Bucking the Trend

ob·so·lete \?äb-s?-‘let, ‘äb-s?-?\ –  a: no longer in use or no longer useful <an obsolete word>  b: of a kind or style no longer current : old-fashioned <an obsolete technology>

I’ve mentioned previously that I sat in on Clayton Christensen’s presentation at WHCC, and that his book The Innovator’s Prescription is a must-read for those of us in health care. (Actually, it’s for anyone curious about the future of business…Many of his examples and case studies come from the computer/high-tech world and particularly resonate because I lived them before making the transition to health care.) In fact, it was his talk earlier this month got me thinking about the inevitable parallels between health care trends and those selling to health care companies need to face.

To summarize one of Christensen’s major themes, as medicine and healthcare innovate the skills associated with those innovations move along a continuum from being highly experimental, complex, and unique(which he calls Intuitive Medicine) to being still difficult but predictable and more widely performed without undue risk (tagged Empirical Medicine)before finally being commoditized, broadly and cheaply and easily performed by essentially any physician(referred to as Precision Medicine).

Perhaps his best and most memorable example is that of cardiac stents, which initially required very highly trained cardiologists operating out of only the most prestigious and capable hospitals before the procedure and outcomes become predictable and commonplace enough that it can be performed anywhere by essentially any health facility.

Basically, as a procedure, skill, or service moves from left to right, it becomes commoditized, cheaper and able to be performed by more physicians. He goes so far with his stents example to suggest that the procedure has evolved to the point that ought not to be done by physicians but rather by adept video gamers, whose hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity and reflexes make them better suited to ‘operating’ the high-tech equipment used to perform the procedure.

The same is true for those of us in sales. The relative complexity, uniqueness and difficulty of the product or service that we’re selling defines us and dictates many of our circumstances, including sales cycle duration, depth of customer relationships, compensation and even arguably job satisfaction. The more to the left of the continuum you are, the more unique and valuable your skills, and along with it your compensation and job security.

All that is good news, of course. But, it also means you need to work harder to develop and hone the capabilities needed to maintain that expert status, or work to get them if you’re stuck on the right.  It also requires that you stay cognizant of the inevitable shift rightward towards commodity selling that many solutions evolve. Early stage technologies and big ticket solutions probably demand expert salespeople, but it’s pointless and stupid to disregard the inexorable creep towards obsolescence. By that I mean your obsolescence.

So, what are you doing about it? What are you reading, trying out, adding to your skill set? It’s comforting to know that healthcare has a tendency towards complexity, but that doesn’t mean you can just keep doing what you’re doing. Because while you may like buying commodities, no one wants to be one.