Category Archives: research

“But We Already Know what Customers Want” – How to Break Through Resistance & Get the Answers You Need

Darryl is a med device product manager in a tough spot. He’s supposed to establish a new direct-to-consumer channel to sell his product, after years of only selling through distributors. It’s a huge shift.

Darryl’s smart. He knows what he needs to be successful. And he knows he doesn’t have the customer insights necessary to develop the best strategy, nail the value prop, and get the messaging right. He wants to do customer research to fill the knowledge gaps. But he keeps getting pushback… he’s being told that the company knows these customers so there’s no need to do more research.  The reality is the company does know the customers, but in a very different context. They know them as end-users, NOT as shoppers or buyers. It’s a totally different ballgame going direct. There’s a lot riding on getting it right. Darryl doesn’t want to blow it.

So how does Darryl break through the resistance? Here’s one very powerful approach that’s proven to be very effective, time and time again.

  1. First let the “resistors” know that they may be right, maybe there is enough known about the customers. This puts Darryl and his colleagues on the same side, which helps disarm resistance.
  2. Set up a team workshop to review all that’s known about the customers. Convey that since effective decision-making requires distinguishing facts from assumptions or beliefs, you want everyone’s input in order to efficiently compile as much useful information as possible. And if there happen to be any information gaps, that will emerge as well.
  3. In the workshop, we would use our simple and powerful workshop activity we call Think vs. Know (more here) to help Darryl further disarm resistance, set egos aside (we actually bring a box marked “Put Egos Here”), and accomplish what he needs – which is to determine what is known, what is assumed or unexamined, and what the mission-critical information gaps are (if any).
  4. To get the most from the Think vs. Know activity, it’s important to come up with 3 or 4 categories, for example, what do we think vs. know about the customer experience of buying through intermediaries, about their desire for something better, about their willingness to pay, or about their feelings toward your brand.
  5. Wrap up by acknowledging all that is known and where there are mission-critical assumptions, and then together decide which assumptions are too risky to not validate. Now you have co-created together with the resistors a solid case for doing the customer research you really need.

Caution: While you can certainly use this approach on your own, sometimes you need experts to come in and manage the complex dynamics, hold people accountable, and facilitate good decision-making. It all depends on the level of trust, strength of relationship, and the type of culture. When we’re brought in as a professional consulting firm, we’re usually engaged to do the Think vs. Know piece, then conduct the needed research, then come back to the group to help them correct mistaken assumptions and move forward most effectively.

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences dealing with kind of dynamic. Please add your comments.

The Biggest Mistake with Most Med Device and Life Science Customer Research

I put on a workshop last week at the WLSA Convergence Summit on how to determine which new ideas to invest in — and which to avoid.

One key idea was the right way and wrong way to get and leverage customer input for new medical devices.

Wrong:  Ask customers what features they want in your products or services.

Right:  Ask customers what outcomes they want from using your product or service.

Most of the time, when we ask customers about solutions, we are abdicating our responsibilities and setting ourselves up for failure.  It is not the responsibility of customers to figure out what features will provide the experience they desire or achieve the result the want. What customers can meaningfully talk about is what experience and outcomes they want. Once we know that, then we can back into why those outcomes are important. Then we translate that understanding into a product requirement and validate its accuracy and importance.

For example, we might hear respiratory therapists tell us in focus groups that they want the mask to be a certain shape. That’s a solution. If we took that solution at face value and passed it on to the engineers and designers as a recommendation, we would likely be misleading them because we don’t yet know the desired outcome. Instead we dig deeper to reveal why RTs want the mask to be a certain shape and what outcome it will achieve. We learn that the outcome is about maximizing patient comfort in older patients, not about minimizing air leakage. We can then propose and validate a measurable requirement designed to achieve that outcome, such as “Maximize comfort for older patients wearing a mask for more than one week.”  Now the engineers and designers take over to bring the requirement to fruition.

Bottom line, asking the right questions gets customer input that leads to better products that solve meaningful customer problems.


Resource for more info:  HBR article about designing useful outcomes-focused customer research.


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.

Baseball, Bobbleheads, & “Wrong Reason” Marketing

Why do people go to ballgames? To see great players, to support their team, for the love of the game, right? These are the “right” reasons.
Sometimes “wrong” reasons work better. Take Dodger fans. The Dodgers are barely playing above .500, not so good for the most expensive pro team on the planet. Yet they’re consistently winning in attendance. Continue reading Baseball, Bobbleheads, & “Wrong Reason” Marketing