The Mechanics (and the Human Side) of Customer Engagement

At HWMM our “day job” involves observing the medical device industry. Much of this is done through the lens of its participants’ websites and social media platforms. With donkeys’ years in the business, it’s fair to say it’s our passion (#sad). Earlier this year we even went to the trouble of applying some rigorous statistical analysis to 50 UK medtech companies’ online efforts. You can enjoy the results here.

At heart we’re marketers, not geeks. So we also actually sometimes “speak” to clients and potential clients about their marketing activities. Specifically we’re interested in the way they communicate with their target audience, because after all, what could be more important than that interface? Having trawled through these encounters for years, it’s often struck me that we see the same fundamental story, repeated from company to company. Same issues, same challenges, same mistakes, same well-meaning but often half-hearted attempts to fix them.

This piece is about those common threads. Admittedly it’s a snippet of what could be another long dissertation, but we’re all busy communicating with customers aren’t we? It ought to interest MedTech players because there are some lessons you can learn from our analysis of how other companies are just like you.

Two raw facts to get us started: Firstly, by and large the result of our survey was a big fat “could do better” on the communications homework. Secondly, when it comes to internet marketing, the same mistakes are being made again and again.

Who cares? Why is this important anyway?

Well, if the folk who are responsible for the company’s revenue stream don’t care, one could argue it’s a case of “fine, do it your way.”

But I’m here to tell you this is important stuff. You, my friend, may well be an incredibly clever person, brilliantly educated about your particular sub specialist interest, or indeed medical devices and their application in general. But that’s rarely enough to guarantee commercial success. Sometimes it’s the opposite because you’re too close to the action. You can’t look at the world through your customers’ eyes. That’s not criticism, it’s recognition of an issue.

Here’s a worked example (I’m actually making it up, but it might as well be real… we see it every day to the extent that it’s a cliche).

In my example, Technoweeble Ltd has worked for ten years on its brilliant “Gizmo,” to the extent that it knows its subject better than the people who it’s designed for. (A bit like Apple, we users don’t need to know what goes on inside the iPhone).

The people who have helped develop the Gizmo are by definition very close to the action. They are mentally (even possibly financially) bought into it, and fully committed. But in reality they are in persistent danger of being unable to see the wood for the trees. They all have an inbuilt, undiagnosed, unrecognised conflict of interest, because the investment, all the time, money, work, thought and idea ownership is blinding them: They think the Gizmo will save the world. It’s sooo much better than any of competitor offering, because it does this that and the next thing that theirs don’t.

So why are sales so poor? How come people are buying from competitors, when everyone knows Gizmo is the top of the tree. Technoweeble’s Gizmo should be walking off the shelf.

Cut to the chase man

The joy of having to distil a lengthy disposition into a punchy blog is that I’m forced to get to the point. Here it is.

Cutting through hundreds of pages of marketing textbook, let’s assume you have the right product (define “right” as something useful that in a competitive pitched battle would at least stand up against the opposition). So to be clear, we’re now ONLY talking about how you communicate with your audience… how you do it and what you say. This of course, is a numbers game. If you have a 5% hit (conversion) rate and want to increase sales, you either need to increase your rate or increase the size of the audience your engaging with.

You’ve worked so hard for so long, and made so much sacrifice to get your product to market. Brutally, don’t waste it by getting the next bit wrong. You need to make sure the communication explains your offering’s value to the customer. And that’s a matter of quality message, quantity delivery through quality media. You have to use these communications tools that are at your fingertips. As I’ve said before, as a twenty something year old product manager in the 1990s I would have donated a kidney (probably both) to have today’s comms tools. Back then the sequence was simple: new product>brochure>exhibition stand>giveaway pen>salesforce training>incentive programme.

Now we can easily and cheaply engage with our audience. And I do mean engage… or even, if you must…“reach out.”

But somehow so many companies can’t, or don’t want to see past the old field-based snakes and ladders… “rep meets doc, doc likes/doesn’t like product, move up ladder or slide down snake.”

But however much you love your sales team, you love them less when you look at the income statement. Sales teams cost. So they need to be as effective and efficient as possible (not cold calling, which should really be rendered dead in the device field for so many reasons).

And then there’s the sin of going half way. “We know we need to do better, so let’s engage a PR company to write and distribute press releases.”

This isn’t a cheap exercise either by the way. Even the rigmarole of chucking out press releases costs. And on its own, it’s of questionable value unless part of an array of integrated comms tools. It’s like a lump of coal, offering the potential of a cosy evening in, but useless without a form of ignition. This is going to sound like a sales pitch for what our consultancy service does for companies. Frankly it is, because we’re passionate about our model and have evidence it works.

“We built a website twenty years ago and rebuilt it ten years ago…it’s fine!”

Sadly, and you obviously don’t want to hear this, our model starts with your website. This is the stopping off point for people who are vaguely interested in your product. If your rep stands in theatre for a day, not only will the consultant be aware of him/her, so will everyone else, including other potential leads/customers/docs/stakeholders. That vague interest or encounter with the friendly junior doctor could end up as a conversation with another potential consultant/decision maker. For whom, when you’re not there to explain yourself, it’s “next stop: website.”

In a nutshell then, does your site work, does it say what it should say, do links go where links should go, is it fast, is it secure, is it well constructed and easy to navigate, can visitors get to product page with less than two clicks (if not, you’ve failed, and they’re off!), is it mobile friendly (not just responsive to wee screens, but optimised for purpose)?

Next, content: Is it lively? Does it look as well-tended as Wimbledon Centre Court on finals day? A dated site with no new news for six months is a tired, dead looking place. Your customer will think you don’t care or are not paying attention. Deliver regular content, especially news. This is your best chance to have a “landing page”, which is the equivalent of the estate agent getting the “prospective buyer” over the threshold.

And then social media. Nice short pieces on LinkedIn can drive “traffic” (I know, that also doesn’t sit well in our human relationship business… shall we say leads, or customers? Or Docs?) to your website. Same with Twitter. But make sure you know what to do with your hashtags. Find out what # is generating what content (that old numbers game again). Get these right and people (and Google) start recognising your authority in your specialist area. That word, authority, is a very nice destination for most companies… trouble is, we can’t all be leaders.

The common thread running through this section is human interaction. Rarely do medtech company execs, past and present, miss the opportunity to spout the old cliche about it being a “relationship” business. That’s why we all end up with sales teams. It’s because we’re not selling kitchen utensils or music downloads, we’re selling complex technological solutions to very clever people who we expect will quickly grasp what they’re for and how to use them. The art of persuasion at this level is about explaining how a complicated product solution can improve on current practice, to the benefit of patient and healthcare provider… and in ticking those boxes, the clinical specialist.

Is the human bit of the company/customer interaction exclusively to be placed in the hands of your sales team though? Can you be sure that they all describe your technology the same way and answer questions according to the formulaic way your sales manager drilled into them at the last sales meeting? However much you adore the results your field based staff can deliver, they are not, and should never be, robots. So, support the sales effort by delivering it qualified leads and give your company the chance to look as consistent and focused as possible. It’s easy really, just takes a little commitment.

Wrap up

That’s about it for today’s taster session. Remember none of this is easy (or you’d be doing it already). It’s a matter of delicately tapping into your customer’s zone of interest and making sure they see what you really need them to see.

Neither is it particularly quick in terms of delivering results. It takes patience and skilful use of the available media and it takes well-written copy that talks to the customer. That, in our humble opinion, is where we can use years of medical copywriting to communicate at the right level.

Without having the whole picture in place you’ll never fully enjoy the commercial fruits. Get your website right and it’s a lovely, welcoming party on a summer’s day. Leave it to fester and you might as well chuck the expensive press release into a black hole and keep bashing away at the coal face.

So, thanks for sticking with me. You’ve got the message by now… it’s website/social media/words all in one productive, yet still human, bundle.

If you’d like to talk about how we can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here.

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