Digital Health and Wellness Startups: What Does It Really Mean to Sell to the Employer Market?

November 7, 2019
5 min read

Digital health and wellness startups have been entering the market at a rapid pace, particularly over the past 5 years.  Most of these innovators are introducing new products and services for consumers, healthcare providers, and health insurers, with many also considering a play for employers.

But what does it really mean to sell to the employer market?

Here are five questions a startup should ask before expanding their sales model:

Who is my customer?

Healthcare initiatives are typically the purview of the human resources department, and in particular, the benefits team. The benefits leader is your customer and the employee is their customer.  Benefits leaders come from diverse backgrounds.  There is not one prototypical benefits leader, and the individual is often a reflection of how the company manages and values its workforce.

Do I understand my customer’s organization?

Employer health solutions are an enterprise sale and will include the usual myriad of roles that go into an enterprise sales process. You may have a C-suite level introduction (ex: CFO or CHRO), who will most likely ask her functional lead (ex: VP Total Rewards) to evaluate the opportunity, who will kick it to her department lead (Benefits Director), who may ask her subject matter expert (Benefits Manager) to take point.

At some point in the process, members of finance, purchasing, procurement, IT, and legal will be pulled in. Every one of these individuals is your customer too, and every one of them needs to be bought in and supportive of what you do.

Do I know enough about my customer’s employees?

First, determine the size of the organization. A 20-person small business is completely different than a multinational employer with 100K+ employees and retirees.  You also need to know if the workforce is unionized or non-union, centralized or distributed geographically, in an urban or rural setting.  You need to find out more about the employees, like their gender/identity, age, how they are compensated, their education level, and what kind of position they have.  Are the employees accustomed to a rich benefits plan design or are they under a more consumer-driven health plan?  The list goes on and on, but the more info you can learn, the easier it will be to determine if your solution is a good fit for your customer.

What other vendors is my customer partnering with?

While some benefits leaders and their teams are able to focus on strategy and innovation, not all benefits teams operate that way.  Some are focused solely on administration. These teams, like all of us, are thinly staffed, overworked, and under top-down pressure to deliver results. Often times, the day-to-day tasks can get in the way of strategic planning. As a result, key vendors become partners and some (or perhaps all) capabilities are outsourced.

You may think your product is the most revolutionary and game changing solution for an employee’s health, but often, it needs to fit into an existing benefits architecture. It can’t be understated that benefits brokers and consultants are huge influencers in the decision-making process.

Do I understand my customer’s objectives?

There are two key objectives that benefits leaders strive for – managing trend and attracting/retaining talent.

Benefits leaders need to manage direct healthcare spend (medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, etc.) as well as associated administrative spend (consultants, actuaries, analytics).  They need to ensure positive member (employee, dependent, retiree) satisfaction with these programs and their relationships with the corporation. They are responsible for managing trend and eliminating waste.

The second objective is focused on recruiting, retention, employee productivity, and absenteeism. The perfect employer health solution demonstrates that it can help the company save money as well as increase employee satisfaction.

It makes sense that startups in digital health and wellness want their innovations deployed to the masses through the relationships that employers have with their employees and their dependents.  Many startups have employer-focused efforts today, in addition to a DTC channel.  

Before targeting the employer market, you need to carefully determine the pros and cons while learning more about what employers and benefits leaders are looking for in new programs and solutions.  Next Level Benefits can serve as your advisor, providing you with the insight you need.  We have worked with several digital health startups, from NYC to the SF Bay area.  CONTACT US to schedule a complimentary exploratory call to discuss how our expert HR consultants can help you.

Lauren Winans is the Owner and Principal Consultant of Next Level Benefits LLC, an independent benefits advisor and consultant firm. As an employee benefits expert and human resources professional for over 15 years, she has worked for several global, geographically dispersed corporations. In addition to supporting in-house HR teams with strategy planning and execution, Lauren and Next Level Benefits LLC also provide insight and guidance to digital health and wellness startups looking to enter the employer market.


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