’ve become adept at finding hidden top performers who have shown their ability to trailblaze in other ways.

Pro tip: Make sure you’re actually prepared to hire a sales leader.

We want to leave you with this because it’s where many companies go off the rails in their searches.  You need to have a solid understanding of the target sales goals and company goals and how they translate to this person’s role.  Even if you have a great solution and a powerful story, if a sales leader doesn’t see a clear path in terms of your company’s go-to-market strategy, their compensation, and the probability that they can actually achieve that, they won’t make the leap.  

Working with a partner who specializes in hiring sales leaders in Digital Health makes the process that much easier.  We help you prep—exploring your goals and pushing before we search. This will ensure that you get the best candidate response in the marketplace.  

How are you handling the sales leadership conundrum?  

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