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.

 

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!

Population Health: The “Make or Break” Behavior Change Promise

A key promise of the population health phenomenon, so important to payors, providers, and suppliers is this: We need the public to get healthier. That requires participation. If payors pay, people will take advantage of free preventive services to get healthy.

Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation put it in their recent Health Reform overview (see bold): A key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the requirement that private insurance plans cover recommended preventive services without any patient cost-sharing. Research has shown that evidence-based preventive services can save lives and improve health by identifying illnesses earlier, managing them more effectively, and treating them before they develop into more complicated, debilitating conditions, and that some services are also cost-effective. However, costs do prevent some individuals from obtaining preventive services. The coverage requirement aims to remove cost barriers.

The reality is that while cost is a barrier for some people, it’s not the only barrier. It may not even be the main barrier. Now you might be thinking, if preventive services have been proven to improve health and save lives, why would people NOT make use of them, especially when they’re free? What other barriers might there be?

In my two decades of experience working with CDC, CMS, FDA, and many public health efforts, behavior change is the holy grail. And maybe the hardest to achieve. The main barrier I believe is not money, but motivation. People will find all kinds of reasons (beyond costs) to NOT sign up for free preventive services, including: 1) I’m not sick, 2) I don’t need whatever those services are, 3) I’ll do it later.

Prevention has alway been a tough sell. The fundamental benefit promised is that something bad (illness) will not happen down the road. Many people don’t see that as compelling or personal relevant in a life with so many demands in the here and now.

The solution requires: 1) increasing immediate personal relevance, 2) making it simple to do. As my friend and colleague Peter Mitchell, head of Salter Mitchell’s MarketingForChange practice, says, make it fun, easy, and popular. Building on that, I like the FEFE acronym- Fun, Easy, Fast, Effective.

Research trends in the science of persuasion, behavioral economics and decision-making, social psychology, and marketing science, provide convergent evidence that motivating health behavior change and utilization of preventive services is no simple task, and requires far more than data, information, and logic.

Bottom line, population health players need to employ multiple approaches to motivate behavior change, and to not assume that a logical (and free) offer will do the job.

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FYI, here are a few more resources on motivating health behavior change:

Motivating Health Behavior Change: Three Dangerous Assumptions to Avoid

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

Ability-Motivation-Opportunity: Marketing’s Winning Trifecta

Behavior Change: It’s NOT Just the Person!

 

Great Technology, Or Are You Drinking Your Own Koolaid?

kool-aidSandy, a senior marketing manager at a med device company recently confided: “We’re so convinced our new technology platform is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s like we’re drinking our own Koolaid!” She was greatly concerned that her team had lost perspective and any sense of objectivity. They had become so enamored of their platform that they were no longer thinking of what customers might want or value. Were they building something that no one would want, use or buy?

I’ve heard this same concern from savvy marketing and product managers at health insurance companies, health IT companies, and health innovation labs. It’s what happens when people, however well-meaning, spend years developing a product, program, or idea,  and become so immersed in what they’re building, that they lose sight of its appeal and value to customers. They’re so close to the product or service that they can’t even see the question. They’re drunk, on their own Koolaid.

If this sounds like your team or company… well, from one perspective, it’s not your fault. It’s human nature to believe deeply in what you make or market. Why wouldn’t you? It can actually be unifying and inspiring to drink your own Koolaid!

On the other hand, drinking your own Koolaid can be deceiving. You start believing your own “propaganda” without healthy questioning. The resultant deception can blind you to disparities between how you want things to be and how things are, to differences between your company’s desires and the market reality.

Bottom line, it is your team’s responsibility to raise your heads and verify your assumptions, check out how customers think and feel about the benefits your product promises, and assess its usability. Inevitably, your solution has morphed over time, and what it is now may or may not meet market needs. In short, you need to be sure you’re still solving a meaningful problem and developing a unique solution customers will use and pay for.

Can you stop drinking your own Koolaid? It takes courage because you have a lot of sunk costs – and not just money, but effort and professional reputation as well. But as any investor knows, sunk costs alone do not justify spending more time and money. That’s called a money pit. It takes strength too, because once you have momentum in a certain direction, it’s tough to put on the brakes, or even pivot. But again, going further in the wrong direction helps no one.

So, set egos aside, ask the tough questions, get customer feedback, and make smart decisions. And quit drinking your own Koolaid!

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.

Gratitude in the Med Tech World

Thanksgiving.

In America, the holiday wakes up a lot of people to the good in their lives and they feel thankful.gratitude

I believe that for those of us whose work results in preventing disease, allaying pain and suffering, or restoring health, we have something to be thankful for everyday. That includes every person involved in med tech, healthcare, life sciences, health insurance, etc.

You have chosen to work in a field that inherently has meaning and purpose. Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of that, with the relentless pressure to come up with the next big thing, to be fast to market, to hit your numbers no matter what. And if your work is far from the front lines of patient care, it can become harder to connect what you do with the ultimate outcome of better health.

Stay motivated by connecting your work with its higher purpose – improving health and well-being. Here’s a story that brings to life how you can imbue meaning in what you do everyday, by repositioning your own thinking.

Sir Christopher Wren was a renowned astronomer, writer, and most notably an architect – a real renaissance man. He designed many of the most famous churches in England in the late 1600s. One day when Sir Christopher was inspecting the work on his masterpiece St. Paul’s Cathedral, he walked up to one stonemason and asked, “What are you doing?” The worker said “I’m laying stone.” Sir Christopher thinks about it, nods his head and keeps walking. He turns the corner of the building and walks up to another stonemason. He walks over to him, and once again says, “What are you doing?” This man looks at him, looks up, smiles, and says: “Sir, I am building a monument to God!”

He was doing the exact same work as the first mason, but the second mason connected his actions with a powerful vision and greater meaning. You can imagine this second mason was far more driven, focused, and committed to the results of his work. Why? He imbued his work with a higher purpose. It was no longer about the stones he laid.  It was about building a monument to God. His recognition that he was contributing to a significant purpose was the source of his focus and clarity.

So you’re not just managing work streams, developing product specs, writing code, editing copy, or selling products. You are contributing to better health, to less pain and suffering, to hope for living a better life.

Remember – especially when you feel overwhelmed with details and deadlines: YOU are making the world a little better.

Thank you.

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!

 

Better Med Tech Marketing Campaigns: The “Donald Trump” Lesson

MTMUnlike the most controversial presidential hopeful Donald Trump, med tech marketing campaigns often shy away from saying what they really mean. Call it political correctness, fear of failure, legal restrictions, or CYA. But regardless of what is driving the ambiguity, the result is watered down messages and poorer results. Say what you believe as explicitly as you can – at least in your brainstorming and creative strategy development. Then (also unlike Donald!) tame it in your message execution if you have to.

In the 1990 movie Crazy People, Dudley Moore was an advertising exec turned mental patient who got his fellow patients to create wildly successful campaigns. Their gift was honesty – unvarnished, blunt, explicit honesty. For example, their Jaguar car campaign targeting men showed a scantily clad woman next to a shiny new Jag with the line “Buy a Jaguar. Get Laid.” Now most of us may not be able to get away with that degree of explicitness in our ads, but we can in our creative thinking.

I recently saw a billboard for a mortgage firm that boldly proclaimed “your loan sucks.” Which is more typically the unspoken claim. As always with bold messaging, you need to weigh the attention-getting effect against the turn-off effect.  Check out our “Think/Feel/Do” messaging framework here, for more guidance.

So, in extremely plain language, answer this: What is it that are you not saying, but you want customers to think? Then do your customer messaging research to see just how explicit you can be, while improving your reputation and increasing sales.

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.

Understanding How Customers “Anchor” on Prices: An Opportunity to Increase Sales

Imagine your boss just surprised you with a $10,000 bonus. Would you be happy? Probably so. What if you now found out your boss gave your co-workers a $20,000 bonus. Still happy? Probably not.

Next, imagine you’re at an electronics store ready to buy a new high-end computer for $1,995. You use your phone to do a quick price check online and find the same computer at a competing store down the street for a bit less, $1,985. Would you go to the other store for the lower price? Probably not.

Now instead, imagine you’re at the same electronics store ready to buy a new calculator for $19.95. You check online and find the same calculator at the competing store down the street for less, $9.95. Would you go to the other store for the lower price? Probably so.

What’s going on??

What’s going on is that your frame of reference or “anchor” is changing. In the first bonus example, you compare $10,000 to $0 so of course you’ll be happy. You just gained $10,000. In the second bonus example, you compare your $10,000 to the $20,000 your co-workers got. Now you feel like you’re down $10,000 and you’re unhappy. However, from a rational perspective, it shouldn’t matter because in both scenarios you have $10,000 more than you did before.

In the electronics examples, the decision is about saving $10. However when you can save $10 on an almost $2,000 purchase, you feel it’s not worth the trouble of going to a different store. It’s only half of 1%. But when you can save $10 on a $20 purchase, you feel compelled to go to the other store. After all it’s saving 50%! But logically, it’s still $10 in both scenarios. And $10 is $10.

Anchoring is just one example from the rich field of behavioral economics that demonstrates how our mental accounting is not always logical or rational. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s simply how most people operate. Knowing and understanding the powerful principles of behavioral economics and how to apply them in med tech marketing can help you appeal to customers in ways that better fit how they process information and make decisions.

Please share your examples of taking the anchoring principle into consideration (or not!) and tell us what resulted.

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Read about the status quo bias and how to overcome it: Why Selling New Technology into Hospitals is Hard: Overcoming the Status Quo Bias