Category Archives: med device

Think or Know? Disarm Dangerous Marketing Assumptions With The “Sandwich” Approach

Which new idea should you invest in?  What’s the right value proposition for your portfolio? How should you position your game-changing product for a winning launch?

These are significant questions that if not answered correctly, can cost you a lot of time, money, and trust. Here’s the “sandwich” approach we use to help med device and other health tech clients avoid making risky moves based on unspoken assumptions.

The Bottom Slice: Identify your high-risk assumptions. Gather your team together for a hard-hitting work session, with all egos aside. Set the expectation that you’re going to identify the key assumptions that must be validated because they’re so mission critical that if you’re wrong, you’re, well, screwed. Here’s how in detail.

The Filling in the Middle: Validate your assumptions. Do the needed research with customers to determine which of your assumptions were on target, and which need correcting. To get the most from your investment, focus on your top priority, highest-risk assumptions.

The Top Slice: Refine Your thinking. Bring your team back together. Review the assumptions you had earlier identified as high-risk and in need of validation. Consider the customer research results by noting which assumptions were right on target, which would need fine-tuning, and which were way off base. No shame, no blame. Now refine your thinking based on what your learned.

This “sandwich” approach works because 1) it gives team members much needed permission to not know everything, 2) it acknowledges that customers can provide many answers, and 3) it lets your team refine their thinking together and get on the same page.

Most important, the “sandwich” approach efficiently and effectively helps you avoid assumptions and wisely answer the tough questions that can spell the difference between success and failure.

Med Device Companies: Never Say “We Sell Boxes”

We know several medium and large med device companies that still claim, “we sell boxes.” They may not say exactly that to customers, but inside the company they use those words, and usually with a mixture of pride, arrogance, and I think fear. Unfortunately, that thinking insidiously infiltrates everything the company does, from new product innovation to downstream marketing.

But that’s how some med device execs, engineers, and product managers think about the business they’re in: Making and selling “boxes” with good medical technology inside. It’s an easy trap to slip into – especially if the company has had success. The reality is med device companies do make boxes. However, that’s not the business they’re in.

Every med device company is in the business of improving healthcare and saving lives. Solutions to meaningful problems is what they sell.

In 1960, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt wrote a game-changing article called Marketing Myopia. He posited that businesses do better when they focus on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products.

His quintessential example of an industry that got it wrong was railroads. While the need for freight and passenger transportation grew, railroads shrank. They wrongly thought they were in the railroad business. They didn’t see they were really in the transportation business. Why? Because they were product-oriented, not customer-oriented. As a result, railroad companies let others take their customers away.

Though it was over 50 years ago that Levitt wrote about marketing myopia, I believe that product-centric thinking still dominates in healthcare. What do you think?

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?

 

How to Position Your Brand as the “Safe Choice” in Healthcare When You’re Up Against the “Big Boys”

“No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.” That was a classic business cliche in the 1970s, and a true one, as a colleague reminded me recently.  Now for many Health IT companies (and some platform-based medical device companies) selling into hospitals, it’s the big EMR companies like Epic and Cerner with lots of APIs, apps, and extensions, that beat them out because customers feel the “big boys” are the safer choice.

Let’s say you are a small to mid size company. You can apply key principles of persuasion to increase your chances of winning business in this ultra-competitive space. Here’s a 3-step process you can use:

1. Emotional Alignment:  First establish empathy by emotionally aligning with the healthcare customer: a) Acknowledge that when making purchasing decisions like this, some people choose one of the big-name brands because they assume it’s a safer bet.  b) Acknowledge that for some hospitals that’s a reasonable way to go. c) Acknowledge – carefully – that for some people it’s a “CYA” decision and that may trump looking at what will be best for the hospital in some circumstances. d) Acknowledge that it can be hard to know when it may be a better choice to go with a smaller, more specialized brand.

Now the customer will feel understood and more open to considering other options. You have disarmed several points of resistance. You rightly have not pitched your brand yet.

2. Initial Decision Guidelines: Second, help the customer know when they should and should not evaluate different brands. a) Give them a few specific guidelines to inform this first decision – whether they should broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands or not (have this as a tool you provide to them too). b) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it does NOT make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands. This step is critical for you to be credible. c) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it DOES make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands.  4) Walk the customer through the use of the initial decision guidelines for their setting.

You have now provided them with a reasonable way to decide if they should explore further and they should have arrived at an appropriate decision. Note you still have not pitched your brand yet – good job being patient!

3. Guided Influence: Third, if and when the initial decision guidelines suggest the customer should evaluate other brands, provide a set of criteria for comparing brands. a) Be sure the customer agrees the criteria make sense, and if needed explain the relevance of each. Be willing to add or subtract a criterion to better fit the customer’s situation. b) Now it is time to talk about your brand. Show how you compare on the criteria.  Admit when competitors are better on certain points. Reinforce that in this circumstance, your brand is actually the safer choice. c) Provide specific reasons to believe and an emotionally compelling story to support each of your claim of superiority.

Now do your thing as a professional sale rep to respectfully get an initial commitment, close the sale, or something in-between.

Recognize that once in a while your initial decision guidelines (Step 2 above) will lead customers to stay with the big-name brands, which means you’re done for the moment. That’s OK. You will have established yourself as a trustworthy partner concerned about what’s best for them – even if you did not get the sale. This is customer intimacy in practice, and it will pay off big – if not immediately, then certainly in the long-term.

The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives

A new take on wearable technologies: The familiar red forehead dot – or bindi – has been a traditional symbol of beauty in India and other countries in Southeast Asia for centuries. Now the cultural adornment doubles as a slow-release iodine patch, potentially saving the lives of millions of women in rural communities with iodine deficiencies and no other access to the much-needed supplement.

Continue reading The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives

Med Device Companies and DMEs: Is Hate Required?

“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.

Never-Ending Product Revisions: Who Cares?!

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.