Category Archives: product development

Make Medical Devices & IT Solutions Customers Want & Buy

In medtech, you encounter unique challenges to making devices and solutions customers want and will buy. External forces, like downward cost pressures, reimbursement challenges, and regulatory requirements make it tough. Plus a lot of device and IT companies impose relentless pressure to get the next big thing to market – and to do it now.

In light of all these pressures, how do you increase your effectiveness at making devices customers want and buy? Keep customers first in how you think and all you do.

I know, I know. It’s easy to say. It can be hard to do. And it’s not a panacea to counter all the marketplace challenges you face. But it can ground your thinking, guide your decisions, and help you get the best possible results.

In a recent article published in Device Talk, the med device industry blog from MD+DI, I outlined four keys to making devices customers want and will buy, from a customer-centric perspective.

The 4 keys:

  1. Start with the right business mindset
  2. Get customer input – the right way
  3. Decide between MVP and alternatives
  4. Recognize your work saves lives

This approach will lead you to think differently, engage with customers differently, and design and market your devices differently. You really can increase your effectiveness by keeping customers first in how you think and all you do.

Read the full MD+DI Device Talk article here.

Let me know what you think.

Med Tech Product Managers: Persuading Your Management To Support Your Innovation

innovationJames is an experienced product manager at a large device company. He has a winning new population health idea supported by a strong business case.

James knows his new initiative will pivot the company well for the future of value-based reimbursement. He also knows that maintaining the status quo will be a death knell as the fee-for-service paradigm gradually disappears.

James has solid ROI projections and trend analytics to back it all up. He also knows his idea fits and delivers on the CEO’s stated vision for the company’s future.  He has pitched the idea up the management chain internally on several occasions.

The problem is James is not getting the support he needs from upper management. He gets heads nodding but no action. No commitment. Overall lukewarm reception.

Why? Because even though what James is proposing is sensible, timely, backed by facts, and aligned with the corporate vision,  it requires going in a direction that is unfamiliar to the company. It is perceived as an unknown. It is therefore seen as risky business.

What should James do? It doesn’t make sense to simply repeat the same arguments and expect a different result. He already made the best case he could. But he knows the window for competitive advantage is slipping away.

James needs other voices to give his bosses enough confidence to say yes and invest in what they know is a good idea and necessary for the company’s long-term viability, despite their concerns. These other voices need to be strong enough to overcome fear of change, fear of moving into an unfamiliar space.

James doesn’t need a large quantity of voices. Survey numbers won’t make his case more persuasive. The status quo thinking he needs to overcome is not rational. He needs to strategically manage relationships with his internal customers. Persuasion at an emotional level if required.

Specifically, James needs smart, influential people that genuinely share his thinking and who his bosses will listen to with open minds. That means select key opinion leaders and perhaps several important customers who will voice their agreement with three things: 1) The underlying premise about healthcare’s inevitable shift toward population health management and value-based reimbursement. 2) The recommendation to take proactive action now in order to be positioned to serve healthcare customers in the impending new business reality without losing viability in the current fee-for-service environment. 3) The reality that not taking action is the riskier choice.

The insights and recommendations need to be delivered carefully and strategically to be heard and take hold. Even if these influential voices are only echoing what James already said, when management hears it from them, it has a different impact.   It shifts the perception of risk away from stepping into new territory, and toward missing the boat by not moving forward with Jame’s idea.

There’s a lot of science and research behind how and why this works from studies of persuasion and decision-making. But bottom line, and like-it-or-not, James needs to marshall additional resources to persuade his upper management to move forward and with sufficient investment. The end result is management’s initial fears of change are allayed, they feel reasonably confident that they are moving forward in the right direction, and most likely, they say yes!

Connectivity and Interoperability: Advance the Frontier… But Don’t Overdo It!

big_data_waveJames is a senior product manager in a med device company. He had a pretty typical business day last Thursday. Besides meetings and desk work, he was communicating online for about three hours on and off. During that time, James sent 34 emails and 15 texts and received 29 emails and 18 texts. He got 5 messages from LinkedIn, 3 Skype notifications, and over a dozen updates from various professional groups. He booked 4 customer meetings via his CRM and scheduled 17 tasks with his team on BaseCamp. He got invited to 11 events and was pinged with 14 calendar reminders.

Some of these things were really important to James, some mundane. However, all these activities went to the cloud, then to all his connected devices – cell phone, tablet, and watch. There was no discrimination as to what specific content was worth sharing, so virtually everything got distributed and was accessible on all his devices. When James saw 83 of the things he did online earlier in the day also show up on his phone, then on his watch, he growled: “Why are they telling me all this?!”

And whenever he was on his laptop and interrupted by text messages popping up on his screen, he felt intruded upon: “Why are they assuming I want this??” he shouted in his head. “Let me choose!”

Switch gears to healthcare. Connectivity and interoperability continue to be really hot topics throughout the industry. Health IT and med device companies are offering more and more connectivity and interoperability in their systems and solutions. GE describes the sharing of information between medical devices and information systems as “fundamental to GE’s healthymagination objectives of lowering cost, increasing access and improving quality.”

The core purpose underlying connectivity and interoperability is collaboration that improves care. HIMSS defines three levels of interoperability. The highest level is “semantic” interoperability, which requires that data is not just exchanged between systems (both IT and devices), but made available in a way that can interpreted and used by the clinician.

Done right, the technologies that enable connectivity and interoperability can help transform the industry by facilitating better health care and improved health outcomes at lower costs. That’s good for the healthcare industry overall and good for patients. Whether driven by Meaningful Use requirements, competitive pressures, or clinician needs, fundamentally, connectivity and interoperability are customer-centric ideas.

However, like with James above, be careful not to go overboard with connectivity and interoperability. This can happen when what is possible, i.e. what technology can do, trumps what is desirable, i.e. what customers want, need, and will use. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes it’s the discernment  of what information really matters that makes connectivity and interoperability so powerful.

Be sure you know what data (and in what form) your customers want, can interpret, and will use; and what data is just frustrating or confusing clutter. Do your homework, don’t assume. Just because all the data can be shared collaboratively doesn’t mean it all should be shared.

 

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!

 

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.

________

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

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

 

The Better MVP: Why “Minimum Viable Products” Are Dead

The basic idea of a “minimum viable product” – popularized by Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement – is good: Create just enough to validate that what you’re making meets a customer need. And it’s led to many hugely successful companies, like Dropbox and Zappos (more here by Vladimir Blagojevic).
mvp_2
The problem we’ve seen is that “minimum viable product” can also lead to a product-centric mindset in which value to the customer takes a back seat to minimizing features. The dominant thinking is how little can we put in this product to be viable.

What’s the alternative? The intersection of “minimum viable product” and a different MVP we call “maximum value product” (others call it that too, like in this solid prezo by from Liquid Reality’s CEO Adam Smith).

“Maximum valuable product” is not about how many features you can pack into a new product. It is about how well can you solve whatever problem you’re addressing. That’s how you maximize value. The dominant thinking is not about how little, but how much; specifically how much of that particular problem you can solve for the customer.

The order and integration of the MVPs is critical. Here’s the 5 step sequence we recommend:

1) Maximum value: Start with the “maximum value product” perspective. Identify how much you value you can provide customers on a particular problem. Specify in details what aspects of the problem you’re solving, what benefit is created, and how important each is to customers.

2) Value validation: Validate with customers the meaningfulness of the problem you’re solving and have them rank order the importance of the benefits your product can provide.

3) Features: Make a list of what technology or features are needed for customers to experience each benefit and its value. Be sure to include low tech and high tech possibilities. Align features with the ranked benefits.

4) Minimum viability: Now bring in the Minimum Viable Product approach to decide what it will take to provide the required  features. Start with the features needed to deliver the most highly ranked benefit, then continue down the list. Think about trade-offs like this:

Option A: Do a good job at providing for the most important benefit, so that you’ll have enough resources to also provide for the second most important benefit.

Option B: Do a great job at providing for the most important benefit. Pour all your resources into that, and come back to the second most important benefit later.

5) Viability validation: Use lean and agile research techniques to get customer feedback on option A vs. Option B. Now you’re ready to take something to early adopters that has the optimal balance of providing value to customers and being viable to make.

Please share your experience with MVP vs. MVP!

Co-Creation: Beware Asking Too Much of Customers

I am a strong proponent of co-creation. My consulting firm ResearchWorks does a lot of co-creation projects focused on product innovation and marketing in the health space. Done right, co-creation can be a very powerful, customer-centric way of growing a business.
However, co-creation can also lead to a harmful abdication of responsibility.  This happens when companies expect customers to essentially design products or invent solutions, or to create marketing messages. Not their expertise, not their job.
Identifying solutions and designing products and services is the responsibility of the product manager or program manager. Creating effective messaging is the job of marketing and communication professionals. However, customers can play a major co-creative role and inspire tremendous change when they’re engaged in the right ways and at the right time.
We advise clients to keep customers as co-creators in the space of their experience and what they can validly do – identifying meaningful problems and unmet needs, envisioning what a better situation would look and feel like, and reacting to and improving upon products and messaging we present to them.
Those are ways customers can meaningfully co-create in order to inspire better products and services that benefit all stakeholders.