March 30, 2017

6 lessons on how NOT to market to customers

Here’s the kind of pressure that social media puts on us: After not posting anything to my blog in nearly six weeks, I feel compelled to offer an explanation. Isn’t that sad?

Hey, but that’s how it is. Social media are like a school of sharks; keep moving forward or sink lifelessly to the bottom.

Well, I have an explanation, or an excuse, and a damned good one at that. I broke my hip about four weeks ago (my bike slid from underneath me on a rainy morning on my way to work). More specifically, I broke my femur at the hip, which left me with a decision to make: pin together a 51-year-old femur (with its attendant wear and tear) or lop it off at the top and get a brand new, shiny fake hip. Since I can’t resist that new hip smell, I opted for the stainless upgrade.

Now, don’t think I’m looking for an outpouring of sympathy. I’m telling you this because:

  1. I don’t want to lose any more credibility and subscribers than I already have during this lull in activity (as any social media “expert” will tell you, six weeks may as well be six years—unforgivable, unimaginable, and definitely under caffeinated. As one “expert,” (who showed no evidence of ever having blogged herself) once sneered to me, blogging is as easy as “doing email.” Oh, I guess that’s why my inbox is so crammed all the time.)
  2. During my time on serious, hard drugs (narcotics, shh!) I realized that I really have become one of you marketing types. Any time anyone delivers a service to me now, I immediately start thinking about how the service is “being positioned,” and whether the “value proposition makes sense.” I’m a goner. A marketing geek. (I thought drugs were supposed to prevent that sort of thing.)

All of which is a lead-in to this week’s entry, which is what we as B2B marketers can learn from health-care marketing.

The answer is: nothing.

Healthcare marketing is awful, practically non-existent. Sure, healthcare knows how to sell drugs, but in terms of preparing the customer for the experience of service delivery, fuggedaboudit. Here are some examples:

  • Educate the customer—or don’t. Many of us in B2B can be proud of how we educate our customers and prospects on the business issues they face—from current regulatory changes to future “sea changes.” We help ease them into the idea that they need our services and solutions to solve these problems so that the experience of spending all that money feels a little less like stepping off a cliff. Here’s how a doctor introduced himself to me in the emergency room: “Hi, I’m Doctor X. We’ve looked at your x-rays and you’ve broken your hip. You’re going to be going to surgery. Somebody will be in to talk to you about it.” And then he excused himself and left the room and I never saw him again. I wanted to get right up and walk out of there. Oh wait, right…
  • Whatever you do, don’t let the customer meet the people who will actually be doing the work. Unfortunately, this one does often ring true in B2B, at least in my experience in consulting. Send your top dog, most empathetic, articulate, industry-savvy, alpha salesperson in to market the service, and then show up to do the work with the freshly-minted biz school grads and the interns.
    In the trauma ward of the hospital, perversely enough, it’s the opposite. Twenty-something interns come in and tell you how awesome the trauma surgeon is and how awesome your experience is going to be. Then the interns show up again together later on in a big group trailing behind an older, more confident surgeon (surgeons seem to have no shortage of confidence and gain more as they age), making it clear that the interns are still being educated by this person and/or institution, thereby calling into question any of their assessments of the awesomeness of the surgeon. But this guy still isn’t the surgeon. He’s a colleague. Then, as you are lying on a bed outside the O.R. waiting to be worked on, you meet the doctor who will be doing the work. (Thank goodness for Google—the day prior I found that he got five-stars on a health review site! Operated on a New England Patriot!)
  • Delight the customer with an upgrade—for awhile. In both B2B and B2C, we’re getting better about throwing unhappy customers a bone. A discount here, an upgrade there. The short-term costs are marginal compared with the longer-term goodwill they buy. When I finally made it out of the ER and was given my hospital room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a huge room and I had it all to myself, in a newly constructed wing of the hospital. And the nurses were unbelievably attentive. One of them finally acknowledged that I was in the intensive care unit for heart patients (there wasn’t room for me in orthopedics) and that she was “used to giving constant attention to people with zippers in their chests.” Caring for me was “like a vacation,” one of them said. I was in heaven. All the ginger ale I could drink and nurses compulsively asking me what I needed or wanted whenever I opened my eyes.
    Then, the day after surgery, the nurse informed me that I was being moved to be “with my own kind” over in orthopedics. Now, the only time I got ginger ale was when it was delivered on a tray with green Jell-o and chicken broth at mealtimes. But the reduced attention did come with a benefit—I got a little “drug remote” with a red button I could push to administer my own morphine. Later that day, they took away the remote and gave me a roommate.
    Could you imagine after clawing your way to the suite upgrade at a hotel having the desk clerk say, “We’ve found a room like the one you were originally supposed to get—with cleaner carpets this time—and we’ve taken the liberty of moving all your stuff from the suite into that room. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
  • Segment your audience. In B2B we pride ourselves on knowing our audience. We have marketing designed for the C-level executive, the buyer, the influencer, and the front-line types. Meanwhile, 51 is pretty young for hip replacement. I’ll probably need to have it done again if I hit the average life expectancy of an American white male and manage to hang onto some form of health insurance. Most people who have hip replacements are older. That must be why the exercise sheet they gave me pictured a balding man with white hair and extra lines drawn in his face, a floppy tank-top t-shirt covering a paunch, and spindle appendages meant to approximate arms and legs, wheezing his way through leg lifts. Motivational.
  • Market your strengths. The highest production-value material I received upon discharge was a two-color, 24-page glossy magazine entitled “A Guide to Taking Warfarin.” (They put me on blood thinners for a few weeks after surgery.) The guide to what I should do after having a hip replacement (including exercises) was five Xeroxed pages stapled together.
  • Above all, empathize with the customer. I think we do this pretty well in B2B. We hire marketers and salespeople with direct experience in the customer’s industry so that they can talk to and sympathize with the customer’s pain points. During one of my two two-minute conferences with the doctor in charge of the orthopedics wing (not my surgeon), I made the mistake of asking what sort of pain killers I could expect to receive upon release. He interrupted me with, “No one said hip replacements aren’t supposed to hurt.” Thanks, Doc.

Of course, I can’t complain. I have health insurance, I’m walking again, I’ll be able to ride a bike again, and the accident could have been a lot worse than it was. But healthcare sure could use some help on the marketing front. Anybody got any ideas?

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  • David Overos

    Welcome back, Chris. Nice post. I particularly liked your second point: “Whatever you do, don’t let the customer meet the people who will actually be doing the work.” I’m sure it’s less than exciting for a customer to get the opportunity to train his new consulting team. Take care,

    -David Overos
    @davidoveros

  • http://www.christopherakoch.com/ Chris Koch

    Thanks, David. Appreciate the good wishes.

    Chris

  • http://twitter.com/ITSMA_B2B ITSMA

    Chris, I know I’m not supposed to laugh at your misfortune, but this had me in stitches (no pun intended). We’re glad you’re back.

  • http://www.christopherakoch.com/ Chris Koch

    Thanks. I had staples, actually. Don’t worry, no photos are forthcoming.

  • Pingback: 6 lessons on how NOT to market to customers | Chris Koch's B2B Marketing Blog | Branded Entertainment and Digital Marketing | Scoop.it()

  • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com/ Eric Wittlake

    Chris, glad you are back, doing ok, and have a sense of humor about the absurd customer service standards we pay through the nose to experience. 

    Yeah, even when the experience is good (for instance, if you had been allowed to stay in your “upgraded” room), bills then might as well be in Greek and the fear of legal repercussions keeps them from providing a straight answer to any relevant medical question you actually WANT to know the answer to. 

    We recently got a credit card statement with a charge we didn’t recognize. When we tried calling the number on the CC statement, we got a fax machine screeching in our ear. Only when I turned and Googled the number did I figure out it was a doctors office, billing under a completely unrelated three letter acronym (I still haven’t figured out what it stood for, probably something like Bill To Confuse).

    Alright, now you made me rant. :-) I’m glad you are back and on the mend. After six weeks, I did still remember your blog.

    — @wittlake 

  • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com/ Eric Wittlake

    Chris, glad you are back, doing ok, and have a sense of humor about the absurd customer service standards we pay through the nose to experience. 

    Yeah, even when the experience is good (for instance, if you had been allowed to stay in your “upgraded” room), bills then might as well be in Greek and the fear of legal repercussions keeps them from providing a straight answer to any relevant medical question you actually WANT to know the answer to. 

    We recently got a credit card statement with a charge we didn’t recognize. When we tried calling the number on the CC statement, we got a fax machine screeching in our ear. Only when I turned and Googled the number did I figure out it was a doctors office, billing under a completely unrelated three letter acronym (I still haven’t figured out what it stood for, probably something like Bill To Confuse).

    Alright, now you made me rant. :-) I’m glad you are back and on the mend. After six weeks, I did still remember your blog.

    — @wittlake 

  • http://www.christopherakoch.com/ Chris Koch

    Thanks for hanging in there Eric!

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