The Complexity of Selling to Payers – Another Perspective

Like it or not – I’ve spent my entire career in the healthcare technology space. For years, I actually tried really hard to find a way out, leave the industry only to finally realize that my network, executive level contacts and my domain knowledge was clearly wedded to healthcare technology and not that leveragable.

Guess what? After nearly 30 years…I’m still here.

I digress.

Over the years I’ve sold solutions to integrated delivery networks, hospitals, providers, managed care organizations and yes – to payers. In my opinion the sales process when selling solutions to payers is by far the most complex. A few years back, I attended the “Solution Selling” – workshop – a course designed by Michael Bosworth. It was the most valuable sales related course I have ever taken and really prepared me to handle the sales process inside the walls of payers and health plans.

In the payer space I found multiple silo business units that were somehow all inter-related yet working independently without much day-to-day communication. I’ve actually attended meetings where key senior managers and executives met for the first time face to face. They were forced to come together to evaluate our solution and met for the first time in the meeting. Wow! Now that’s adding value to an organization!!!

The skill it takes to understand the organizational structure of working and selling solutions to payers is quite complex. When compared to the sales process of selling financial or clinical solutions to hospitals – I always knew where to start.

Same with providers… There was always the influencer, the user, the economic driver and the ultimate decision maker – the physician.

Not so with the payer targets I worked with. It takes a knowledgeable sales person who is very strategic, understands complex organizational structures (and they are not all the same – trust me) and has the innate ability to have multiple interactions with a number of key executives to find the right place to start selling their wares… Once that sponsor is located, the sales process (maze) begins…. Then it’s time to see who’s on first. And the wheels on the bus go round and round – you get to start all over again. Gotta love that!

Selling to payers is quite complex and relationship oriented. This is not a market for sales people who think in transactional terms. Payers will spot you a mile away.

The payer space while complex and fraught with pitfalls in the sales process can also be very rewarding for sales professionals that “get it”. Most are clueless and prefer a faster more transactional sale. Unfortunately, the number of people that truly “get it” is limited.

I’m just saying…


Tim Tolan is the Senior Partner of the Healthcare IT and Services Practice of Sanford Rose Associates.  His firm has a primary focus on placing executive talent in the healthcare services, healthcare IT, insurance, and revenue cycle industries. Tim is a regular contributing writer for Healthcare InformaticsFistful of TalentHealthcareITToday and is co-author of The CEO’s Guide to Talent Acquisition – Finding Talent Your Competitors Overlook.