Observe, Don’t Listen

For years the industry has spent millions of dollars and huge amounts of time listening to customers.  At this point it seems that this is a little fruitless, especially if we view the physician as the primary customer.  Much more may be needed.  Perhaps we need to consider another point of view.  This Harvard Business Review blog takes a very interesting look at how people will say one thing and then actually do something completely different.  The blog points out that customers are often not even aware that there is a gap between what they are saying and what they are doing.  The customer’s behavior should be a much more powerful piece of information than what they say they do or will do.  The answer is that setting up small field tests is a much better way to determine future actions than just asking customers what they want.

Take a look at what is happening in the pharmaceutical world. We ask physicians for their opinions on product profiles and messaging when in reality they follow managed care formularies 100% of the time.  What difference does it make what they think if their actions show they fall lock-step in line with what others think.  We do quantitative surveys and build marketing plans with physicians to find out what they think they do and why they do it when in reality their prescribing records may differ significantly from what they indicate on the surveys.  Yet, when plans are developed these same surveys become the foundation for the plans and strategies.  When launches fail and products don’t perform as expected we blame execution rather than flawed research.  Pricing studies are done with those who really don’t make pricing decisions and again we rely on opinions rather than on actions.

The wonderful thing about our industry is there are so many opportunities to set up field based observations and even tests.  The delivery of healthcare is so different in every area of the country that patterns can be identified where things are working and where they are not.  The key is to really be able to identify the driving forces in each of these mini-markets so that there is a true cause and effect analysis.  Perhaps the most neglected resource to help with this work is the sales representative that has an intimate relationship with the local market. They live and breathe the business in a particular area and could provide a wealth of information if they trusted the process and if they could feed the information to the system in an unbiased way.  It is a challenge, but the insight that could be provided might be worth the effort.

The key might be to completely re-look at the way information is gathered.  Perhaps the best way to go at this is to combine both talking with observation.  Ideally, there would be observation and analysis of what is going on, followed by customer input and then further observation and analysis after attaining informed insight from reps and customers.  A couple lines of wisdom might be relevant.  Remember Henry Ford said if he only listened to what customers wanted he would have developed a faster horse.  And finally the line about watching what I do and not what I say may be particularly important in this changing business climate.  Data gathering is truly an art.  When done right it can lead to exquisite marketing plans and when done wrong can lead to disaster!

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