Mastering the Art of Relevant Field Intelligence

By: Susan Boydell | sboydell@barlowmccarthy.com

“Create relevance, not awareness.” – Steve Jobs

As physician relations experts, one of the greatest gifts we can bring to our organization is relevant field intelligence.  I often think about this way, in health care differentiating your products and services is not easy and what you learn in the field can often be the game changer for separating your health system from the competition. We are the eyes and ears visiting practices, talking to physicians and office staff everyday.  We often hear things first, which means we have a responsibility to manage what we hear and how we report it.  We aren’t just reporting facts, we are reporting essentials that can make a difference to well-being of your organization. That’s where the “gift” comes in.

For simplicity sake let’s put field intelligence into two categories:

  1. Market Intelligence: This includes competitor and product/services understanding as well as overall market and customer knowledge.  This is often the most important type of field intelligence for your hospital or health system.  It allows you to alert your leaders to early warning signs of both threats and opportunities.  It must be specific and timely. If it can’t be quantified yet or if it’s in the rumor stage, then…
  2. Just good scoop. This is the true heads up on emerging information, but it has a caveat that requires additional investigation.  Sometimes you own it as a field rep and other times you can enlist the help of others to determine its merit.  Most importantly, we don’t report this as a fact.

Whether it’s solid market intelligence or straight scoop we are still obligated to do our due diligence when we hear it. That means asking probing questions to better understand the details.  Asking others to determine its validity.  Even going back to your original source to either clarify or further understand based on new information acquired.  This is when you have to do a little bit of investigative reporting.

So, what do you do with the intelligence once you’ve gathered?  Here are a few ideas to help you know what to report, who to report to and in what format.

  • Determine who your audience is and what’s important to them. Senior leaders will want to know strategic market/competitor intelligence.  They will not be interested in all the details, just the relevant facts.  Don’t report something they already know, but look to share pertinent information that helps your internal leaders determine what actions, if any, need to be taken.
  • Consider keeping your intelligence in the two categories described above. Often times with “scoop” or rumors we want to understand from our leaders if it warrants further investigation.  Sometimes it might mean keeping your ears open to further intelligence or require a more proactive approach to better understand its significance.
  • Know when to put it in a report and when it requires immediate communication. This is often dependent on your leader, but a hard and fast rule to always keep in mind is whether it can have an immediate effect on the organization’s volume, reputation or patient safety.  If it can, it should be communicated immediately.  Consider creating a “field intelligence” communication process map that outlines who, what and when certain intelligence gets communicated.

Your greatest opportunity is truly in your ability to uncover relevant field intelligence.  This requires that we are constantly listening for the clues.  Sometimes this requires a proactive approach.  If you have a hunch in your pre-call plan that something is brewing, how you will tease out or quantify whether or not your hunch is correct.  Remember, you are tasked with being the eyes and ears in the field.  Now it’s up to you to make sure it’s relevant.