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The healthcare industry is often cited as a lucrative opportunity for channel partners, but developing a vertical strategy can be challenging.
Panelists at the Channel Partners Conference and Expo, held earlier this month in Las Vegas, attempted to highlight the unique characteristics of healthcare vertical markets. They discussed the highly regulated nature of healthcare environments, which must comply with regulatory frameworks, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the HITECH Act. They also described the typical IT decision-makers and how to best appeal to their priorities.
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"It's a growing market. It's not getting any smaller, and there's a lot of money coming in," said Sonya Meline, vice president of sales and marketing at Effortless Office, a cloud service provider based in Las Vegas.
A broad and multifaceted industry
Panelists emphasized not only that the healthcare industry is expanding, but branches out into many vertical markets.
"Healthcare's so broad, and so it is not just healthcare. There are offshoots of healthcare," added Clark Atwood, president of Concierge Core Services LLC, a solution provider based in Mesa, Ariz.
Clark Atwoodpresident, Concierge Core Services
Once a channel firm specializes in one area of the industry, he said, there can be "a cascade effect," where related opportunities crop up. He noted pharmacies and assisted-living practices as examples of potential offshoot customers.
Abdi Ahmed, president and CTO of NetServe Systems Inc., a consulting firm based in Laguna Hills, Calif., said the healthcare environment "is fairly large and very complex," as well as "overburdened" by regulations. He divided the industry into three tiers ranging in size: lone practitioners, medical groups and hospitals. Since the hospitals tend to be large and contract with big-name IT companies, Ahmed said the smaller organizations are better fit for the typical channel firm.
Targeting healthcare vertical customers
Clark said a company doesn't need healthcare expertise to enter the market, but must have "enough knowledge about what the value proposition is to the customer." This involves becoming conversant with the basics of healthcare compliance. "You can't enter this market -- or any market -- [unless] you do basic homework and understand who you are talking to."
The key IT decision-makers within a medical group's office can be a variety of people, the panelists said.
Meline said executives such as CFOs will often drive the decisions, which means channel firms will have to be prepared for boardroom presentations. "When you talk about HIPAA and the fines -- million-dollar fines that are coming out for violation -- [it] tends to get the attention of the executives. They want know what's going on with [their] cybersecurity," she said.
Atwood noted that the size of the organization plays an important factor in the complexity of the decision-making process. "The larger the organization, the more you are going to get to a committee-based scenario instead of an individual-based scenario," he said.
Ahmed advised channel firms to figure out "who you need to convince versus who you need to close." He said a medical group's practice manager is the individual you usually should spend time convincing and educating. Getting the practice manager on your side will lend you support once the decision makes its way to the doctor, he said.
Potential niche: Cyber liability insurance
Effortless Office's Sonya Meline cited cyber liability insurance as a potential niche for channel firms. "You have to have your ducks in a row in order to qualify for cyber liability insurance," she said. Given the complexity involved in qualifying, partners could specialize in helping customers get everything squared away while acting as a liaison between customers and cyberinsurance companies.
Developing a go-to-market strategy
Atwood and Ahmed agreed most healthcare vertical business is won through customer referrals.
"Once you build credibility with [medical professionals], they are very close-knit. They talk amongst themselves," Ahmed said. He noted that NetServe Systems has found success in presenting at medical industry events.
To get a prospect's attention, Meline said security and compliance usually strike a chord. "At the end of the day, [fear] is a huge motivator," she said. She cited that 35% of the U.S. population had their healthcare data breached in 2015.
The hardest thing is getting that initial face time with prospects. Atwood stressed that first impressions are critical. "You have got to be prepared, be professional, be on your A-game, and be able to deliver both in word and in deed in what you are doing," he said.
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