In the late 1950s the United States felt it was in peril because the communists were ahead in the Space Race. There was no telling what harm would befall the country if it could not catch up. President Eisenhower authorized funding to start the USA space program.
But who would be right to operate these excursions into space? Some people believed the first astronauts should be high-level athletes. But Eisenhower decided that men (sorry, but no women were considered) with the right stuff needed to be pilots. Other characteristics were developed and the core team of 7 were selected based upon: physical stamina, intelligence, college education, courage and a splash of bravado. The men became the astronauts of the Mercury program. The novel by Tom Wolfe recounts the experiences of these men.
Business organizations need marketing personnel with the right stuff too. Often hiring executives believe a marketing degree is the predominant requirement, assuming that this degree means their candidate possesses the required marketing skills. While that’s a good start, it seems to me that marketing personnel need to possess specific skills – the right stuff – to be successful in today’s medical product industry. Here are seven.
Strategic planning is defined as the skill to understand and pursue long-term organization growth opportunities. It is often described as the ability to see “the big picture.” Employees that possess this skill can articulate a long-term vision of the product portfolio or business unit; plan out a product or business roadmap; or identify key activities that will drive greater market penetration or profitability.
Two specific strategic planning responsibilities are usually assigned to the Marketing Department. First, is the marketing plan, that set of activities marketing should perform over the year to support achievement of the organization’s annual business goals. The second strategic planning activity is the product launch plan. The launch plan covers the key factors required for successfully commercializing a new product.
Decision analytics describe the logical thought processes that Marketing uses to make fact-based, analytically-sound business decisions. This skill is important for many marketing responsibilities like determining the marketing activity with the best return on investment, interpreting market research results to define necessary features for new products, developing revenue and profitability forecasts, or conducting price sensitivity studies.
Translating customer needs is the ability to collect and utilize customer data to help R & D develop products that address customer needs. Integral to this skill is the ability to perform market research techniques such as personal interviews, focus groups, real life observations and questionnaire development.
A second facet of this competency is the ability to communicate discovered needs to the research team so they can develop winning feature sets. Skillful marketing individuals do not communicate product features but needs. They let R & D define ways to satisfy customer need.
Messaging refers to activities that communicate product benefits to the consumer, usually through sales collateral or advertising. Messaging is fact-based, derived from intimate customer knowledge, plus a blend of creativity and insightfulness that translate basic product facts into compelling reasons for a customer purchase response. Skilled marketers have a firm grasp of language that allows them to communicate benefits succinctly and powerfully.
In the healthcare industry, clever wording is less important than clinical accuracy. Therefore, additional important skills included understanding clinical terminology, as well as the physiology and pathology of the condition the product addresses.
Competitive analysis and management is associated with compiling relevant competitive data upon which strategic plans and tactical sales activities are based. At first glance, competitive analysis does not appear to be a complex skill. It is easy to obtain information from product brochures and company websites. Indeed, much valuable information can be gleaned from these sources.
On the broad scale, the challenging nature of this skill is the ability to deduce competitive strategy and tactics from the threads of evidence collected. A marketer needs the skill to anticipate future competitive activity and develop countermeasures for successfully managing the competitive strategies and disruptive tactics.
On the micro scale, the astute marketer can dissect competitive messaging, identify benefit gaps and embellish the advantages of his / her own company’s products to optimally position the product for commercial success.
Customer advocacy development involves identifying and nurturing influential independent customers who are sufficiently convinced of a product’s benefits that they are willing to support it among the larger clinical community. Seeing trusted opinion leaders explain their success with a product is often more believable to the average clinician than a sales presentation. Increased regulatory and clinical society pressure to maintain separation between the clinician and manufacturer means this marketing skill is usually required only of senior managers.
Pricing is a well-understood skill, but it is not often viewed as a marketing task. Many corporate functions can set price, but too often pricing is then driven by product cost. The astute marketing manager grounds pricing in three different areas in addition to product cost: a) customer perception of value, which is based on the improvement a product brings over current standards of care; b) clinical economics, which demonstrates the out-of-pocket financial benefits to the purchasing organization and c) comparison to competitive pricing. A good marketing manager should have the ability to introduce these aspects into the price-setting activity of his / her product line.
The Mercury astronauts proved to possess the right stuff, as outlined in Tom Wolfe’s book and the 1983 movie of the same name. They set the stage for the fantastic success of 1960s NASA, culminating in the first moon landing by men in 1969.
A marketing hire possessing the skills outlined above are equally positioned to have a positive impact on their corporation’s future prospects. Organizations need not restrict their hiring to individuals who possess all seven of these skills. But a well-rounded marketing department will ensure that these skills exist within the group.