Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taking a Product to First from Worst

A few weeks ago, I was quite proud, and more than a little amused, when I read the 2012 "Annual Best" awards from KLAS, a research firm in the healthcare industry. KLAS* gathers data and the opinions of thousands in the industry on software, services and medical equipment, choosing their best of the year. ("The best of KLAS," is a commonly accepted term in the industry.)

I chuckled because the results showed that a laboratory information system from one of my previous employers, Siemens Health, was chosen as one of the best of the year. I remembered the time when the product, now called Novius Lab, was quite the opposite of "best." Or even "good."

I was working in marketing for the company (then known as Shared Medical Systems, before Siemens* acquired it) when management declared that their lab information product known as OpenLab was a loser. Lab information systems manage the ordering, testing and results reporting of lab orders in a hospital. This particular system was designed to integrate the patient's clinical information from a variety of  facilities and then turn around the test results quickly. It reduced costs while raising efficiency. 

However, the salespeople said that they couldn't sell it because "everyone hated it." They said that OpenLab had a terrible reputation. The company wanted to drop it and get out of this product line altogether. My boss, the head of sales & marketing, did not want to concede this market. He came to me and said that a big lab conference was coming up. How could we save the product at that event?

The first thing I did was NOT presume the sales force was correct. Instead, I conducted a marketing survey of both the current customers and the market place. Well, the current customers did NOT hate it; in fact, they LOVED OpenLab. They thought it worked great. What we found was that others in the medical lab market who did not even own OpenLab thought it was a bad product. (We believed that this reputation could be traced back to a former sales employee who bad-mouthed the product, though we could not prove it.) But the challenge remained: How could we get new customers if they all believed the product was no good?

I advised rebranding the product altogether...essentially take OpenLab off the market and replace it with a new name. The upcoming lab show was in Dallas. An internal copywriter and I brainstormed and  thought a cowboy theme would work for a new campaign. She came up with a slogan similar to the old Western movie cliche that there was a new sheriff in town. But instead, she wrote that "there's  a brand new new lab system in town!"  At the time, SMS was renaming their newest offerings with the prefix "Novius,"derived from the Latin word for "new." I advised that we rename this project Novius Lab, wiping out the previous, besmirched name as the final step in creating a new impression.

When visitors came to our booth at the conference, we gave them a blinking badge that had this slogan. We encouraged them to wear it, because a "sheriff" from our booth would be walking the floor occasionally, and if he saw their badge... well, he would just invite them back to the booth for a prize!

People were pleased to wear the badge and were excited when he "sheriff" (really, just one of us guys in a big Stetson) collared them and brought them back to our booth. The prize, a horse doll for their kids, was a big hit. More important, we made an impact at that trade show, beginning the introduction of a new product and replacing what was for many a bad memory.

My manager and I have since left the company for other opportunities, but we still laugh about that campaign over a drink every now and then. When the company was ready to abandon this product, we believed in it. We got to the root of the problem and solved it. A product that was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year today is one of the company's biggest, most reliable money makers. It also continues to serve its market, much to the surprise of many in the company. And to top it off, this product is consistently rated at the top of its class by acclimation among the decision makers in healthcare.

Shakespeare once asked, "what's in a name?" Apparently, there's money. And vindication.

*References to KLAS, Siemens and SMS should not be inferred as an endorsement of my work by these entities.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Baseball Writers Stand Up for Baseball's Brand and More

The Commissioner didn't do it.
The players union didn't do it.
God knows that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa didn't do it.
But the baseball writers did it. They stood up for the game that so many others profess to love yet in fact denigrate with their behavior. They did it by refusing to honor an entire generation of ball players that included many who cheated and soiled the game. They kept these players out of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, and with that action, they showed more integrity than many others in the game.
My son, who is a pretty fair sportsman himself, said to me, "When are we going to stop the pretense that athletes are role models?" Fair question. But there is one difference with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Like it or not, the criteria for admission to the Hall has always included "character, sportsmanship and integrity." Has that clause been overlooked in the past? Certainly. In fact, right from the beginning, when the reprehensible Ty Cobb was among the first inductees. Yes, Ty Cobb, who used to sharpen his spikes so he could injure opposing players when he slid into them, was enshrined. Ty Cobb, who went into the stands to confront a heckler and when he discovered was an invalid beat the tar out of him anyway, is synonymous with baseball's freshman class. But we were all taught as kids that two wrongs don't make a right, and why not stand up for the integrity of the game now?

We have had too many instances in society of how we shave our principles to fit them into our particular and immediate needs. The revelations that reveal the speciousness of our entry into war. The backroom deals that grease the political gears but rob the citizens ultimately paying the bills. Don't report the child abuse or it will hurt the university. Or the Church. All executed with a nod and a wink, dismissed with phrases like "boys will be boys," and "everyone does it." In the meantime, the ones who played clean suffered in terms of reduced pay and lesser fame.

Tom Verducci of SI.com, who votes for the Hall of Fame, states his case more eloquently and with more authority than I can. He sees his vote as a sacred trust that few are honored to exercise. Baseball players and others involved should also feel such honor with all the fame and riches that the game bestows on them. But unlike Mr. Verducci, they have generally chosen to look the other way as the game was diminished by a steady drip of mendacity.The baseball writers focused their attention with this well-deserved slap in the face. Maybe we should all pay attention and shine a similar light into other quarters.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How to Accomplish Your New Year Resolutions

Okay, it's 2013, and if you are like most people, you have a set of new year resolutions. (Come on, admit it: One of them is to lose weight and get in shape, isn't it? My son is irritated how the gym parking lot is overcrowded until mid-February, when most of those people will give up on their fitness program.) However, when 2014 rolls around again, how many of the items on your list will you have accomplished?

I speak to many organizations about dealing with change or rejuvenating their job searches, and both topics involve accomplishing goals. I make to-do lists every year, and I fulfill a fairly high percentage of my goals. For example, over the last five years, I built a new website, read a number of new books each year, published my own book, earned two advanced Toastmaster designations, created two new keynote speeches, learned to speak Italian on a conversational level, and got a solo with my singing group (singing in Italian, incidentally). I'm not exactly Tim Ferriss, but I can claim to have done many of things I set out to do. Here are the steps that will help you reach your annual goals.

1) Presume that time management is achievable.
Don’t let anyone tell you “no matter how organized we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day.” I find that thinking limiting and negative.  While it’s true that each of us have the same number of hours, we can always optimize them.

2) Find out where you're wasting time and eliminate them.
What are your time-bandits? Don’t spend too much time surfing the Internet, reading e-mail or social media, or making personal calls. Tracking your daily activities will disclose what you are actually accomplishing, which is an important step in time management. (Example: I don’t turn on the TV during the day unless I see that an important event has happened.

3) Use a time management tool.
 This is the most important step. To physically and actually manage your time, you need to know where it's going now and then plan how you're going to spend your time in the future. You can use a calendar or a software program, such as Outlook, to schedule events know in advance what you will be doing. I'm low-tech, so I use an ordinary to-do list.

4) Set Your Priorities.
No matter which tool you use, it is still important to set realistic expectations, or else you are bound to be disappointed. That is the problem with to-do lists or other lists of goals: They may enumerate all the things you need to do, but they don't actually help you accomplish them. If you simply make lists of the things you need to do, odds are that they will remain unfinished far longer than you think they will. There are two reasons for that. First, we need to break down our projects into specific actions that will help us reach our goals. For example, if your goal is "write an article," don't just have "write an article" as your goal. First, set your objective. Then, set a deadline to write your outline. Next, set a goal of writing each day. And have a deadline to have the final draft completed. 

 I use the A, B and C priority system. A's are things you need to accomplish ASAP. I try to do as many A's each day as I can. B's are "nice to do" things, like cleaning the bathroom or buying a new in basket for the office. These can wait. C's are low priorities, but they are often the things we use to fill our days to make us feel as though we really accomplished something, yet they make no meaningful impact on our lives. Push the C's off as much as possible.

5) Establish routines and stick to them as much as possible.
Know each day which tasks will help you meet your long-term and short-term goals as described above. If you have 20 tasks for a given day, how many of them do you truly need to accomplish what you want to do? Prioritization will help you with that. Get up at the same time every morning. Exercise and eat breakfast at the same time. Take a break around the same time.  End the day at a prescribed time and get to sleep at the right time every night. Rinse and repeat.

Setting a routine includes limiting the things you shouldn't do. Distractions to avoid includes e-mail, social media, eating meals, and needless appointments. Either avoid these things altogether or schedule them so they don't get in your way.
 6) Learn to let go.
My most simple advice are these five words: You Can’t Do It All! And you should not expect to do it all. For effective time management, you need to let other people carry some of the load. Is it really that important that the bathroom is dirty when you are preparing for a critical job interview? Clean the bathroom after they make you the offer!

I wish you luck in all you do and all you want to do in the coming year.