“We hate our customers! We do, we hate them,” a longtime client confided in me. This client is a smart, honest, and increasingly frustrated senior product manager at a large med device company. The company sells through a “middle man” – in this case durable medical equipment suppliers (DMEs).
The dynamics between this med device manufacturer and the distributors of its life-saving products are beyond bad. Driven by unexpressed fear and resentment, the relationship is filled with dislike, disdain, and disrespect. Who wants to do business in that kind of environment??
What’s the alternative? It’s simple, so simple it may sound naive.
TELL THE TRUTH.
Both sides need to tell the truth about their fears and frustrations. DMEs need to acknowledge the business reality they face. Many are going to become irrelevant as robust, med device-friendly, Amazon-like distribution systems are established that have built-in many of the services DMEs now provide. Can DMEs pivot and stay relevant and viable? A few, yes, if they change fast.
Med device manufacturers need to express their frustration and that they feel manipulated. They also need to recognize that many DMEs are fighting for their lives and will do anything to survive.
DMEs need to stop the high-pressure tactics that desperation breeds. Manufacturers need to show the DMEs compassion – even if they end the business relationship.
With open minds and hearts, both sides can come together and brainstorm new kinds of partnerships and alliances that can help both sides achieve their aims. Or at least reduce unnecessary suffering.
My humble recommendation? End the enmity. It hurts patients, and it’s no good for business. Embrace the alternative. It’s time.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
A new friend of mine Jerry Schneider reminded me today of a very powerful definition of sales: Sales is the transfer of enthusiasm.
The first key to conveying genuine enthusiasm with healthcare products and services is having clarity about what you are enthusiastic about. Sounds obvious but it’s often taken for granted. Clarity comes from focus. That means one feature, one benefit. One emotional hook.
Try this next time you’re in a selling situation. Determine the one thing about your product or service that is unique and valuable, and hits an emotional chord. Talk about it, show it, prove it. Again and again. As you do, feel your enthusiasm grow! Feel your customer’s enthusiasm grow!
This is the transfer of enthusiasm. This is what makes the sale.
I was catching up last week with a former client- a very bright, articulate, and to-the-point MarCom professional with years of experience in the med device industry. I was sharing some of our recent new product launch client success stories. (FYI – Here’s a “how-to” summary from a recent talk I gave at the Health IT Marketing and PR conference).
She raised the question of how to handle continual revisions to products (vs. brand new or next gen products that are clearly worthy of significant launches). The key disconnect she identified is when the product manager thinks every revision is significant, field sales doesn’t, and MarCom is stuck in the middle.
Here’s how she put it:
It’s a drip, drip, drip of improvements that on their own may not have much value. Eventually it all adds up to some nice functionality but I’ve seen a fair amount of disconnect between the field and the business unit in the significance of these modifications. From my standpoint, I am always trying to tell the segment/issues-based story. So, what does it mean? What problem does it solve for the customer, what is the big issue it is addressing? The field is always asking, the business unit has trouble articulating. MarCom has to figure it out. It also makes for a very fuzzy launch with no clear beginning and end because it’s always ongoing.
What to do? Do your research. Don’t put Marcom in the unfair position of bridging the gap. Use the customer as your guidepost to decide what improvements are and are not significant. This means you need to 1) know what problem you think your revision solves, 2) determine if and why it matter to customers, 3) figure out how important the improvement is relative to the status quo, and 4) be able to create a compelling story about the new and improved device.
Set up metrics in advance as to what level of customer response constitutes significance. Combine that information with revenue projections to determine what investment should be made in promoting the revision.
BTW, if you can’t make a story that you find compelling, don’t expect your customers to be sold. There may just not be a “there” there. Instead, position the revision as what it is – another in a series of small improvements to an important product, from a company dedicated to continuously making good things better. No shame in that; or in telling the truth.