Requirements, Trade-offs and Sales Objections

This is another installment of a series on selling connectivity. You can read the first installment, with links to subsequent posts, here.

There is no one product that best fits every customer’s requirements, yet the goal of product management is to develop product requirements that addresses the greatest portion of the market possible. Of course, it is neigh impossible to create a solution that is optimal for every customer. This raises a couple interesting questions. For any given project, how much of the addressable market’s requirements can be met? How are such trade-offs made, and what is the role of sales in all this?

Security As a Requirements Trade-off Example

A good frame of reference for requirements trade-offs is wireless security for medical devices. There is a plethora of security standards, and the target is always moving; new standards are implemented, some of which have varying degrees of reverse compatibility with previous generations of hardware, and some require upgrades or replacements to work. Likewise, different markets have different requirements. For example health care has HIPAA, the credit card industry has the PCI data security standard, and other industries have their own requirements. Next, individual customers make security choices based on the infrastructure installed, how current their infrastructure is (is it currently sold by the vendor, is no longer sold but still supported, or is it discontinued), and what security standards they chose to adopt and enforce (sometimes chosen capriciously, often enforced vociferously) in their enterprise.

Like the workflow automation that wireless connectivity enables and the necessary security required to support it, there is a finite degree of requirements variability that can be practically implemented — systems can’t be everything to everyone. Creating a product that address 100 percent of the target market is virtually impossible. Trade-offs must be made so that a product can also reach cost of goods, design budget and time to market objectives.

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Selling Connectivity – Sales Strategy

Selling anything starts getting serious when it comes to qualification. For you non-sales types, qualification is an assessment of the likelihood of making the prospective sale. This assessment includes the following basic questions:

  • Is the potential buyer or prospect really going to buy anything – from anybody?
  • Will my product be a serious contender for the sale, or am I simply cannon fodder to help justify a sales process with a foregone conclusion?
  • And if I am a serious contender, how does my product match up against the competition relative to the specific needs of this prospect?
  • Who all is involved in making the decision of what to buy? (More on this in a future post on Selling Connectivity)

A common problem in markets where connectivity is new or dramatically innovative is avoiding prospects who are more interested in being educated than really buying anything. In situations like this, sales reps can get appointments to talk to prospective buyers very easily because they all hope to learn something interesting. The problem is that few of these prospects intend to buy anything, thus taking valuable time away from actually selling stuff.

Sales Strategy

The solution to this problem is an effective sales strategy. A sales strategy is like a cook book recipe that details precise steps that result in a successful sale and satisfied customer. A good sales strategy describes the quickest and most reliable process for starting with a prospect and winning the sale. Effectively selling connectivity and overcoming the qualification challenge requires a good sales strategy.

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Selling Connectivity – New Knowledge

The most striking lesson that I’ve experienced, and witnessed repeatedly, is that when it comes to connectivity, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This applies to providers (buyers) as much as it does vendors (sellers). When presented with a new problem, it’s human nature to apply current knowledge and mental models in search of a solution – thus the perennial appeal of the “intuitively obvious.” Intellectually we know that problems don’t all fall into the same logical framework. But, for various reasons we tend to apply known solutions to new problems, and only when the outcome is unacceptable do we contemplate the unknown. Decision making insanity aside, this typical approach is inefficient – or worse.

The barrier to effectively applying the intuitively obvious to connectivity results from fundamental differences between embedded system devices (i.e., conventional stand alone medical instruments) and the methods and technologies used for connectivity (i.e., general purpose computing technologies). This dichotomy in the application of the different technologies used in both embedded systems and connectivity, extends from product design to regulatory, manufacturing, marketing, sales, installation, service and support. For the vendor, the entire business delivery system is affected. Provider processes – needs assessment, vendor selection, implementation and ongoing internal support – are impacted as well by these differences.

So how are embedded systems different from connectivity? Embedded systems embody the following concepts:

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Selling Connectivity – A Series

I’ve written much in the past about the technical and product development issues of connectivity. Just as important are the issues that revolve around successfully selling your connectivity solution. (If you’re a provider reading this, this should provide a bit of insight into how to buy connectivity, and why sometimes vendors to the crazy things they do.)

You can place two seemingly identical medical devices side by side, with the only visible difference being that one has an Ethernet connector and the other does not. That “small” change makes a world of difference when it comes to selling these two devices. Here’s my list of the areas where adding connectivity to a medical device changes almost everything:

  • Required new knowledge
  • Qualifying prospects
  • Dealing with new decision makers (typically with veto power)
  • Selling a solution, rather than selling the box
  • Selling one-off systems, rather than cookie cutter widgets
  • Aligning incentives
  • Making it work, getting paid
  • Keeping the customer happy, keeping the system working
  • Customers want a whole product solution
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