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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.