Relationship building key for Irish medtech suppliers breaking into the US

While Ireland’s reputation for health innovation is admired across the world, breaking into new markets is rarely easy. The US hospital supply chain is one of the most potentially lucrative for Irish companies but also one of the most difficult for outsiders to penetrate.

Earlier this year, Enterprise Ireland’s life sciences team hosted Navigating the US Hospital Supply Chain, aiming to help Irish exporters to become more familiar with the intricacies of the sector and increase their chances of securing wins.

One of the day’s most persistent themes was the need within the US hospital supply chain for suppliers that adopt a collaborative approach.

David Walsh, Director of Supply Chain Administration at Boston’s Children Hospital, was a key speaker at the event. In his presentation and the panel discussion that followed, he returned repeatedly to the subject of open collaboration.

“We’re a team. We all work together. We want to work with you if there’s a benefit on both sides,” he told an audience of medtech professionals. “We can learn from you and you can learn from us.”

Relationship-building a key competitive advantage for Irish medtech suppliers

The reputation Irish suppliers have developed for relationship-building is a key competitive advantage that serves this need well. Meditec Medical has applied the approach over the course of its relationship with Boston Children’s Hospital, thanks to an introduction facilitated by Enterprise Ireland.

Alan Sullivan, Managing Director of Meditec, advised exporters, “Before going into the US market, you need to be ready.

“We got our product tested on the east coast of America for compliance with fire regulation. Because we were already looking for our FDA approval, we had these wheels in motion.”

Building successful business relationships requires consistent contact. While technology can bridge geographic gaps in day-to-day communications, a lasting partnership requires frequent presence in the US, including availability for stakeholder meetings. Working with a supplier located on a different continent may be considered less favourably than local options, so perceptions of risk must be mitigated in the eyes of the buyer.

Walsh advised on the importance of presenting your ability to deal with the inevitable issues experienced during trials and roll-outs, remotely. Exporters should be prepared to answer the question: “It’s a good quality product, but what if we have problems?”

Irish medtech businesses can’t afford to ignore the open invitation to dialogue when entering the US market but it can be intimidating for those who are new to it.

Unlike the relatively centralised system familiar in Ireland, purchasing decisions in the US are made either by large hospitals and networks, or by group purchasing organisations (GPOs) comprised of several smaller hospitals and health centres that pool resources in order to gain more clout in the market.

Charlie Miceli, VP Network Chief Supply Chain Officer at the University of Vermont Health Network, explained, “Getting in at group level can reap huge rewards. There are six hospitals in the University of Vermont Health Network.”

From an outsider’s perspective, it can also make for a confusing landscape, however, with the question of where to go, and who to speak to at the first point of contact, challenging for new entrants.

In what can already be a long sales cycle, getting in with the right person at the right stage is crucial. The best way to avoid spending time on what supply chain calls the ‘circular wheel’ is to ask the question of how to engage.

“Try to understand what the roles are,” said Dave. “Ask the question and we’ll help you to find right person to talk to at the right stage.”

Enterprise Ireland can also help with the process. In the Boston office, we have successfully connected a number of Irish medtech suppliers with key stakeholders in the US hospital supply chain. We encourage the companies we support to reach out and see how we can assist with their approach.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.

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