Category Archives: Customer-centric

The Critical Step Before Business Model Innovation…First Things First!

ambiguityOnce upon a time there was a little division in a big med device diagnostic company that wanted to extend into the unfamiliar territory of disease prevention.

The division was trying to win internal support and significant funding. They knew they needed a strong business case but had not yet figured out the specifics of their offering. There were a lot of unspoken assumptions and hypotheses. Moving forward by simply saying “we think we can, we think we can!” might work for little engines, but was not a good business practice for this group.

In short, the group was at a fork in the road. Going to the left they could travel on “Ambiguity Lane.” Staying to the right, they could move forward on “Clarity Way.”

Ambiguity Lane
In some ways, Ambiguity Lane seemed easier in the short-term because it postponed figuring out the foundational stuff that really needed to be figured out. Ambiguity Lane involves jumping ahead into business model development and skipping over the work of first gaining sufficient clarification on the offering or identifying and validating key assumptions. In this context, people travel Ambiguity Lane with a passive and often unspoken ambiguity that serves to postpone commitment.

On one hand, getting a business model in place sounds concrete and has an element of CYA, which can have a certain appeal. On the other hand, this sequencing also means living and speaking in ambiguities that avoids real commitment.

Even those team members that felt the seductive pull of Ambiguity Lane also saw its risks: 1) Internal leadership could more easily ignore the project or refuse to support it since it was lacking in substance and focus, and 2) The business model would be weak and not very actionable because it was built prematurely and based on too many hypotheticals.

Clarity Way

Going down Clarity Way was a happy choice to some; and initially felt risky to others. Clarity Way requires an honest assessment of what the team knows (and doesn’t know) about their offer and how desirable it is to customers, how feasible it is technically, and how viable it is financially. This road exposes critical business assumptions and opens them up to verification or correction. Clarity Way gets key questions on the table and solved in order to move into business model innovation with a solid foundation and in the right sequence.

The team members that wanted to travel on Clarity Way felt it would be premature and risky to jump into business model innovation without conducting some due diligence first. They did not want to pretend they knew more then they actually knew or use ambiguity as a cover for not having worked things through. They felt that the other road, Ambiguity Lane, was actually the greater risk.

 

Making the Choice

Turns out that Clarity Way has lots of blue sky and sunshine. Its travelers believe that transparency gets the best results, in line with the famous statement by Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Ambiguity Lane is grey and misty. It’s easy to get lost or misled when it’s hard to see clearly. As common sense philosopher Thomas Reid said, “There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.”

After some soul searching, the little division in the big med device diagnostic company choose Clarity Way. They knew how much was at stake for the company by extending into the unfamiliar territory of disease prevention.

The Clarity Way travelers also saw the value of first getting everyone’s ideas, concerns, and questions on the table, identifying which hypotheses needed to be tested, and getting initial input from customers. By doing so, they felt they’d be able to make informed decisions, understand and avoid internal roadblocks, and solidly move forward into developing their business model and business case to unlock investment.

Happy Ending!

Once the team came together on Clarity Way and shared what they knew and what they assumed, they immediately recognized that the appeal of their offering was predicated on three major hypotheses. They did a fast round of customer research and validated two of those mission-critical assumptions. One assumption however, related to how desirable their offer would be to customers, was way off. With egos aside and a quick pivot, they corrected their thinking and modified their offering substantially. Doing so called for a totally different business model than would have been developed had they not made the commitment to do first things first. The team got the investment they sought and solid support from the CEO.

Life and business requires enough ambiguity, and we definitely need skills to navigate through it. But don’t let passive ambiguity be an excuse for not diving in and doing what needs to be done. Please get clear on your offering and why customers want it and will pay for it. Then and only then should you work on your business model so you can really get it right.

First things first!

 

Med Tech Marketing: From TMI to JEI

“Wait until you hear about our amazing new technology!” the CEO exclaimed to a group of potential hospital executives. With great enthusiasm he spewed out more jargon-laden technical details than anyone cared to hear. Deep inside, the CEO sadly wondered why his audience is less than totally entranced.TMI

This unfortunately happens a lot. Really smart people make this mistake. Why? They let their passion blind them. They get carried away with their own stuff, lose sight of the customer perspective, and give way too much information (TMI). And they somehow convince themselves that their audience needs to know all about the technology in order to appreciate it.

Maybe it’s the CEO of a biotech start-up who spent years developing her ideas and designing prototypes. She really truly believes her technology is super-amazing. And maybe it is. Or perhaps it’s the product manager enamored of all the specs and product requirements his engineers are diligently working on to bring their next gen device to life. Or it may be the marketing person who is expected to give customers ALL the data her team thinks is important.

Note that the issue is NOT whether your technology or device or software really is amazing. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your customers care about your product. That requires you to give them just enough information (JEI) so they know what it is they are caring about and why. Remember JEI: Just Enough Information.

One challenge in shifting from TMI to JEI is what Noble Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls the “illusion of validity.” That is, when people hold onto their judgment even in the face of contradictory evidence.

How does this play out? Let’s say you’re pitching your product and go overboard with TMI. You know customers and investors are tuning out. You’ll come up with all kinds of reasons why that happened. But they won’t include TMI. You’ll manage to “protect” your belief that others need to know all about the technology.

It’s not logical. Somewhere inside you, you know better. But it’s a tough to surrender that yearning to tell the world all about the technology you care so deeply about and know so well.

The good news is you can redirect that passion into more productive marketing that meets your customers where they are at. And you don’t have to let go of your tech patter forever. There is a time and place for the technical details, the facts and figures, the product specs, and the empirical evidence. But it’s not first. And it’s not all at once.

First is enabling customers to make an emotional connection – not with your technology, but with the problem you’re solving. To do that, tell people what inspired you or your company to build the new technology. Talk about what problem you saw and why it was not acceptable. Only after people connect with the unacceptability of the problem, will they appreciate the need for a solution, and then eventually for your solution.

In short, to avoid TMI and embrace JEI, start by being human.

Better ROI from Your Marketing Research Investments: The Deep-Wide-Long Approach

Med device and health IT companies are constantly investing in new ideas, hoping to discover and bring to market the next game-changing product or service. That requires lots of market intelligence and customer research to get it right and avoid relying on risky guesswork and hunches.

A problem we see, especially with the larger companies that sell hundreds of products into numerous care areas in hospitals, is fragmentation. Even within a care unit, many research projects involving the same target audience and addressing similar needs are not coordinated and not taking advantage of cross-investigation.

For example, a company offering a range of cardiology products may have one business unit doing discovery research for new product ideas for stents and catheters, another BU validating value propositions for their special ECG monitor, and yet another BU getting reactions to messaging for a groundbreaking ultrasound device. Or all three BUs may be simultaneously doing research to answer the same business question, e.g. how to position their particular line of new cardiology products for launch. In either case, it’s likely – unfortunately – that none of the BUs are talking to one another.

The good news is that there are good strategic opportunities for collaboration that would benefit all the BUs, the company, and the customers they serve. Here is a framework we developed to help med tech companies leverage their investment in any and every customer research project for a better ROI. We call it Deep-Wide-Long.

Typically, a customer research project will go deep on the main topic, whether it’s understanding a specific set of problems customers are facing, getting reactions to new product concepts, or shaping marketing messages. With careful planning, the project can also go wide by investigating adjacent areas. And it can go long, by strategically reinforcing within the company the benefit of taking a customer-centric approach to product innovation and marketing. The incremental cost of doing so is small compared to the knowledge gain and its value.

For example, if we’re interviewing cardiologists to mainly gain insights into what they want ultrasound devices to do for them (deep), we can secondarily allow time to also investigate their use of ECG monitors as well as their reactions to new ideas for device integration (wide). Plus we can engage the other relevant BUs to understand their information needs as we shape the project, and then facilitate integration of the results across BUs (long).

The bottom line of Deep-Wide-Long is improving the bottom line by getting as much mileage as possible from every marketing research project, in a way that strengthens the company’s commitment to put the customer first.

Is Your Med Tech Value Proposition Good?

Your value proposition tells “customers” – whether end users, investors, or partners – why they should choose what you offer. Unfortunately, most aren’t very good.

A few years ago, an online research group studied value propositions and offered a $100,000 prize for the best one. 86% of entrants scored poorly.

For med tech companies, it’s so easy to get caught up in the features and the technology and lose sight of the value the product offers. Remember the basic rule: Features=Description. Benefits=Satisfaction.  And satisfaction requires value.

The big picture solution is thinking about value from a customer perspective, and  integrating that thinking into how you operate day-in and day-out. It’s not always easy, but it always pays off.

A good value proposition describes the tangible results (value) customers will get in exchange for their time, money, or involvement. It’s the promise you deliver on.

GOOD: Tangible results, clear benefits, solves specific problems, simple, honest.

BAD: Mostly about you, feature-laden, not measurable, unrealistic, complicated.

At a fundamental level, a good value proposition also answers the simple and tough questions, like: Why should I buy this? Why from you? What’s in  it for me?

Google Adwords changed the nature of internet advertising with their value proposition: “Reach people actively looking for information about your products and services online.” As the leader in low prices and huge selection, Walmart promises “Save money. Live better.”

You’re in the business of saving lives. There’s gotta a powerful value proposition in what you offer.

Think about what matters to your “customers” – whether internal or external: Increase revenues from target hospitals by 15% every year, get your new product to market in half the time, reduce customer churn by 30% within three months, expand sales with at least one-third of your install base, cut nuisance alarms in the general ward by 60%, save $100 per hospital room per day by improving workflow efficiency for clinicians, increase satisfaction ratings for your online educational programs by 25%, and so forth.

Now, choose a product or service you offer.  What’s a value proposition that meets the “good” criteria above, and avoids the bad?

Don’t be hard on yourself or your team if you don’t have one or come up with a strong one. Most companies find it difficult, since they’re so close to their products. Many make significant investments with expert specialists in order to get it right. However you get to it, the ROI from a good value prop is significant. The losses created by a bad one can be devastating.

To walk the talk, here’s our value prop for value props:  We’ll make your value proposition so compelling, that it will measurably increase your business within 90 days of implementation. Guaranteed.

I’d love to see your value propositions- good or bad. Let’s learn and improve together.

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More resources here:

Why Should Hospitals Buy Your Device (10 Words Or Less)??

How to Avoid the Dreaded “Firehose of Features” in New Product Marketing

The Million Dollar Question: What’s Best For Our Customers?

I once gave a talk called “Customer CEO” to a crowd of healthcare executives. I advised every CEO to put a special chair in their meeting room labeled “CUSTOMER” and to consult with that customer persona on every significant business decision.

My premise was this: Always think about what’s best for your customer. What’s best for them will likely be best for you too. Therefore, give your customer voice a seat at the table, literally.

Imagine every time your team was making product or marketing decisions, you asked this: What would be best for our customers?

It’s a simple and very powerful question that too often does not get asked. Sometimes it doesn’t get asked because companies don’t genuinely care. For others, it’s getting so caught up in internal concerns – detailed product specs, managing multiple workflows, social media decisions – that they lose sight of what would best serve their customers.

A simple way to keep your customer front and center is to ensure they have a permanent presence. That they are always seen and heard. That what’s best for them is a critical and explicit factor in your decision-making.

I challenge you to do this experiment for one week.

  1. Set up a customer chair in your office or meeting room and clearly label it “Customer.”
  2. When you are making business decisions, talk to your imaginary customer. Voice its response. Let it ask questions of you and your team.
  3. Give your imaginary customer a vote in your decisions.
  4. Share your results by commenting on this post.

I think you’ll notice how powerful a simple reminder of your customer can be, and how profoundly it can affect your thinking and decision-making.

Earning Real Customer Loyalty: The Challenge for Med Tech Companies

When it comes to customer loyalty toward med tech companies, the most common story we hear from hospitals and clinicians goes like this:

“The sales reps give us a lot of attention when they want to sell us something. Once we buy, we rarely hear from them or their company. All they care about is making the sale. There is no relationship or partnership. All they are to us is another vendor.”

Turns out that for most med tech manufacturers, their healthcare customers either feel no loyalty, or place their loyalty with the rep. While hospitals and clinicians may have a brand preference, it is quite rare that they feel strong loyalty toward a manufacturer. In fact, surprisingly often, clinicians don’t remember the brand of the devices they use, even those they use day-in and day-out.

What’s causing this absence of loyalty to the companies that make and sell important and often life-saving equipment? I believe there are two factors at play.

  • The business model of many med tech companies puts short-terms sales over long-term relationships. Hitting quarterly numbers (even if it means greatly discounting prices) trumps maximizing the lifetime value for a customer. As a result, downstream marketing does not invest in sustaining long-term customer relationships. That clearly hurts customer loyalty.
  • Many med tech companies still think they’re in the business of selling boxes or software. Really, they’re in the business of improving healthcare. But when their focus is so product-centric, it’s hard to see the need to invest in building strong relationships. This sets up a dynamic in which customers choose between product A or B. The promise of partnering to help hospitals and clinicians provide better care over the long-term isn’t even on the table. This too takes away the opportunity to create customer loyalty.

That said, some reps are so good that they overcome these obstacles and are able to engender extremely strong loyalty from their customers, like in these two stories:

“It was almost midnight and we suddenly had a serious malfunction with our new ventilators. We called Sandy, the manufacturer’s rep, who happened to be 8 months pregnant. She immediately came by and with profuse apologies got us up and running. Then she came back the next day and provided a more permanent fix. When we need new vents, we buy from Sandy. Doesn’t matter what company she’s with. We trust her and whatever she recommends for us.”

“Dan advised us not to buy his company’s newest monitors yet. He said they were still working out some connectivity kinks and to wait until next year. He recommended we buy from his competitor if we really needed new monitors right away. That was a huge trust-builder. We’ll stick with Dan forever!”

These are true examples and the kind of thing we hear occasionally from clinicians when we’re doing research for our med device clients about how to generate customer loyalty. These reps are like gold and should be valued as such. You want these reps to stay committed to your company.

However, to get healthcare customers to be loyal not just to your reps but to your company is a big lift. It requires a long-term investment in what we call customer intimacy. It also requires a different business model and compensation structure. And it requires a cohesive strategy for prioritizing what customers want and need over what your solutions and technologies can do. Finally, it requires you to convincingly demonstrate to your customers how committing to buying from you over the long-term (i.e. loyalty) will measurably improve their situation.

In the always-changing healthcare space, I believe that the few med tech companies courageous and committed enough to fulfill these challenging requirements will be the big winners.

Overcoming the CEO Attitude: “We’re So Good We Don’t Need Marketing!”

I was talking with a friend recently who heads up business development for a small technology development company that specializes in solving really complex engineering problems.

She faces a big and not uncommon challenge: Her leadership team has the unfortunate belief that a) because the company’s problem solving skills are so unique, and b) because they’re so good within their specialization, they don’t need to invest in marketing. By extension, the supposition is that customers must inherently understand what the company does and know why they’re the right choice. Therefore, the logic goes, the company doesn’t need to work on their marketing strategy, or brand positioning, or what their value proposition is. (Feedback to the contrary and underwhelming sale figures be damned!).

From an inside-in perspective– that is, how people within the company think about the company– the reasoning is understandable. From an outside-in or customer perspective, it is clearly and dangerously flawed thinking.

What to do about it?

First, let’s dive into the underlying dynamic. We all know there’s often conflict between engineers and marketers at technology companies. Engineers want to push the limits of that can be done with technology, while marketers want to focus on what customers want and will buy. When well-managed, the tension between these two equally important and valid perspectives can be productive and lead to significant and highly desired innovation.

But when a technology-centric mindset invades how company leaders think and how business development happens, it becomes a big problem. When this occurs, company culture evolves within an often unspoken and rather insidious “if we build it, they will come” philosophy. This myopic perspective leads CEOs to denounce the need for marketing, or for that matter to reject investing anything to understand what customers think and want.

There are three likely outcomes in this kind of scenario when management puts technology ahead of customers: 1) The company keeps doing what they’re doing and may show incremental growth (usually in fits and starts), but clearly fails to meet expectations, 2) The company stagnates and dies without ever getting to root cause, 3) The company suffers from underperformance until investors or other power brokers demand new leadership and a more customer-centric mindset takes hold.

The other and much less likely outcome is for the company to get lucky, hit a home run with a new technology, and win success in spite of themselves. This fairy tale ending happens just enough, and is so seductive, that it can sustain a CEO’s self-deception that the company does not need to put customers first and does not need real marketing strategy. It’s kind of like the allure of slot machines – maybe the next pull will hit the jackpot!

The good news is that there is a way (besides deep pain!) to overcome a CEO’s dismissal of marketing as an unnecessary investment and the corresponding presumption (i.e. hope) that customers will just “get it.”

It stems from an often overlooked common ground: Both engineers and marketers fundamentally believe that with the right tools, any problem can be solved. The key is to leverage this powerful and shared worldview. This can be accomplished in several ways that I’ll cover in detail in a future post. One of the most compelling is to set up experiments in which management a) hypothesizes what customers know, and b) commits to taking corrective action if their hypotheses are proven wrong. Then you do the customer research to confirm or correct the hypotheses and bring the results back to the team. This approach seems to bypass egos and importantly, reframes the problem in a way that better matches the CEO’s more technical mindset.

Tell us. How have you seen the problem of company leadership denying the need for customer-centered marketing strategy successfully overcome?

How to Unseat the Market Leader: Hit the Right Emotional Chord with Customers

Here’s a tough situation med tech and health IT companies face in healthcare: The maker of a particular technology has more than 75% market share; they are the undisputed market leader.  unseat_pull_the_rug_from_underWhen their device or software was introduced 5 years ago, it was groundbreaking. Now, it’s the standard. But you have something better.

How do you effectively disrupt the market leader’s longstanding domination and win significant market share? The answer lies in the hearts and minds of the clinicians using the technology. You need to carefully and precisely determine which emotional chord will open customers’ minds in order for them to consider moving from the market leader’s technology (the “status quo”) to your new and presumably better innovation.

To reveal the right emotional chord, you must ask the right questions: Are they happy with the status quo? Do they perceive any problems? Can they envision a better state?  These kinds of questions will reveal the “set point,” i.e. where customers are before they know about your better device, service, or software.

In simple terms, there are four main set points based on the idea that customers are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the status quo technology, and they are or are not aware of a possible solution (or better state) a new technology might deliver. Once you know the set point, you need to identify the corresponding emotional chord, so that your messages will connect with customers and resonate at an emotional level. That resonance leads customers to feel understood, which will then open their minds to consider alternatives to the longstanding status quo.

Example: Let’s say customers are satisfied with the market leader’s status quo technology. They aren’t aware of any problems, so they certainly wouldn’t expect new solutions. Your job then is to identify the meaningful problem that: a) your customers will care about once they know about it, and b) your improved technology will solve. (And if no meaningful problem exists, then there’s really no need for your improvement, right? But that’s a different story!).

Once you determine the meaningful problem, be sure to verify customers do care about it enough to take action. Now you need to find the corresponding emotional chord. It could be frustration, as in “why didn’t I know about this problem for all these years!” Or it might be concern, as in “I hope this problem didn’t hurt our patient satisfaction scores!” Or embarrassment at not knowing about the problem. Or relief at knowing about it now. Or hope for a solution to the problem.

There are numerous possible emotional chords, and sometimes the difference between them is very nuanced, like frustration vs. concern in the example above. It’s really important to know with confidence precisely which emotional chord to tap into. Your message to tap into frustration will be quite different than messaging for concern or embarrassment or relief.

If you miss the mark on the emotional chord, then your customers will feel you just don’t get them. You will have missed your chance to open their minds to letting to of the market leader’s technology and to consider your innovation as a viable alternative. On the other hand, when you tap the right emotional chord, you may hear as we have, “Finally, someone understands what I deal with everyday!”  That deep connection is the magic that can unseat the dominant market leader and win you significant market share.

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More resources:

Why Selling New Technology into Hospitals is Hard: Overcoming the Status Quo Bias

The Emotional Hook: How to Win Your Customers’ Hearts

Developing Your New Market Entry Strategy: The 3Cs Framework

Imagine you’re a large medical technology company carrying a wide range of healthcare products. You see huge opportunity in a new market. How do you decide what innovation to lead with, what products to offer, and what your market entry strategy should be?three_c_V2

Here’s a framework that can help you narrow the universe of possibilities. We call it the 3 Cs, which stands for Company, Customer, and Competition. All three are critical factors that converge to reveal the sweet spot for market entry.

Company: This is often the starting point for med tech companies. They see a lucrative market, want a piece of it, and figure they have something good that will sell there. The driver is the company’s desire for growth and their belief in the solutions they offer. The “company” factor narrows the universe by identifying three things: 1) Core competencies and existing assets that can be leveraged for entry into a new market, 2) New competencies the company wants to develop, and 3) New care areas they want to expand into.

Customer: This is about identifying and understanding unmet needs and meaningful problems customers care about, as well as needs and problems they may not be aware of yet. The driver is what customers desire and will pay for. Determining these things requires being really tuned in to your customers. The “customer” factors narrow the universe by revealing 1) what customers want and need and will buy, 2) what their hidden desires and aspirations are and  what better state they envision, and 3) what customers don’t want, don’t value, and won’t pay for.

Competition: The competition factor focuses on identifying what customer needs are and are not adequately met by competitors, and what solutions you have that are already provided by others in the market you want to enter. The driver is finding an open niche of sufficient size for your innovation to take hold. Generally, companies will stay away from markets where there is domination by one or two competitors – unless they are willing to make a huge investment to unseat market leaders. The “competition” factors narrows the universe by specifying 1) where there is space for innovation, 2) what solutions exist and which are still needed, and 3) where there is good growth potential.

The danger is that the company’s hunger to enter a new market can lead to rash decisions and action without a guiding strategy. To mitigate that risk, give serious consideration to customer desire and to the competitive space. That way you avoid being driven by company solutions and wishes, rather than customer problems and desires.

What’s your experience developing new market entry strategy? What were your decision drivers? What lessons did you learn?

More resources:

How to Grow Your Business with Customer-Centric Innovation

How to Get to Breakthrough Innovation: Desirability First!

New Product Innovation: How to Determine the Winners

 

Med Devices, Butterflies, and Increasing Sales: The Little Things

I was leading a workshop recently for a client bringing a new critical care device to market. As one step in the process, we were doing wide-open brainstorming to generate a large quantity of ideas on what the value proposition might be that we would later synthesize and vet with customers. We were specifically looking for meaningful differentiation.butterflies

One savvy marketing person bravely expressed that as a former clinician, she knew that little things, as silly as it might sound, can make the difference between winning the hearts of critical care nurses and getting the sale – or not. The example she gave was butterflies. As in enabling butterflies to appear on the monitor display (out of the way of patient data of course). Then she suggested other simple ways of allowing personalization.

These “humanizing” gestures cost almost nothing to med device  manufacturers, and can mean a great deal to the customer.  They convey that you understand the realities of the emotional toll it takes to provide critical care day after day. And they make you in a simple and profound way a valued partner – not just a vendor of commodities – which is where you want to be.

Obviously, butterflies and other personalization aesthetics are not going to be the core value proposition for any med device. But these kinds of things can enrich your value proposition, differentiate on an emotional level, and enable a deeper more meaningful connection with your customers.

So… what’s your butterfly?