3 Best Practices for Selling Telehealth Products or Services

Thought you might find this interesting

Nirav Desai shares three telehealth selling strategies to help you bridge that gap when you’re trying to get buy-in for a telehealth product or service.
I recently came across a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) entitled “Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers.” It discusses why people have such a hard time accepting/adopting a new product or service as compared to the one they already have in place. The adoption gap is called the “9x problem.”
If you’ve ever tried to “sell” telehealth / mHealth internally or externally, I’m sure you’ve run into a “stony buyer” or two. In this article, I’ll briefly explain the 9x gap, and share a few telehealth selling strategies to help you bridge that gap when you’re trying to get buy-in for a telehealth product or service.

The paper “Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers” is based on a study by Harvard Business School marketing professor John Gourville. In his study, Gourville found that people have a tendency to overvalue what they already have and undervalue what they might gain from replacing what they already have with the new thing.

As Gourville explains it “While developers are already sold on their products and see them as essential, consumers are reluctant to part with what they have.”

In fact consumers overvalue what they already have by a factor of 3, while the sellers overvalue what they have to offer by a factor of 3.

This makes for a perceived 9x (= 3×3) difference between what is already in hand and what is being offered.

The illustration below, taken from the original HBR article, helps to visualize the gap.

3 Best Practices for Selling Telehealth Products or Services

Source: HBR

What does this mean for the person who is trying to convince someone to support a telehealth solution (by providing funding, by adopting a solution, or by participating in the program)?

It means you have a 9x gap to make up in the mind of the resistant audience.

That is a huge perception gap to make up.

So how do you go about bridging the gap?

Here are a few strategies to employ.

Telehealth Selling Strategy #1: Accentuate positives

In a webinar for the National Telehealth Webinar Series, Scott Simmons of the University of Miami Telehealth program shared that to get buy-in for telehealth you have to show people that there are more positives than negatives.

So for example, even if they lose the comfort of a face-to-face meeting, they get the conveniences of not having to travel and of saving time.

Therefore, one critical step in “selling” telehealth is building a list of all the positive benefits (not features) of the telehealth solution.

That’s a great start, but you can still make some major blunders.

Telehealth Selling Strategy #2: Acknowledge negatives

When advocating for telehealth, people often avoid acknowledging drawbacks because:

  • They are so blinded by the positives that they forget that there are negatives
  • They recognize the drawbacks but don’t want to draw any attention to them

This is a mistake because your target audience already has these drawbacks in mind.

If you don’t acknowledge the potential drawbacks or encourage open communications about them, you either come across as someone who doesn’t see the big picture or as someone who is trying to hide something – both of which damage your credibility.

You must recognize and address objections in order to get the audience over any perceived risks of adopting telehealth. It’s a key piece in bridging the 9x gap.

Hopefully, for the situation at hand, you can identify more positives than negatives. If you cannot, the hard reality is that you may be trying to force fit telehealth into a place where it doesn’t belong.

Telehealth Selling Strategy #3: Tailor the message to your audience

At ATA 2013, Dr. Sara Pletcher of the year-old Center for Telehealth at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, New Hampshire talked about how it took a long time for her to convince other hospitals and facilities to join DHMC’s budding telehealth network.

While she had a great message about the benefits of telehealth, she found that it did not always resonate.

After much trial and error, she eventually got a number of hospital executives on board and in hindsight asked them why they had finally decided to support telehealth.

The answers varied greatly…

  • increase regional market share
  • population health
  • new revenue source
  • value/cost savings
  • access to referrals
  • a way to participate in accountable care
  • delivering on patient-centered care

Although it may seem obvious, even though all of the people she spoke with were at the executive level, not all of them had the same drivers for adopting telehealth.

Essentially, what Pletcher found was that when making the case for telehealth, you have to adjust your message to the audience.

Pletcher uses the analogy of a girl scout selling cookies. “Everyone has a favorite cookie. You can’t tell a Thin Mint guy all about the merits of a Tagalong and expect him to write something down on the order form.”

This lesson goes hand in hand with the cardinal mistake in marketing telehealth – which is talking about telehealth first.

People don’t care about your solution until you care about their problem.

So when you make the right first step in marketing telehealth by listening to your market’s problem (rather than gushing forth about your great solution), then you will have a much better understanding sense of which telehealth benefits will matter to your audience.

For example, if you learn that a hospital CEO’s primary concerns are about accountable care, then you can discuss how telehealth facilitates efficient use of limited clinical resources so that you can minimize the costs (and increase the shared savings) associated with caring for an individual patient. (For more info on telehealth and ACO’s, check out the following post)

Alternatively, if you’re trying to convince a hospital executive who is concerned with referral patterns, you can talk about the “halo effect” that telehealth brings to a hospital because referring providers see that the hospital has access (virtually) to the expertise that their patients need.

So how do you know what they care about?

The answer is simple.

Don’t talk.


Like it or not, getting someone to buy into telehealth is a sales & marketing effort.

The biggest mistake people make when trying to sell something is that they get so focused on what they want to say next that they forget to listen. Often times, their “prospect” will literally tell them exactly what they need or want. They just have to be present enough to listen and let the message sink in.

Final thoughts

Like most innovations in health care, telehealth and mHealth face numerous challenges in gaining awareness and adoption.

As advocates of telehealth products or services, you must be willing to step inside your prospect’s shoes, see the prospect of adopting telehealth from their perspective, and then show them a path forward which addresses their objections or at least explains how a telehealth-enabled future addresses their most important issues and goals.

Are you struggling to expand your telehealth footprint? Hands On Telehealth can help you design your options, prioritize them, and take effective action. Contact us at support@handsontelehealth.com

Featured image credit: CiscoANZ via cc