Program Gets Through to Hospital Execs

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Contacting multiple influencers and specifiers in prospect and customer organizations. Consensus building and committee decision making. Consultative selling and relationship building.


All of these are selling challenges familiar to business-to-business marketers, particularly for big-ticket products or services.


If the sales targets are hospitals and the product relates to hi-tech, the problem is compounded by a rapidly changing healthcare environment of mergers, multihospital systems, strategic alliances, managed-care organizations, acquisitions, divestitures, personnel changes and differences in regional marketplaces.


This was the communications challenge that Comdisco Healthcare Group (CHG) faced. CHG offers technology services -- medical and lab-equipment leasing, sales and re-conditioning of CAT scanners, cardiac cath labs and other imaging equipment and the leasing of new and re-conditioned computers. The company also provides business-continuity (disaster-recovery) services.


The solution was a targeted key account strategy and implementation of a tactical lead-generation approach: a sales-integrated direct mail program called ComSTAR, which is designed to provide personalized communications continuity with prime contacts.


"Today, everybody's goal is to make the most of every promotion dollar," said Mary Moster, vice president of communications at Comdisco. "In designing the ComSTAR program, the Tucker-Knapp agency provided us with a cost-effective approach to integrating marketing and sales communications."


ComSTAR was positioned as the equivalent of each salesperson having his or her own "agency" to serve their individual territory needs.


All components of the ComSTAR library of mailing materials offer value-added information. The various mail packages include executive white papers, a technology-management newsletter, case studies and article reprints.


The program is a centralized, measurable mail-fulfillment service that gives sales personnel control and feedback. Sales territory managers decide when and to whom each mailing is sent. Cover letters are personalized by addressee and salesperson. A business memorandum format is used, with copy tailored to the interests of each addressee's title. The memo is written to be neutral to any concurrent personal contact situation.


Business reply cards accompany each mailing and feature a tear-off business card bearing the salesperson's name, office address, telephone number and other contact information. Members of the sales force receive monthly reports on the mailings sent to their territory and immediate feedback when prospects call them directly or mail the card to the central fulfillment service.


Sales personnel are given three options every time they complete an order form:


* Default ensures that every targeted account (each with five to seven names/titles) hears from the salesperson by mail every 30 to 60 days.


* Custom provides more control over mailing cycles so mailing frequency, timing, content and audience can be ordered on a quarterly plan.


* Individual permits special programming for shorter periods with guaranteed 48-hour implementation, e.g., blitz mailings to selected geographic locations, title designations, hot issues or specific key-account penetration strategies.


The program includes of a disk of professionally written letters for use "as is" or adapted to personal styles. These cover a variety of common sales communication needs, including appointment confirmation and thank you, introductory letter for new contacts, referral letters and meeting invitations.


The first four mailings produced an unduplicated response rate of 6 percent from hospital executives and technical department directors. Significant response continues after three years, and sales force enthusiasm, cooperation and use also continue.


Stephen R. Knapp is chairman, executive committee, Tucker-Knapp Integrated Marketing Communications, Schaumburg, IL. His e-mail is IMC@tuckerknapp.com.
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