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Who are your target customers?

This is the second in a short series of articles about things I wish I’d know when I first started out on my entrepreneurial journey commercialising technologies in life sciences and med tech.

This may seem like a strange question but who are the customers? There is more than one article’s worth of answer, so I’ll start with a simpler consideration of who is most likely to use and benefit from your technology?
Almost every medical technology company is founded on the belief that it has a revolutionary technology that will achieve rapid global adoption and transform healthcare.  I’m struggling to think of any that have done that.  Particularly not for a few hundred thousand pounds of investment.  I can think of several that have done well, however in every case it’s been an expensive and time-consuming journey.  So hold your nerve and keep going.  Give strategy time to work, but don’t stick doggedly to strategy that isn’t working

To maximise your chances of success you have to be realistic in your milestones and you have to achieve them.  Most med tech companies can achieve their technical milestones but commercial milestones are seriously difficult.  In my experience a lack of understanding of the market is a contributory factor but probably more important is a lack of understanding of who the customer is. Understanding how they make their buying decisions, what motivates them and what causes them pain in their day-to-day working life. 

If your company is commercialising a novel technology invented by a senior academic clinician at a world renowned university medical centre then consider whether it only meets his/her fairly unique clinical challenges in a very specific context.  You may think you have a world beating technology (and you may well have) but you may only understand the needs of the handful of customers across the world who match the persona of your founder.   Think beyond the needs of the founder and his/her immediate cohort of peers.

If your company is ultimately successful, you may aspire to sell thousands of units to ordinary general hospitals for routine clinical use.  So work backwards from that.  Forget Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Cambridge, Boston, Paris etc. because they may not be typical.  Go out and meet Dr Joe Smith at Barnsley General Hospital.  Spend time with him, get to know him, find out how your technology could make his clinical life easier, cheaper and more productive.  Are there any features that your device has to have before he’ll even be allowed to use it?  It may need DICOM or some other communications protocol, it may have to integrate with a specific electronic records standard, maybe he is not allowed to use devices which store patient data locally.  What happens to the device at the end of its life?  Are there any restrictions on disposal or recycling?

This information is invaluable to you.  You will learn your real customer’s needs and be able to incorporate them as part of your market requirement specification which is one of your design inputs within the Medical Device Directive. Crucible Medtech can help with challenging your market assumptions, brainstorming with you and specifying your device prior to starting the design process.  One of my goals is to have extensive online resources to help with market requirement spec and design inputs.  For now you’ll have to talk to us and we’ll work through our manual tools.  But these interactions will help us craft Crucible’s final offering in exactly the same way as I’m inviting you to do with your customers.

So what I’m asking you to do is to know and empathise with your customer persona assuming your company is successful.  Who will be buying and using your product in five years’ time?  What will be the clinical impact, i.e. the benefits of using your technology? What necessary features will it have to enable it to integrate into the workplace so that it’s easy to use and actually gets used by the staff?  Go out and experience what it’s like in a clinic where you hope your device will be used.  By doing that you will truly learn your value proposition and you’ll be able to communicate it clearly to your colleagues, investors and, most importantly, your customers.

When you’re thinking about talking to and empathising with customers there is a little book that has helped me and that I recommend very highly.  It’s available for free or for a nominal sum and neither I nor Crucible have any vested interest in making this recommendation.  It’s helped me and I hope it will help you.  It’s called “Talking to Humans” by Giff Constable.

I’d love to hear about your experiences identifying and understanding your customers and translating their needs into the design of your device.  

I’ll be covering other aspects that I wish I’d known about med-tech commercialistion over the next few weeks.

Peter Estibeiro,

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