Tag Archives: Customer intimacy

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!

The Promise & Challenge of Customer Intimacy for Med Tech Companies

No, it’s not about low lights, mood music or negligees. Customer intimacy is a business philosophy that commits you to deeply connecting with your customers. The deeper you connect, the more you sell.

Fundamentally, there are two main aspects to customer intimacy: One is really understanding what customers want. The other is giving them what they want. And that makes for very loyal and profitable customers.

When you are customer intimate, you focus on specific customers and let go of others. You precisely tailor your offerings to what your customers want and need, and do (almost) whatever it takes to make them happy. That requires really tuning to customer desires, both stated and unstated. And it may mean using big data analytics to make optimal recommendations to customers – like Amazon does with products, Pandora does with songs, and LinkedIn does with business contacts.

As a result, your customers are thinking “How do they know me so well?!” And of course, if you are practicing customer intimacy, you also genuinely care about your customers.

Sounds good, right? Here’s the rub: Most every med tech executive will say they are committed to connecting with their customers. In thought, they are. But in practice, it’s often a different story. Customer intimacy is hard to achieve. It’s a long-term strategy that requires organizational commitment, a relentless “tuning-in” to customer problems and desires, and both responsiveness and creativity to solve those problems and fulfill those desires.

Customer intimacy also challenges and turns traditional revenue goals right-side up. How? Customer intimacy is about maximizing the lifetime value of a customer. It is absolutely not about about lowering prices to hit quarterly or end-of-year numbers. In terms of KPIs, long-term relationships trump short-term profit. This can be a tough sell in solely numbers-driven organizations.

On the other hand, because it is challenging for med tech companies to practice customer intimacy, those that do will: 1) gain a significant competitive advantage in a very tough market, 2) build a barrier to commodization of their products and services, and 3) create a unique and powerful brand promise that can be core to their very identity. And as Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Nordtrom all attest, bottom line, customer intimacy can be highly lucrative.

The first step is to decide if you have what it takes to be customer intimate over the long run. Consider: Money aside, how deeply do you care about your customers? Do you commit resources to really understand them? How far will you go to satisfy them?

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Resources:

The HBR classic by Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema: Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines

Interesting Forbes magazine article by business technology expert Joe Weinman on how digital and big data is transforming customer intimacy into “collective intimacy”

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.