The New Medical Device Marketing

Today’s sales toolkit includes a number of options for presenting and demonstrating products to prospects—even in the absence of a physical product.

Gavin Finn

November 22, 2011

10 Min Read
The New Medical Device Marketing

There was a time not so long ago when salesmen went door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners to individuals looking for the best tool to rid their homes of dust and dander. The demonstrations took place live, in their living rooms, where the prospective buyer could try out the product.

Even now, the need for prospects to be able to explore and experience products to determine quality and suitability has not changed, especially for critical-care and life-saving devices. Yet, the buying process often requires the prospect to invest a significant amount of time to visit on-site installations, or the sales team has to ship the product to a sales meeting or tradeshow in order for the prospect to view it. This level of planning and expense to provide access to a physical product is often necessary due to its importance and cost. In most cases, however, the salesperson can’t just toss the delicate (and often large) device into the back of a car to take it on the road.

Even in cases where the availability of products for buyers and sellers isn’t a challenge, the complex nature of the sales process for medical devices makes it very difficult to build and deliver a meaningful customer experience. Telling customers how to solve a problem with a product is no longer enough. Sales teams need to show customers how to solve their very specific problems. For hospitals, clinics, doctors, laboratories, and private practices, one size doesn’t fit all.

Fortunately, today’s sales and marketing toolkit includes a number of options for presenting and demonstrating products to prospects—even in the absence of a physical product. In a traditional selling process, buyers often play a passive role—listening to sales presentations, watching case study videos, etc. They have no interaction with the product whatsoever. These traditional selling methods don’t provide the information necessary to make a truly informed buying decision, and that can lessen or kill chances for a sale, or make for a far longer sales cycle.

When it comes to sales, who you’re talking to is as important as what you’re talking about. It’s not unusual to have five or more departments involved in the buying process, and each may have different requirements and decision-making influences. For this reason, sales and marketing professionals need to customize their messages with an experiential focus that addresses each decision-maker’s requirements. The customer experience should concisely articulate those benefits in an engaging and memorable way.

Purchasing Constituents

The individuals and departments that need to be convinced of a device’s suitability and superiority over competitors’ products vary depending on the submarket (e.g., implantable devices, imaging systems, diagnostic equipment, or laboratory system). The following are among those who will likely have a say in the process:

Physicians. Physicians primarily inquire if and how a device improves existing methods to offer a better outcome for patients. When marketing to physicians, it’s necessary to clearly depict the product features and benefits specific to patient outcomes.

Medical Technicians. Technicians influence the purchasing decision process because they provide a hands-on perspective as to how the device will be used. Key questions technicians will want answered might include, “How much training will be required?” and “Will this device perform better than what we currently use?” Medical technicians might also want to know whether the device’s operation requires fewer steps, will reduce the propensity for errors, require less time to accomplish the task, etc. Answering these questions within the parameters of the marketing message is critical to reaching and persuading this audience.

Laboratory Scientists or Technicians. Laboratory personnel frequently weigh in on purchasing decisions related to medical devices. Marketing must address their primary concerns, such as how or why a particular device’s features may impact analysis quality. The marketing message must also include information about the device’s safety features and ease of use.

Chief Financial Officers/Hospital Administrators. Financial administrators are interested in far more than the cost of a device. They also take into account how the expense is distributed among the initial capital costs (purchased or leased), maintenance fees, and any other components of the total cost of ownership (TCO). They will require concrete, quantitative answers to questions such as “How does this TCO compare with those of competitive products, or to existing solutions?” A compelling return-on-investment (ROI) case is vital, both in financial terms and in terms of their key strategic objectives. The ROI case might include increased patient or sample throughput, lower energy utilization, or greater device utilization (due to reduced maintenance outages, for example). Touting benefits that speak to these concerns offers marketers the best chance for capturing administrators’ attention and building financial support for making the sale.

Patients. Patients are often under-emphasized in the device sales process—even though they are directly impacted by the devices or instruments. In today’s competitive healthcare market hospitals, like everyone else, must employ strategic sales and marketing initiatives to attract and keep patients. New products that offer patients shorter wait times or reduce pain and discomfort may result in higher patient satisfaction rates, ultimately translating into benefits for the organization as a whole.

Create Compelling Experiences

Once you have defined the key product and solution benefits for each participant’s requirements, the challenge becomes how to convey them in the most effective manner. A slideshow bullet list won’t suffice. Research demonstrates that persuasion works best when it focuses on several core dimensions.

Audience Involvement. Speak about key benefits that specifically matter to the audience. If the messaging focuses on the real concerns of each individual, they will engage in the sales or marketing experience in a positive way. They ask questions, direct the nature of the discussion, decide which areas of the solution to address first, etc. They become active participants in the process—not just listeners.

Credibility. The message and the person who delivers it must be credible. This can be achieved through:

  • Corporate rank and status (Is the company a leader in its field?).

  • Goodwill (Is the sales process being conducted in a professional and competent manner?).

  • Expertise (Does the sales or marketing message demonstrate knowledge of the problem and the customer’s perspective?).

  • Image (How well does the brand or company portray itself?).

  • Morality and fairness (Does the sales or marketing message convey ethical, truthful information?).

Context. You also need to deliver the message in an appropriate context, situation, circumstance, or venue. For example, are you discussing your message in a sales meeting, or at a restaurant? What works for one venue may be inappropriate for another.

While each decision-maker must be an active participant in the process, delivering the content in an interactive manner becomes the challenge. That means not just telling them, but showing them.

Interactive, 3-D Product Demonstrations

With the new, rich digital technologies available today, it’s possible to use interactive, virtual product models that represent the physical product in an astonishingly realistic manner. This realism is derived from two basic accomplishments.

Photo-Realistic Visual Representations. The 3-D product model is textured with high-resolution digital photography to portray how the product looks with high visual fidelity. It looks and behaves exactly like the physical product.

Digital Model Behavior and Performance. In the digital representation, the functionality of the device is shown exactly as it is in the physical product. If a test tube is inserted in a particular orientation, then it is shown being inserted in that orientation in the virtual product model. If the device rotates at a particular speed and translation angle, the 3-D model replicates it precisely.

The interactive 3-D model includes the ability for the user (the prospect) to move it around, zoom in, and measure its dimensions at his or her own pace and degree of interest. The prospect can explore, through a pre-defined set of animation sequences, demonstrations of particular areas to better understand the product’s benefits.

Importantly, the prospect’s active participation is increased in a way that is not always possible when a physical product is available. They are driving the demonstration, opening compartments, removing parts, changing configurations, etc.

Interactive Storytelling Technology

Interactive technologies are now available to help sales teams convey to customers an understanding of how products work in the context of the customers’ environments and what the benefits are for individual customers. These interactive solutions build on the use and value of 3-D product models by integrating the product models into a larger story to show, for example, samples progressing through a lab process. These solutions can interweave realistic 3-D scenes (such as a virtual laboratory or a hospital), process diagrams, 3-D product models, animated flow diagrams, videos, and conventional collateral such as PDF documents and slide presentations.

Because these interactive applications are not presequenced or limited to a predefined set of steps for the user, they offer customized experiences for each user (customer), allowing the user to drive the flow of the presentation to suit his or her interests and needs. While the technology includes all relevant details of a medical device, it also shows how the product integrates within data systems, other instruments, and workflows and processes.

The primary benefit of this approach is that the customer is directly involved and engaged, and thus, more likely to be informed and persuaded. Further, this approach delivers specific, targeted messaging for each audience and provides a consistent articulation of the device or solution benefits, no matter where the customer touchpoint may be.

Virtually There

Through virtual experiences, companies can showcase all of their products and realize dramatic savings by eliminating the need to ship physical products to globally dispersed sales events. This reduces the risk of damage, decreases product acquisition needs and shipping and drayage costs, and requires fewer staff and less set-up at events. These same virtual experiences can also be delivered across a variety of platforms: on websites, sales laptops, mobile devices and high definition touch-screen appliances. Sales teams have the luxury of presenting to clients anywhere and at anytime—at a tradeshow, in a prospect’s office, even impromptu opportunities at the airport or at a Starbucks. This combination of mobile delivery and rich media now offers sales and marketing teams new ways to present products, with stunning visuals and remarkable reach.

A Real-Life Example

MEDRAD develops, markets, and services medical devices used for the diagnosis and treatment of disease and injury. When MEDRAD’s core sales focus expanded to include the informatics behind those devices, so too did its target audience. In addition to building relationships with physicians, technologists, and radiology administrators, IT now had a role in determining how the technology would tie into important business systems.

MEDRAD Radiology operational marketing manager Jeff Evans was charged with figuring out how to tell a product story that would appeal to the different hospital constituents. “Describing the pain points without a visual is hard to grasp,” Evans says. “We found when the product is there, in front of someone and customizable to that individual, the message carries far more impact.” Realistically, having a physical product at every sales engagement wasn’t going to be possible. However, by interacting with a virtual experience comprised of product demonstrations, relevant information, and positioning messaging, each prospect experiences MEDRAD’s solutions in a dynamic and personalized manner.

For MEDRAD, describing specific pain points with a memorable solution demonstration was critical to its marketing success as the target audience expanded. The company can show products and solutions in a simplified manner, while adding depth where necessary to address the needs of different audiences. “At tradeshows, all of the information is at your fingertips on a touch-screen appliance, which lets us customize the message as needed, Evans says. “Some of our customers require more depth than others. The interactive storytelling solutions let us dive as deep as we need to go for some and stay on the surface for others while maintaining a consistent and branded feel.”

Gavin Finn is president and CEO of Kaon Interactive.

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