Customer insight isn’t just about what customers need: it’s about understanding the challenges they face and offering a solution. Ceri James explores the difficulties and opportunities of generating and applying customer insight in the medtech sector.
From Archimedes’ moment of insight as he stepped into his bathtub to Isaac Newton’s apple-inspired theory of gravity, the ‘Eureka moment’ is a powerful concept with a special place in the history of scientific discovery. And of these examples make two important points about insight: firstly, there should be an element of discovery or new realisation; and secondly, a relaxed mindset helps the cause.
This contrasts with the belief among some in industry that ‘customer insight’ is merely a new buzzword for ‘customer needs’. Our experience is that generating and applying customer insight can be a very powerful approach to creating customer and business value. In the medical technologies sector there is a major opportunity to embrace this approach, together with significant challenges.
Medtech under pressure
At the recent MDDExec Sales and Marketing Excellence conference, there was much discussion about the challenges facing the medtech industry: growing commercial and competitive pressures, a changing customer base, a growing need to understand customer motivations at different stages of the buying process – all brought together under a general consensus that marketing is going to become more important.
But there are often internal, cultural barriers in many healthcare companies that prevent this deep customer understanding. While imagination and intuition are clearly part of the scientific way of thinking, companies often only apply this intellectual curiosity to progress in medical understanding and not to gathering deep insights into what makes customers tick.
Furthermore, understanding customers is not always easy. They are not as rational in their decision making as they claim to be. But marketers have learnt a lot from neurology and behavioural psychology over the past decade. We appreciate now that customer decision making is much more complex than was previously believed, and is often grounded in subconscious habits and impulses.
Towards greater insight
Given these challenges, there are some common pitfalls that companies may stumble into on their journey towards a more insightful way of working. Many organisations that decide to embrace a new customer-oriented mindset go through a period of confusion – which is understandable in complex structures with strong functional subcultures. Here are a few points to recognise and manage:
• Clarity and common understanding of the term ‘insight’, which can be overused and misunderstood. Proposing your own definition might be useful. It needs to include the following key elements: a fresh understanding of something that is important and relevant to a specific segment of customers, and is actionable to create competitive advantage.
• A sense of purpose guiding any insight generation activities. Often, through lack of integration with other processes, insight generation can be without the sense of direction it needs – such as driving new product development or creating solutions to a business problem.
• Ownership and responsibility for insight initiatives. An insight is not the same as a research finding, and it cannot always be found in an obvious place. So there is an innate tension between insight being the responsibility of everyone all the time and being the responsibility of specific teams at particular times. Establishing clarity around this balance of roles may take some time.
• Embedding a clear, memorable and pragmatic process for systematically collecting fresh knowledge and translating it into insight and customer value. That takes time, and needs to be accompanied by a skills development programme as well as a mindset shift. Figure 1 shows an example of the kind of process flow that is appropriate – and needs to be accompanied by a toolkit that enables teams to move through the steps.
Comparisons with pharma
Our experience of working with pharmaceutical industry clients has provided a useful reference point. While many in the pharma industry acknowledge that they are lagging behind fast-moving consumer goods companies, who have been obsessed with and driven by customer understanding for many years, it appears that the general view among medical technology executives is that their industry is even further behind than pharma.
There does, however, appear to be one key advantage in medical device and diagnostic firms that should not be underestimated: it is the norm for industry sales executives to spend much more time with some customers, such as surgeons and nurses. This contrasts with pharma, where sales executives often rely too much on research reports based on interviews or focus groups, rather than spending time with customers in their day-to-day working environments – which is arguably a much more reliable and enlightening source of customer understanding.
If companies in the medtech industry can find ways of extending this advantage into other customer segments with growing influence, such as payers and patients, then it is a powerful basis on which they can catch up with pharma and, more importantly, compete within the marketplace.
Managing the change
Against this background, we would recommend taking the following steps to enhance the capability of your organisation to benefit from a new approach towards true customer understanding:
• Leadership. To put the customer at the centre of any business, it is essential for the senior leaders to believe that superior insight, well applied, will drive competitive advantage and enhanced business performance. Active engagement by the leaders to champion the initiative and to ensure that capabilities and culture is aligned is paramount. Bringing the change to life with a range of case studies and examples that employees can relate to is also important.
• Process. While many people assume that insights come from moments of epiphany or ‘bolts from the blue’, many are also pleasantly surprised that the likelihood of generating valuable insights is significantly advanced by the adoption of a process with clear terminology and a set of tools to help at each stage. Furthermore, this cannot be a standalone process: it needs to be integrated with other key processes such as brand strategy development and annual planning.
• Culture. The danger of incorporating customer insight into an organisation is that people will expect some kind of mechanical process to manufacture the insights from data. Actually, the powerful ‘Eureka’ moments come from human interaction – and key to this are cross-functional team dynamics and individual mindsets that embrace curiosity, empathy and intuition. This may represent a significantly different way of working from what teams are used to.
• Skills. As well as the formal skills associated with taking teams through the process, individual ‘soft skills’ such as connecting data in new and different ways and spotting rich and interesting customer viewpoints are crucial to success. Recruiting marketers from other industry sectors may be necessary for this, as well as scoping out the role of market researchers.
Make it happen
Be realistic about this change in your approach. Becoming more customer-focused is a significant change management challenge that requires dedicated time and resource. Engaging with employees, managing multiple internal stakeholders and measuring progress are all elements to be considered – as with any major change initiative.
Given the complex and rapidly changing nature of the medtech industry, all that we can say with certainty is this: those companies that invest in creating competitive advantage through their customer insight capabilities will become leaders within the sector.
Ceri James is a Strategic Consultant at ConsultComplete.
ConsultComplete are specialists in insight-led brand strategy in healthcare, offering expertise in market landscaping, strategy development, positioning, disease area strategy and marketing excellence. If you think we can help you generate and apply powerful insights for business and customer value, please contact Ceri James.