Category Archives: CustomerFirst

Hope for the Future of Health IT Marketing!

hopeI just got back from the Health IT Marketing Conference (HITMC). It gets better and stronger every year, building incredible community, thanks in large part to the vision of its founders John Lynn and Shahid Shah.

I was fortunate to present on how to win internal support for better customer-centric marketing, and to lead a workshop – one that both delighted and humbled me. Here’s why.

The half-day workshop, Using the Voice of the Customer to Develop Winning Health IT Marketing, showed how to develop game-changing customer knowledge and translate it into winning marketing strategy.

The workshop participants – mostly marketing directors and managers – were incredible. It was my experience with them that was equal parts delightful and humbling. What stood out was their openness and candor, their desire to improve, their appreciation of the customer voice, and their willingness to challenge their own thinking and mine. And most of all, their commitment to deeply understanding and serving their customers.
Continue reading Hope for the Future of Health IT Marketing!

Customer or Money: Which Comes First in Med Tech?

As a strategic-thinking med device marketing or sales professional, you know it’s all about putting the customer first. But how do you get your company executives behind you if they’re solely focused on hitting the quarterly numbers and only paying lip service to being customer-centric?

This was the focus of a session I presented yesterday with Mark Kesti at the first Medical Device Marketing Summit, put together by the inimitable Joe Hage.

The goal was to stir up fresh thinking and provide both practical and contrarian tools to win greater company support for practicing customer intimacy and putting the customer first in marketing and communications work. The participants were seasoned and smart. Lively discussion generated good, practical ideas.

Here are five key takeaways:

  1. First means first: Putting the customer first literally means just that- putting the customer first. How? Give the customer a voice when it matters. That translates into giving the customer a voice before you decide on what products to invest in, before you determine technical feasibility for your device or software, before you put your messaging together, and before your sales force hit the streets.
  2. Problems not solutions: When you do give your customers a voice, be sure you’re not asking them to design the solution. That’s your job. Ask them to talk about what is and isn’t working, what problems they want solved, and what a better end state would be like. Don’t ask them what the product should be or what your marketing should look like. NTJ (not their job)!
  3. Direct connection: Get your technical people – scientists and engineers – involved with customers early on. Let them hear problems, concerns, likes and dislikes directly from the customer, not mediated through a report you give them. Help your technical team to experience customer pain points as much as possible. This is where qualitative research methodologies shine.
  4. Money metrics: Not all dollars are equal. Some come at the expense of long-term customer relationships, like through hitting your numbers by heavy end of year discounts. In companies committed to customer intimacy, the lifetime value of a customer trumps hitting quarterly numbers every time. Caveat: Shareholders may not agree. You have to balance the sometimes conflicting needs of two masters in that case: shareholders and customers. Ideally you have shareholders who see the value of long-term gains.
  5. Behavior before beliefs: Let’s say your CEO, doesn’t believe in putting the customer first. He’s all about the money and that mindset pervades the culture. You can beat this too. But don’t try to change his beliefs at first. Get his behaviors to change. Pitch putting the customer first as all about making more money. Speak in ROI terms. Because it’s true. Putting the customer first does make more money.

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More here:

3 Powerful “B4’s” that Put First Things First in Winning Innovation

“But We’ve Always Done It That Way” – Zen, Zero-Based Thinking, and a Fresh Approach

How to Get to Breakthrough Innovation: Desirability First!

Earning Trust from Hospital Customers: 5 Tips

If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.       – Zig Ziglar

We regularly talk with a lot of doctors, healthcare executives, and key opinion leaders in our work, as we help med tech clients identify meaningful unmet needs, determine the desirability of new products, and create persuasive messaging.

One thing that comes out again and again is the importance of trust. As famed salesman Zig Ziglar pointed out, trust leads to sales. We’ve heard many clinicians say they don’t buy from a company, they buy from a rep.  Sometimes they don’t even know what brand of device they use. But they do know they bought it from Tracy, the sales rep they know and trust. And they know that next time they need devices they’ll contact Tracy, wherever she is.

Do your customers trust you and your company? Have you given them reason to?  What would you need to know to win and maintain their trust?

Here are five tips for earning the trust of prospects and customers:

  1. Grow a relationship, not just a transaction. Show up when you’re NOT asking them to buy.  We constantly hear that companies disappear and seem to no longer care, once the sale is made.
  2. Take it further and tell prospective customers they shouldn’t buy from you yet.  Tell them only when you have earned their trust, will you talk with them about purchasing.
  3. Provide them with value – white papers, referrals, relevant tips – without asking for anything back. Customize what you provide to their needs, desires, and situation.
  4. Be honest about what they should and should not buy from your company. You’ll earn credibility points when you suggest they buy certain things from competitors.
  5. Ask what specific things you can do to win their trust. Then tell them which you will do, and do those things. Remind them along the way that your aim is to earn their total trust.

Once you have earned their trust, you can grow the relationship further and your customer can be your ambassador within their hospital system and a great referral source. Then you’re not just a vendor, you’re a valued partner. And that’s the place you want to live in the hearts and minds of those you serve.

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Resources:

Earning Real Customer Loyalty: The Challenge for Med Tech Companies

The Promise & Challenge of Customer Intimacy for Med Tech Companies

Med Device Companies To Hospitals: Do NOT Buy Everything From Us!

Does Your Company Win at Caring? Take the “Who Cares” Quiz

who_cares“People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”

You work in the healthcare space. Whether you’re a product manager, a marketing specialist, a software engineer, or an executive, you are in an industry that exists to provide care. It’s not just evident in the industry name (healthcare), it’s the core purpose of the industry.

If any industry should be able to live up to the axiom above*, it’s healthcare.  And by caring first, business improves.

How does your company rate at first showing you care, and reaping the rewards? Take this quick quiz to find out. Give your company, then yourself, an honest rating. (Scale: 0= Not at all, 1=A little, 2=Somewhat,  3=A great deal)

The Official “Who Cares” Quiz

COMPANY QUESTIONS

  1. My company genuinely cares about the well-being of our customers.
  2. My company demonstrates caring, before showing how much we know.
  3. My company is aware of customer perceptions about our caring.
  4. My company gets better results because of how we care.

“YOU” QUESTIONS

  1. I genuinely care about the well-being of our customers.
  2. I demonstrate caring, before showing how much I know.
  3. I am aware of customer perceptions about our caring.
  4. I get better results because of how I care.

Scores: Add up your scores on each set of four questions. This will give you a company score between 0 and 12, and a personal score between 0 and 12.

Making Sense of Your Score

The four questions represent a sequence – feeling, doing, knowing, and winning.

Question 1 is about what you feel toward customers; how much you care about their well-being (not just their money!). If you fall short here (a score of 1 or 2), the remedy is culture change so you become more customer-centric and less product-centric. That’s a big job.

Question 2 is about what you do; the extent to which you communicate that caring first. A low score here means your actions do not match your intent. Fixing this requires improved and more strategic communications and organizational behavior change to support right action.

Question 3 is about what you know (rather than assume) about how much customers perceive your caring. This requires customer research to meaningfully score. A low score means your actions are not being recognized. The solution is better understanding customers and what actions they perceive as caring.

Question 4 is about what you win as a result of your caring. This refers to achieving revenue and other business objectives. A low score here means you’re falling short on one or more of the three other metrics, or you’re not leveraging your caring into other business outcomes. The fix is developing specific strategies to translate your caring into better products, improved experiences, and more effective marketing.

Conclusion

If your company scored at least 3 on each question, you’re in decent shape. However, for many med tech companies, and health care payers and providers, that’s not the case. When companies lose sight of their core purpose and instead focus solely on hitting their numbers, caring about customers gets squeezed out of the picture. The same holds true about your personal scores.

If your scores were low, consider the fixes described above. Ideally, your relationship-building, the customer experiences you create, your marketing campaigns, and your on-the ground sales reps should consistently emphasize caring – before knowledge. That way, you get “on purpose” and generate lasting emotional connections with customers that can translate into long-term loyalty and increased sales.

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* This popular axiom from James Hind was cited in a post by Jim Guiffre, reminiscing how dear colleague and friend Gene Drabinski, who recently died in a tragic car accident, didn’t just frequently share this quote, but fully lived it. Gene was a nurse, Vietnam vet, and former president of Healthwise; and a good, good man that freely showed how much he cared. More reminisces about Gene  here.

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.

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.

Motivating Health Behavior Change: Three Dangerous Assumptions To Avoid

Behavior change is becoming more and more important to device manufacturers, health IT companies, pharma, and life science firms, as they expand their offerings into disease prevention. Whether aiming to get people to eat healthier, exercise more, participate in screenings, take meds as prescribed, monitor insulin levels, or conduct self-exams, successfully motivating behavior change isn’t easy.

The good news is that health behavior change has been a major focus in public health for decades, and there are a lot of lessons that health care businesses can apply.

One key lesson is recognizing and correcting the fundamental assumptions that derail most efforts to motivate health behavior change. Here are three of the most pervasive and insidious assumptions.

  1. Assuming people don’t know better: Many companies wrongly assume that the barrier to behavior change is lack of awareness. Therefore the thinking goes, if we just give people logical reasons for why people should change their behaviors, they will see the light and mend their ways. Typically these logical reasons center on reducing risks of morbidity and mortality (does that sound exciting or what!?). The reality is that more often than not, people are already well aware that certain behaviors are bad for them. Ask any smoker or obese person; they recognize their habits are harmful, and they know they should quit smoking or cut calories. Lack of awareness is usually not the problem. Therefore, behavior change campaigns aimed at increasing awareness will always fall short.
  1. Assuming people behave as they believe: Consider your own life. Do your actions consistently reflect your beliefs about what is and is not healthy? Or is there a disconnect? I gave a guest lecture today to a great group of grad students studying public health communication. To make the point that people’s behaviors don’t always match their beliefs – what psychologists call cognitive dissonance – I asked how many regularly sleep 8 hours a night, eat nutritiously, and exercise vigorously. Only a handful of the students raised their hands. While they all believe they should get good sleep, eat well, and work out, very few behave that way. (And these are young people making health promotion/disease prevention their profession. They really know this stuff!). Human nature is such that we don’t always do what we know we should do. We unfortunately have the ability to sustain high levels of belief-behavior inconsistency. Campaigns that are predicated on the idea that people’s health behaviors will align with their beliefs about health usually fail.
  1. Assuming big negatives trump little positives: It seems so obvious. If you sell CPAP devices, you may think: How can people possibly not use their CPAP machine?  They could stop breathing and die in the middle of the night! Similarly, if you work for an insurance company or hospital, you may think: How can people at high risk of heart disease possibly not choose low fat, low salt foods? They could die of a heart attack! Same with medication adherence. Same with breast self-exams. Clearly, stopping breathing or having a heart attack are big negatives. But they are only possibilities. The comfort of sleeping without a face mask and loud machine is a definite. A small positive but a definite one. Likewise, the definite pleasure of a rich dessert can eclipse the possibility of a heart attack. Never underestimate the allure of immediate pleasures.

All these mistaken assumptions are rooted in what I call “us” centered thinking. The solution is to adopt “them” centered thinking. Put your customers in the middle, not yourself. That’s the first step toward successfully motivating health behavior.

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More resources on health behavior change here:

Getting People to Do What You Want: Two Paths to Persuasion

Be Like Vegas!… and 6 Other Tips to Increase Wellness Program Participation

 

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.

Why Health Tech Companies Should NOT Emulate Apple

“We want to be like Apple!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from teams innovating new products. What they mean is they want their new products to be sleek, attractive, and easy to use – something that does not come easy to most med device manufacturers.

The aspiration is good and noble. If fulfilled, the company is providing customers with things they want and love, improving healthcare, and making money.

However, Don Norman, my mentor, friend and former VP at Apple, makes a strong case for not emulating Apple any more, because at Apple, beauty is coming at the expense of function:

“Apple has gotten carried away by the slick, minimalist appearance of their products at the expense of ease of use, understandability, and the ability to do complex operations without ever looking at the manual. Today, the products are beautiful, but for many of us, confusing.”      -Don Norman

For the med device industry, the challenges are even greater because of the inherent complexity of most medical devices. In fact, many companies over-engineer devices with far more capabilities than customers want or need. We hear from clinicians and the C-suite time and time again that they’ll choose the workhorse machine that’s easy to use and provides the most needed functionality, over the uber-sophisticated, feature-laden device that can do more but is harder to use.

If, on top of providing too many features, designers, engineers, and product managers prioritize aesthetics and the “cool” factor over discoverability and ease of use, then clinicians and executives get even more turned off.

On the other hand, when the team puts the customer first and only provides features that solve meaningful problems customers care about, and makes them attractive and easy to use within the fast-paced clinical workflow, then they’re on the way to a winner.

So be like Apple was, when they practiced good design principles and made beautiful devices that were easy to use and love. And keep customers first!

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

Med device and other life science companies often engage us to help them improve their marketing and make more money. One simple and revealing “litmus test” question we ask at the get-go is this:

Why should customers choose your product? (10 words or less!)

Often company execs, product managers, and marcom folks struggle to provide a clear, compelling, and jargon-free answer. Why? They naturally get caught up in their products and in doing what needs to get done. As a result, they lose sight of the “why” from a customer point of view.

The antidote is putting the customer first in all you do, and building that into how you operate day-in and day-out. It’s not easy, and takes long-term commitment, even when money is tight.

One step in a customer-first direction is challenging your team to create a set of answers to why customer should choose you. Keep them short, 10 words or less. Then test them with customers. Compare them to what competitors say and could say. Keep iterating until the answer is both persuasive logically and emotionally with customers.

Do this for every product and service you offer. Build it into your R&D process at the earliest stages. You’re on your way to a set of cohesive, distinctive and effective value propositions that can make all the difference in your marketing success.

Start now with your top of mind answer: Why should customers choose your product?