It’s news to nobody that product launches are taking longer and longer. New product committees in the hospital are designed with the express purpose of separating meaningful innovation from minor incremental changes of little consequence. Commercial stakeholders expressly screen the budget impact of any new product and insist on pricing and pricing stability before the first box enters the facility. The most powerful physicians in the facility are required to justify plans and put trials up for clinical and commercial review. Even a product used in clinical trials must be priced before it can enter some facilities.
Unfortunately, this reaction is actually fairly well justified. The complaint could be legitimately raised that a medtech company took advantage of its position once or twice as it launched products aimed at pleasing the surgeon without fully establishing clinical or economic need. The company asked surgeons what they wanted, delivered it to them and demanded price in return. Those days are a distant memory for most product categories now.
Currently, surgeon sponsors are now required to address the concerns of their colleagues in purchasing. A medtech company needs to have arguments about why its product will improve the economics of the hospital, improve outcomes, reduce length of stay, slash re-hospitalizations or help hospitals perform well on the myriad of other economic considerations that they now face. In short, selling in the hospital environment is much more complex than it was a decade ago.
Sales forces have started to adapt. They’re training their field teams in new ways to deal with new stakeholders. They’re creating new roles to deal with more organized and more economically oriented customers. They’re fragmenting some roles to provide deep specialists and combining others to provide a single face to the customer.
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But what puzzles me most about medtech companies in this environment is that the discipline of marketing has remained stagnant. While there are pockets of amazing marketing talent within the medtech industry, we still lag behind many other B-to-B markets, and I would argue that we significantly lag where we need to be in the overall quality of talent and total investment in the function. While our industry needs to transform in several ways in the future to thrive, a substantial overhaul and upgrade of the marketing organization is a critical one.
Why do I assert this so strongly? You don’t need to go far to find examples of:
- A next-generation hospital patient support and infrastructure product stuffed with so many features of dubious value that it had to be completely redesigned days before launch to get price in the same order of magnitude of previous models
- A wound care product positioned with a primary benefit of “two-in-one” in an area where most hospitals carry more than 40 brands and have little push to reduce complexity or SKUs
- A revolutionary cardiac product with the potential to significantly reduce complications, which was launched simply on the clinical novelty of its design with no mention of very real hospital savings impact
- A silver-coated catheter sold on the clinical properties of silver with literally no mention of the potential for very real savings in reduced hospital infection rates
- A med-surg team that attempted to launch 13 new product all in one year
The list goes on.
As an industry, for too long we’ve gotten away with the philosophy of listening solely to the surgeon for innovation. We’ve asked our sales reps to define their own value propositions after the product is launched and to find their own ways to sell it. This needs to change.
In ZS-sponsored research earlier this year, we learned just how important outcomes and quality metrics are to hospitals. We also learned about the important challenges to the role that medtech companies can play as suppliers and partners.
Now to all of the medtech companies not yet organized and delivering high-quality marketing outcomes: It’s time to conduct meaningful market research. It’s time to develop thoughtful product and portfolio strategies, complementary services and compelling value propositions, and rich launch strategies that work the first time. It’s time to price for long-term value. It’s time for so many things that we knew we should be doing, but we don’t slow down enough to do them or invest enough to get them right.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for marketing.