Dealing with international medical rescues often from war-torn locations can be a challenge few sales professionals would expect to have to handle.
But that’s the possible outcome for some sales people working for the global medical experts International SOS. This agency specialises in offering multi-nationals, with staff operating in far-flung and sometimes hazardous locations, top-class medical care and recovery in the event of serious health issues faced by their employees.
Yet, in line with every industry, there remains a very clear sales process to deliver so SI spoke to Philippe Arnaud, group director global sales and marketing for International SOS to find out more.
“We began in 1985 founded by two French men living in Indonesia and Singapore and they built the foundations for what is now the world’s leading medical and security assistance and services company.
“We have now more than 10,000 employees. Our business is aimed on the B2B level at multinationals and governments in order to help them in their duty of care for their staff in both fields of medical and security.”
Both government agencies and multinationals draw on the organisation’s expertise in getting quality medical care to valued members of staff.
Arnaud said: “For example, military staff that are not in the theatres of war but need to be referred to a doctor or a hospital for medical care. This service can extend to emergency medical evacuation, it can also help our clients to develop public health and community health projects particularly in emerging markets.
“When you have a member of staff travelling the world and ends up in a remote part of China, they have a medical issue and need to access 24/7 to a nurse or a doctor to assess the problem. You tend to have three cases: firstly, the problem is not a big one and he gets reassured and advice and the same applies with our security services.
“Secondly, it may be a problem that needs attention and the person is referred to a good hospital or good specialist doctor. We have dedicated teams who specialise in checking the credentials of good hospitals and medical staff so there is a high probability that we know someone in that area who can handle the problem.
“And, lastly, in a medical emergency the person will be evacuated to the best location for treatment.”
He said the company has clear business goals that avoid competition in areas it views as non-core.
“Our core business is as a medical company working with insurance but we are complementary to this and not competing in the insurance areas,” explained Arnaud. “The second part of the medical business is for companies in the
oil, gas and mining industries where they are telling us, ‘it’s nice that if we have a heart attack on site to bring a jet to pick us up but it’s better if you have paramedics on site to treat the patient before evacuation, especially in very remote areas’.
“Hence, we’ve developed a business of outsourcing medical care on site in remote areas. We have more than 500 medical facilities or clinics throughout the world and have developed project management where we can mobilise in very complex areas in emerging markets with readymade medical solutions. It’s a niche market.”
Of course, in line with modern medical thinking, the company is as keen on preventative measures as reacting to emergency situations. Arnaud explained: “We have many products and services in the preventative medicine area. It’s better to have a medical report on someone in Houston heading out to Nigeria than to wait until that person gets a problem out there.
“We can say he may be overweight, which might be fine in an office in Houston but not on an offshore rig, for example. We do medical training prior to deployment and a lot of medical solutions on how to prevent issues arising and, therefore, protecting the employee and his company as well and reducing costs.
With a large representation of multinational companies having offices in the UK, International SOS boasts that 70% of the Fortune 500 do business with the company.
Arnaud said the need for cultural knowledge among its clients’ sales operations is the main driver for many organisations.
He said: “From a sales organisation’s point of view, we’re quite advanced in the Tier One companies with the complexity of emerging markets and matching a Western style culture and mind-set to these emerging markets. For example, it’s nice to have a corporate house policy for a specialist working in the UK but does it apply to a Chinese environment where there is different regulation? Whereas, in China it may be compulsory to have an annual medical check-up for every employee, they can close a factory if this is not complied with.
“Here, the law is different and the company’s policies are often based on those home laws. We bring that knowledge to our clients.
“On security, we have a strategic alliance with the Control Risks group over travel security. We know how to do evacuation for medical reasons so this can be applied to evacuations for security reasons.”
Arnaud said that while many organisations see sales and marketing processes with clear differentiators he has been working to get the two merged together to boost sales efficiency.
Arnaud admitted that International SOS cannot function and fulfil its roles purely on a business level, it needs to engage with the emotions of the clients in what can often be very stressful situations.
He said: “This is the emotional component of what we are doing. We are here to support and save lives so the passion we have within our company is extremely strong and can operate very quickly when required.
“The strategy was established three years ago although the company has always worked with an integrated approach but we had not architecturally put in the structure. It was in concept three years but arrives 18 months ago.
“We needed to ensure the simple things were covered, that our proposal and marketing materials were consistent because we are a highly integrated global organisation and I am not a support function but a business function – it’s very top-down, a little bit like the army!
“I am working directly with our CEO and reviewing the structure all the time so it is a business management function and I’m in charge of the gross agenda.
“The point is that the right hand I need is the marketing department that reports to me the global agenda. One of these agendas is about moving people from China to South Africa where I have special financial plans, gross initiatives, cross-border negotiations where we can talk. For each of these areas I need a marketing component.
“For example in cross-border, with prices there can be a differential for the same exercise. More importantly is the style.”
Arnaud said it was important for him to get the marketing more front-and-centre in the organisation to drive forward sales efficiencies.
He explained: “Marketing was a bit to one side of the business – we’re not a B2C company where marketing is king. In our organisation it’s first the medical, then the sales then, oops, where’s marketing? My brief was to really put marketing in the forefront of the agenda and at the same level as the others.
He said: “We have joined them up because we work as a B2B service company in emerging markets with a very highly complex environment. When you talk about the health agenda you have to look very hard at the level of the companies you are dealing with. So, if you have an oil and gas company with very strict HSC [Health and Safety Commission] policies and the bonuses of the senior management have a component linked to the HSC KPIs [key performance indicators], what we call the loss time injuries (LTIs) for example, they measure how well they perform in terms of how many incidents, injuries, or LTIs on site that are driven by occupational hazards.
“So the health aspect is very strong and, when this is the case, it means that the business development is led by sales first because it’s a one-on-one relationship.
“Marketing in this is more strategic and influencing than hands-on but aimed at doing everything to support the sales person to have the right level of conversation and engagement with the client at a relatively high level. Therefore, the marketing material is, actually, very essential in this.”
He said the medical market is led by experts so his company has to field its own experts to ensure sales prospecting has a chance of success.
Arnaud explained: “Another complexity is that a lot of the decision making is done by the companies’ medical directors and we, as a company of doctors, put a doctor in front of their doctors. Similarly, we do the same with security experts.
“So the conversation not only has to be quite sophisticated but it has to be at the forefront of our medical and security practice.
“This means that having marketing working as a team with sales under one roof makes for a good objective.
“Another complexity is that we operate in emerging markets with far more challenging relationships in terms of how you can manage things than in developed markets where it has a better defined architecture. So we need to be one really strong team on the ground to deal with situations.”
“We are at the start of a journey. At a global level we now have a consistent branding, we’ve established this top-down relationship within the company where in the past marketing was doing bit of this a bit of that but now we’ve reversed the logic.
“We have launched a competition-watch to look at competitor intelligence in pricing, product development and mergers and acquisitions.
“The next thing was the productisation, which is the standardisation of product offering to make it global and here marketing is essential.”
Yet within this drive, Arnaud had to overhaul the company’s sales model, ensuring that the message of the added value International SOS could provide was articulated.
He said: “We have a team who will go on site to advise potential clients on how they can maximise the health care of their workers in that area. In the past the service was very flat and reactive. For example, the doctor would write a report in his own individual style some three pages, some three hundred, some sent in three weeks, some sent in three months or whenever they had the time with pricing all over the shop.
“Now, with standardisation, this is the report you must fill in, this is the KPI for the service agreement to the client, this is the standard proposal to the client, worldwide. After that process was put in place sales have more than tripled!
“This has helped with the cross-border nature of the business, too. It is not a client in an emerging country saying ‘Oh my God, I’m going to have a factory here’ and then having to ask around the local people. They can now tell us where they are going, before they get there, and get a clear proposal and get it closed in advance.
“In this way the numbers have sky-rocketed and we have done this with most of our products.
“For the sales team, it’s easier, faster and the quality of the delivery is better because of the standardised KPIs.
Something like 95% of the reports have been filed on time within a three-week period as opposed to a never- know-when state of affairs. That was a complete turnaround.
“Of course, there is still scope for initiatives and entrepreneurship but each time we see something that can
be rolled out everywhere with standard components, such as sending doctors to inspect facilities, can be done anywhere in the world.”
Naturally, in a people dominated environment, International SOS’s own people figure large in the sales growth strategy.
Arnaud told SI: “The three pillars to our business are people, growth and innovation.
“People management takes up about three-quarters of my working life. There have been three career initiatives that we have implemented. The first one is cross-border career or talent management. What I mean by this is the ability to take a staff member and offer him a career spanning several different parts of the world. For example, we hired a person in Australia then move him to Indonesia, then Moscow, London and now he’s back in Australia. When you have done that, mixing developed and emerging markets, then you go back to a client with the credibility, best practice and the quality of the engagement experience that is astronomically higher than before.
“The growth we’ve seen in the past three years, I believe, is the hidden aspects of our people being more cosmopolitan in their careers. So I spend a lot of my time matchmaking between individuals and different countries and cultures as part of a sort of training system.
He said the company’s people can become so engaged with their clients that sales and marketing staff have been known to get hands-on when emergencies arise with clients.
“This is an organisation that people stay a long time,” Arnaud explained. “As I said before, there is a lot of passion among the people who work for this company and, even those who are not nurses or doctors, get closely involved in big evacuations and incidents.
“I remember one friend in Nigeria who personally helped to transport the people we were evacuating from an incident at the airport.
“This creates a positive mind-set with the employee that they know their career is being looked after by the company and beyond the aspects financial rewards our great retention rates are about this style of hands-on management.”
For more information about International SOS visit: www.internationalsos.com/en