Remember the famous line from Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”? Too often that can be the case between the people creating your marketing materials and the people who actually have to use them — in other words, the marketing and sales departments, respectively.
And that can have troubling consequences. One of the most frustrating situations I faced while working as a clinical dietitian was the disconnect between the information I provided to patients verbally and the marketing-supplied information I provided to patients on paper. I remember one encounter quite vividly.
Opting for a hands-on approach to nutrition counseling, I spent an hour with a patient newly diagnosed with diabetes, showing him how to read food labels and count carbohydrates. We talked about the types of foods he commonly ate and how they could still be a part of his daily diet. At the end of our session, he asked me for some written information to better remember what we spoke about. Knowing that the somewhat generic materials in my folder didn’t reflect the points from our discussion, but wanting to provide something, I reluctantly handed them over.
Two days later, my patient called me. He was upset and confused that the brochures I gave him did not include any content similar to what we discussed in our education session. Our conversation ended with him expressing distrust for the information I provided and he hung up. I felt as though I had failed.
This same situation can occur in medical device marketing. A client recently approached us surprised (and upset) by the findings of an internal survey they conducted with members of their sales team. The sales force disappointingly reported using a mere 10 percent of the collateral available to them; many said they really only used one or two key pieces at most. When we got hold of the salespeople and further probed why, the most common explanations were that the content did not address the problems their clients and prospects faced or that the format was not desirable (it didn’t match their selling style).
Determined to better support their sales force, the client agreed to try a different approach in developing the next piece of new collateral. Rather than create a piece and then hear from the sales force, we reached out to several key sales reps first and talked candidly about the problem and the type of piece that would best address their needs and their customers’ concerns. We discussed how the piece would be used (e.g., teaching tool or leave-behind) and regrouped at several steps in the development process to be sure we were all on the same page. Practically speaking, this meant a slightly longer development cycle and more hands in the cookie jar, but the feedback from both sales and marketing on the process and the piece was overwhelmingly positive.
The end result was a brochure that was tailored to salespeoples’ needs and the needs of their audiences and one that they are proud to show and share. In other words — unlike Cool Hand Luke — a happy ending. And the moral of the story? Talk to your sales professionals first. After all, they’re your first customers.
Jenn Nichols is senior account supervisor at Seidler Bernstein whose prior experience includes healthcare communications at HealthGate Data Corp. and public health and social marketing consulting at Policy Studies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. A licensed and registered dietitian, Jenn also worked at Mass. General Hospital as a clinical dietitian. These days she volunteers on the Board of Health for the town of Easton, Mass.