Ready, Set Strategize!
As many readers will know first hand, having an amazing product or service is only half the battle for every brand. Once your product is ready for the market, you must ask yourself is your brand ready to market it? Total commercialization is the combined efforts of sales, marketing, operations and management and ultimately the final step to succesful marketing of your brand.
Recently, our CEO Stacy Jones sat down with marketing expert John Rohe to discuss what strategies brands can embrace to successfully implement total commercialization. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded examines integrating strategy and tactical plans for total commercialization through the expertise of HyCap's John Rohe.
A Little Background On John
John Rohe of Hycap Consulting is joining us to discuss his over 20 years of experience working in medical marketing as such companies as Abbott and RPS, where he served as VP of Marketing, and other companies, including Roche, VD, Thermo Fisher, Quest, Siemens, Philips, GE, and so many other companies.
His unique background combines technical, clinical and successful sales and marketing, as well as training. John has an impressive track record of revitalizing existing products and services from conception, to full commercialization and maintenance in integration into portfolios, with a focus on North America, ENEA, and Asia.
Transcript Interview Highlights
Question: Can you tell us a little bit more about how long you've been doing what you've been doing, where you started and what got you to here today?
Answer: I started life as a laboratory scientist, working in the laboratories as a supervisor of Montefiore University Hospital for about seven years. Then I committed a double sin and went back to school and became a registered nurse. I did that for about four or five years before I fully realized that that was an awful lot of work for not enough money.
Then I went into industry. I spend 20 years in the industry working for various companies, both as direct sales, direct marketing, product manager, project manager, and then worked my way up the line to VP at various companies. What I liked about all of it was that it made a difference. Both working hands on, as it were as a scientist and as a nurse, and also in sales and marketing. The products that I have been involved with really do make a big difference in the world.
One of the products I released was a brand new product for heart failure, and what it was was a test for heart failure. Before we launched that test, heart failure was a huge killer of people, and it still is. From a financial viewpoint, it also is a very costly disease because these people tend to get readmitted to the hospital often. With this test, we were able to stop a lot of that. We have decreased the cost of heart failure treatment by over a billion dollars a year for the health organization healthcare cost.
That's not only in the United States; that was worldwide. And then about eight years ago, I decided that I would be happier and more productive and contribute to society a lot more if I were an independent consultant. So that's what I did. I'm consulting in now where I live here in not far from the Silicon Valley, it is fantastic because there's a lot of start ups with fantastic ideas and programs. And often times they get caught up in some foolishness that if they had worked in the industry for any length of time, they would know that that's not gonna work.
Or, this is a highly regulated industry, so you have to deal with the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, you have to deal with the FCC, which a lot of people don't realize, the Department of Justice, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which unfortunately, is abbreviated CMS, although there's two M's, I don't know. So, I'm able to help get a lot of fantastic products and services into the healthcare industry that otherwise, I think, would just die.
A lot of people are under the impression or assumption that if you have a great idea or a great product, or a great service, it'll just sell itself. And it doesn't. History is full of fantastic products that died. When I say commercialization, Stacy, I want to be real clear with this up front. Commercialization to me means the combination of sales, marketing, operations and management all pulling in the same direction. That's commercialization. In the past, companies had built silos. Sales was one silo, marketing... So marketing would find a product, find out where the market was, put together some collateral information, train the sales force on this is the product, this is what you do, and then throw it over the fence.
Then the sales people would grab it on the other side of the fence and then they would do their thing with it. And then as they made sales, they would just bundle up whatever they promised and whatever contracts they had and throw it over the fence to operations. Then operations would have to figure out, okay, what does this really say? What is our commitment? What is our liability? What do we have to actually provide? Then they would try to figure out what that was and then provide it to the customer.
As you can see just from that description, there were going to be huge problems. The customer said, "I didn't buy that. I bought this." So, operations has to go back in the sales force and say, "Well, that's what marketing said we were supposed to sell." They'd throw it back to marketing and then marketing says, "No, that isn't what we ... " It just becomes a jumble of insanity. Commercialization is getting all of them on the same page, all of them brought in and all of them moving in the same direction, so you don't have that.
Here in the United States, at least and other countries as well, we have what we call revenue recognition, which means that the company cannot recognize that they have been paid. I know it may sound a little crazy. They have the money, but they cannot put it on their books until it's recognized. If you can't see me, I'm doing air bunny rabbits. And you cannot recognize it until the customer says, "This is what we want." So, it's critical that the products are paid for and that the revenue is received and recognized.
Question: So what's the first step in order to try to get total commercialization, how to get all the parties on the same page, to actually be rowing the boat in the right direction so that everything can be recognized and everyone's happy, and dollars are coming into the bank?
Answer: So the important thing for full commercialization is that everyone is on the same page with the same understanding. And what that means is that you have to have the stakeholders, at some point, sitting down in the same room. No more of this we'll come up with something in a room and then throw it over a fence. You have to have everyone connected, and the place to have that connection, really, is training.
The training department is the one that marketing contact them and says, "We have this fantastic product or service. We want it sold." So that training professional has to go into marketing and get the specific information from them. What exactly does this product do? What exactly does this product not do? Why does it fit into our portfolio? Why does it fit into the company's strategy? I've seen companies that do fantastic in one part of industry, and then for whatever reason, they decide to do something that has nothing to do with it.
That's caused by a lack of focus on the strategy. So, the product and service has to fit into the strategy of the corporation. That's why the strategy is so important. And that's why it's so important that you have strategy, for want of a better term, I'm sure there's a nicer one, but I call it enforcement, that anything you want to do really has to be presented to the people who are responsible for the strategy of the organization. They have to say yes or no that it fits that strategy.
So, the product fits the strategy and then you ask marketing, "What do you expect the outcome to be?" That's usually where I meet with a lot of saliva bubbles and, "Oh well, we just thought it was a good idea." And I go, "Well I didn't say it wasn't. It probably is. It's probably the best idea since sliced bread, but what are your expectations for that product? Do you expect it to replace another product or service we provide? Do you expect it to compliment it? What kind of dollars are you expecting to get out of it? Over what period of time?"
And those are really hard questions that must be asked. What I have found in many situations is that nobody wants to ask those questions, or they defer it. Marketing says, "Well, we'll let sales tell us how many we can sell." Well, I've been in sales, and the answer to that question is, "None, but I still get paid, right?" So, you have to have these decisions made in the real world.
Then you take, once they determine all that, then you go to the sales management, the stakeholders, and you say, "Okay, this is the product, this is how it fits into the portfolio, this is how it fits into the strategy, these are the expectations from marketing. Does this make sense to you? Do you think you can do it?" Then if the answer is yes, we're off to the races. If they say no, then that's where the training person steps back and says, "Mr. Marketing, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Sales. And we're in that room, I'm locking the door and nobody comes out until you have an answer."
Now, you do it in a nicer way than that, but that is the bottom line. You can't be successful if you don't know where you're going, you don't know if you're already there or if you missed it by 100 miles. I see that it happens a lot with companies where they come out with products and services, and they don't know where they're going with it. So, they just sort of stumble along. That's not a prescription for success.
Question: Do yo think that marketing and sales are the two most important ones in the room, as far as determining whether or not there is going to be able to be commercialization, if there is going to be buy in across the company?
Answer: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. I'll put my neck out even further. Marketing has the ultimate responsibility. Yes. They should know whether or not this product is potentially successful or not before they even bring it to the sales department. They should be the driver of the company. There are some companies that are famous for it and there are some companies that are infamous for it. In my experience, with most part, Abbott is probably the most market driven company I've dealt with. It's clear from them that, from their marketing department, what is and is not going to occur.
One of the reasons - one of the ways you can succeed in that is by having close connections to the other departments. When I was in marketing, the most important meeting I ever had was with the sales department. The second most important meetings I ever had were with the customers. Marketing has a bad habit of relying on intuition, purchased data, focus groups, and I don't think we have time to go into, but I have a whole bunch of data that proves that those are not the way to go.
Also, that the marketing people have got to be in front of the customer. If they expect to get the truth from the customer, they can't have filters in there. So, relying on the sales floors to tell them what the customer wants is a mistake. Ford found that out. You have to - the marketing people have got to be with the customers. When I was in marketing, I had a group of about 40 customers that some bought from us, some did not. Some liked the company, some hated the company. But I made sure that I had relationships with them so that I could hear the truth from them. What was their truth? Why do you hate this company I'm working for? Or why do you love it?
What I found amazing was that the reasons were often the same, just from a different perspective. I think that that's very important. That's why marketing should be at the center of it because they should have the tentacles. They have to make the time to have those conversations, and they have to be willing to have some rough conversations sometimes. Fierce conversations, that's somebody else's book. You can find it later. You have to be willing to have some fierce conversations with customers, and with the sales force, and with operations, and with management. It's okay if we're all in a room with the door closed, and we're less than loving to each other in that meeting. The important thing is when the door opens, the things we present is only of love.
Question: Have you seen a move that a lot of companies are now incorporating marketing sales together and realizing that importance where they're actually packaging a system in place internally? Do you think that works or doesn't work?
Answer: I think it works. It can work as long as you have the right people in those places and as long as you allow for failure. The biggest detriment to success is fear. Without doubt. If I am a sales person and I just walked out on a client that just ripped me a new one, if I'm afraid to tell my boss that this is what the customer said, this is why they said it, this is how they said it, that's a disaster. That's a disaster. If the marketing manager is afraid to tell his VP of marketing that this plan that we just spent a half million or a million dollars on is not working and, I don't know why yet, but I'll find out, that's a disaster because you'll wind up spending another five million dollars on something you knew four million dollars ago, was a mistake.
I think the idea of integrating sales and marketing to one unit is good as long as there is a central repository of marketing elsewhere. So, the marketing person has to both, you see I just love to work on marketing people, I did it. I loved it. They have to both integrate with sales, but they have got to have a strong, strong tie back to central marketing. Otherwise, what I have seen when companies have done that is a born from one marketing department to, in essence, five, ten, fifteen marketing departments.
I could give you a very specific example, but I won't because I don't want to get sued. So, that's a disaster as well. Nothing in life is the Holy Grail. That was used once, a long time ago, and nobody's ever found it since. So, in order for anything to succeed, you have to be constantly be assessing it. Is it working? Because it could have been working that first year or two and now it's not. But again, if you're afraid to tell anyone that you see cracks in that wall, the wall's going to collapse. And it does not good for you to be underneath the rubble saying, "I told you so, but you didn't."
So I think that you've got to have people that have self awareness of what they know, of what they don't know, and a willingness to step up to the plate and deliver fierce conversations, and honest conversations. The only way that happens is if they're confident that they will not be punished for it. The joke at a lot of companies that I've worked for in marketing was that the trick in marketing was to come up with a fantastic strategy, fantastic tactical plan, start it, and then move. You know, get promoted somewhere else. That way, if it failed, it was Gr - he screwed up. She just mess it up. It was a fantastic, you know. Or, if it succeeded, then you said, "I started that. You know, that was me baby."
You really can't have that you have to be honestly, a member of the team. I'm no fan of companies that say we'll all be one big family. Well, you know, I have 11 brothers and sisters and the last thing I need is more family, you know? We're part of a team and a team is not the same thing as family and people confabulate that. I think that it's important for success that you have no fear, or minimize it, that you have everyone commits to it and the way you get everyone to commit to it is that you sell it to them.
So, you have to explain to the sales floors, this is why you should want to do this, because it'll make it easier to sell product B or service B, if you sell this product or service C. Therefore, you can make more money on a commission. You go to operations and say, "This will make it easier for you in operations because it will just follow one after the other as you go forward with this process." And here are the clear, clear, C-L-E-A-R, I've got Pittsburgh accent, you know it's- here are the clear guidelines, and they're really not guidelines, they're rules. Everybody calls them guidelines; they're not. They're rules.
This is how it will make your life easier, by the way, if you're smart, we have technology that will assist you. So, you have to sell it to them and that's why training is so important because to be a successful trainer, you must start all training sessions, whether you're selling good behavior to a first grader, or you're trying to sell a product or service to a bunch of 50, 60, 40, 30 year old sales and marketing people. Nobody will do anything with commitment if there isn't a value in it to them.
And it can't be a generic value. It has to be a value that is unique to me, as I perceive it. So, that's part of a problem with training that often times, trainers just start, I call it show up, throw up. I didn't invent that. I've heard that for years. Show up and throw up. It's a box, you know, "I told them all about the product. I'm done." No you're not. The trainer has to sell the product or service to the audience first and that way they might actually listen.
That's how you get successful training when you're presenting a successful commercialization of a product of service. And that's often time where it fails. The challenge to that is that, I don't know why it is, but I always pick professions that everybody thinks they know how to do it. Everybody thinks they're a trainer. "I'm gonna get up in front of a bunch of people and talk and I'm gonna tell them all about it, so I'm a trainer." No you're not.
Or, "I took care of my mother when she was sick, so I'm a nurse." No you're not. "I know how to pour one beaker into the other beaker, so I'm a lab scientist." No you're not. I think that that's where, a lot of times, things hang up is in that training. They promote people into training and don't give them any training on how to be a trainer. Or my favorite is, they send them away for a one week wonder course. You know it's this at the end of the week you're a real trainer. You paid us 15 thousand dollars to say that. No. So I think that companies- I don't think that, I know that. Companies often shortchange the training department and then don't understand why things aren't going right.
We're just coming out of a phase in America, here in the United States, where we thought we could put all training up online. You just put it on the web and they can run it from there. No. Guess what we're finding out. It doesn't work. You can learn knowledge transfer is extremely easy to achieve via electronic method. We all know how to read a book. We all go through college, or at least high school, so we know how to read books, we know how to take tests, and that's all knowledge based. But skill based sets, skillsets, require interactivity. That's either in person or in some form, the way we're doing this now.
You don't know if I have a pair of trousers on, or my shorts. I am not standing up. I will not stand up. I saw that commercial on T.V. and almost spit my coffee out. So, and you don't know what else is going on around them if they're not in the room with you.
Also, if they're in the room with you, then as a good trainer, you can set up indirect learning from other people that you cannot do online. I'm not saying everything has to be online, but I'm saying some stuff should be. I think that that's part of the problem where we have moved to technology to the point where we're not cognizant of those things that technology cannot replace human interaction.
To learn more about marketing strategies from John's expertise, you can listen to the full interview in our podcast.
The Next Steps
Want to learn more about effective strategies in marketing and different case studies of success? We've written plenty of other blog posts on the topic as well for you to check out!
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- Developing Smarter Marketing Programs
- Effective Digital Media Marketing With Sharifah Hardie
- Automated Marketing Strategies With Magnus Unemyr
- Create Brand Partnerships Through Influencer Marketing With Keith Stoeckeler
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