This beer and blog was no hardship; Michele met with Tom McCall in beautiful Laguna Beach, near Tom’s home base at ICU Medical. Tom is the VP and General Manager, and has led marketing for medical device companies like Welch Allyn and Masimo. Over a beer (Stone Liberty Cliché Blonde Ale, to be exact), he shared some insights on medical device marketing, sales, and company branding.
Michele: Telemedicine and personalized medicine are the most talked-about trends in the medical device community today. How has ICU responded?
Tom: Our current product line is very much focused on hospital-based critical care, like hemodynamic monitoring—devices used in the operating room and intensive care units—so telemedicine really isn’t an issue or opportunity for us. Reimbursement has been the biggest barrier to entry in telemedicine in the past, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 5-10 years. That’s good for improving patient care and driving out healthcare costs.
While at Welch Allyn, we were working on remote blood pressure monitoring in the early 2000s, and reimbursement was an issue. Since then, they’ve acquired a telemedicine company, and it should be a big deal for them going forward.
The diversity of decision makers in medical devices is more complex than any other industry we work in. How do you approach this?
You have to define your value proposition on several different levels. In the old days, you’d identify and approach a physician in the hospital who would serve as a vocal champion, and the clinical advantage—the ability for doctors and nurses to do things they couldn’t do before—would be enough to at least get you a trial. Now, you need to consider the whole buyer matrix. Supply chain, value analysis, infection control, and risk analysis will all be involved, so you have to prove clinical and financial value. Identify the trifecta: cost, quality, and outcomes.
In the medical device market, the bar is pretty low for marketing. Take a holistic and strategic approach to your customer. It’s not just a B2B decision. Doctors are consumers, and they appreciate good creative; they’re sophisticated buyers. Like buying a BMW, it starts with an emotional appeal, but then you need to deliver with the technical specifications. Motivate with emotion; persuade with reason.
You’ve had a career of success in preparing companies for divestiture or IPO. What was your approach in growing company valuation so significantly?
When positioning a company for IPO or divestiture, you have to build the pyramid:
- Understand and define what your brand stands for
- Simplify the value proposition, make it easy to understand
- Communicate consistently at every point of customer contact
Strong positioning is the foundation for company growth. You need to know who you are and be able to communicate your value proposition clearly. You want to create the perception that your company is larger than it is. Great branding and marketing presence—especially in an industry that doesn’t typically do well with marketing—makes this goal very obtainable.
You always start with what you have and move forward from there. Look at everything the company has done before, and identify where you have permission and room to experiment. I’ve always appreciated the creative process and collaboration with smart people. I’ve led the rebranding of three companies, and it’s always an iterative process.
Is there a turning point when you know you’ve got it?
There comes a time, with really good branding, when people get it and buy into the process and the vision. Now you can execute. That’s the turning point.
What are three things you know for sure?
- You can never be sure of anything. Just when you think you’ve got it, that’s when you stop growing. Start with what you have and improve it. You have to do that every day.
- Collaboratively empower people. Take chances and push beyond your comfort zone. People do their best when they’re committed to something bigger than themselves. If you’re too directive and act like you know everything, people will simply give you what you want, and the work won’t be as good as it could be.
- Love what you do and be yourself. Everything takes work, but if you’re passionate, honest, and authentic in what you do, you’ll be happier and your work will show it.
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Tasting Notes: Our beach-day brew was Stone Liberty Cliché Blonde Ale, lightly hoppy with slight bit of lemon.