How to find high quality, high performing medical device distributors in India
With 1.35 billion people, a rapidly expanding economy, and a growing middle class, India is on the rise. Per capita Income continues to grow, albeit from a low base. Still the rising tide is not necessarily lifting all boats. While world class medical facilities are common in the cities, rural areas are decades behind in the quality and availability of medical care. India imports most of its medical devices and demand for high quality medical devices and equipment is growing quickly as more private hospitals and clinics are built. There is excellent opportunity for companies making high quality products. Are you ready to get in on the action?
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time… You’ve heard the saying before, and it certainly applies well to a country as large and diverse as India. Before you go headlong into the market, understand that India is not nearly as homogenous as many western countries. If you are entering the market for the first time, don’t expect to find 1-2 distributors that will blanket the country. You are best off picking a region and concentrating on one or two cities to start. Obvious choices include Mumbai, Dehli, Kolkata, Chennai or Bangalore.
These are the big five cities in India and all have sophisticated medical distribution networks.
Clearly outline your needs when searching for Indian medical distributors
Not all distributors are created equal in terms of what they can offer to you. As such, you need to clearly define what’s important to you before you go hunting.
Does your device require servicing?
Does your device require hands on training with surgeons?
Is your medical device used by consumers?
Do you prefer with large distributors or focused regional/specialist distributors?
These all dictate the ideal profile of distributor you will seek out in India. Also, don’t get your heart set on finding one perfect distributor who will perform miracles for you in a specific Indian state. A better strategy is to line up a few distributors in that region. Competition may spark more attention by the distributor sales team, broaden your coverage, and mitigate your risk if one turns out to be a dud. But be realistic and do your homework. If your competitors already distribute in India, understand who represents them and use this information to your advantage. On the other hand, if you are introducing hot new technology to the market, you have an advantage, assuming there is a large enough market for your technology. If your company is located in the US or Europe, you’ll have an advantage in that devices from those regions are highly respected for their quality.
Find quality Indian medical distributors online? Not likely…
You won’t get very far, at least not with the right distributors. The reality is that Google is not the best place to hunt down distributors in India. First, many of them don’t have great websites so they are not easily found. Search engines will give you additional/sub-search engines like IndiaMART and TradeIndia. These sites provide very basic information but they don’t provide good quality information let alone good quality distributors.
It’s perfectly ok to use the internet to create your initial “long list” of distributors but you are really advised to find someone who can take the next step and work with you to supplement your list. India is a relationship-driven country and having someone on the ground in this market will more than pay for itself in finding a higher quality distributor. In looking for help, you’ll want to make sure the person you hire is not a generalist, but someone with deep connections in the Indian device world. Remember, India is a global pharma manufacturing hub, so be wary of agents who primarily focus on that market.
Also, remember that distributors are always on the hunt for new products! It does not take much effort to add a page to your website dedicated exclusively to distributor recruiting. This is your opportunity to sell yourself and clearly state your ideal distributor profile along with a direct email address and name to contact.
Know thy customer
Yes, it’s true that English is the official language of business in India. But many people in the US or Europe assume that everyone speaks English given India’s recent history as a former British colony. The truth is, about 10% of the population speaks English. Business people, educated Indians and medical staff are likely to speak English fluently. However, the reason we mention this is if your product will be used by consumers, or perhaps in rural clinics, Hindi is the first language of roughly 40% of Indians. As a very diverse country, there are five additional regional languages spoken by 50+ million people each including Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, and Urdu. The point is, understand who will be using your products and where. Finding great distributors won’t do you any good if the end users cannot read your labeling or Instructions for Use.
Understand India business etiquette and make a positive impression
As we mentioned, personal relationships are very important in India so expect to spend some time getting to know distributors in India. Once you have narrowed your list to a few candidates, you’ll want to hop on a plane to meet with them. Here are some tips on those initial meetings.
India business is very hierarchical. When entering a business meeting, greet the most senior person first. Handshakes are fine.
Receive a business card with your right hand,study it, and put it away respectfully.
Small talk is expected and you may be asked questions about your family, climate back-home, climate comparison etc. It is ok for you to reciprocate.
Formality rules. Use their professional title. If meeting someone senior to you, use Mr. or Ms.
Schedule meetings well in advance and be prepared for times to shift. Meetings are likely to start late and finish late. Plan for it and be patient.
Unlike Americans who are very direct, Indians are less so. You may hear nebulous answers such as “We will see” or “I will try.” While you may desire clarity, don’t force your Indian colleague to clarify because it can damage the relationship. Be more diplomatic and circuitous in your approach.
Indians value trust and relationships are critical. Decisions are typically made at the highest levels. Understand this chain of command.
India business people often operate on a “just in time” basis and last-minute preparation/delivery is common. Be aware of this cultural difference.
Don’t skip the due diligence in evaluating distributors
Here’s a cautionary piece of advice. Some distributors may present themselves as having a large sales team and a wide distribution network throughout India. This may or may not be true. Big distributors may seem appealing, but dots on a map should not be confused with market penetration. Smaller regional and specialist distributors may work harder for you and produce better results. You really should hire someone on the ground in India to perform due diligence for you, including credit checks of your shortlist candidates. Initial enthusiasm for your products is encouraging but the last thing you want is to ink a contract only to find out a year later that it was all smoke and mirrors and your devices collect dust on shelves in a Mumbai warehouse. In all cases, try to avoid granting exclusivity.
Frequent reporting gets results and shows you are committed
As you evaluate distributors, one thing you want to find out is how often your partner is willing to have phone calls with you to get updates. Again, India has a relationship-driven business culture and the more frequently you have dialog (not just email) with your counterparts, the better your relationship (hopefully). Try to establish a monthly or quarterly call to report on results. To nobody’s surprise, partners seem to perform better when they know they will soon have to report on progress. The regular calls also allow you to find out what marketing promotions are being done and keep you pulse on the Indian medical device market. Even after you establish distributors in those markets, plan to visit a few times per year during the first few years of the relationship. Your dedication to the market will be rewarded!
Luctor Medical has expertise the ground in India. Let us help you find and evaluate high quality medical distributors in India
With more than 500 distributor search projects completed so far, we know exactly how to locate and screen medical device and IVD distributors in India. Our native experts in Hyderabad have deep connections in the industry and operate with the highest integrity. Contact us today to talk more about how we operate and how we can help you enter the Indian market for the first time, or replace an underperforming distributor.
About the author:
Dr. Raman Rao PV is a Senior Consultant for Luctor Medical in India. Based in Hyderabad since 2009, Rao has been part of the Luctor team for nearly a decade. He brings more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare and medical devices industry and is fluent in English. Having lived and worked in the India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, he offers a truly well-rounded international business perspective to his medical device clients. His expertise extends beyond India as well, having handled Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan as International Manager for multinational companies.