3 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Medical Device Launch

Aaron Call
December 04, 2020
Medical device launch team

“Projects don’t fail because the technology doesn’t work. They fail because we didn’t understand the customer requirements.” –Stan Rowe, Chief Scientific Officer, Edwards Lifesciences

As a medtech executive, you have enough on your plate. From attracting and retaining talent to navigating the world of fundraising, leading a medical device launch can feel like climbing Everest.

Quite often the majority of attention is on the product or technology that your team is bringing to market. Ensuring efficacy and building a brand are always front and center, as those elements serve as the bedrock of the company.

But the reality is that having a great product will not necessarily translate to a successful launch. While your product is the epicenter of your ecosystem, that ecosystem may be larger and more complicated than you or your team anticipate. Having a clear picture of market conditions, stakeholder needs, and a strategic path to market viability are necessary before giving your launch the green light.

3 Missteps to Avoid During a Medical Device Launch

There is nothing worse than a failed medical device launch, especially when the technology could have transformed lives for the better. And, even more so, if that failure could have been avoided.

Below are three common mistakes that entrepreneurs and startup teams make during the launch process.

1. You didn’t consider the full needs of the customer and tailor your value proposition accordingly

Most medical devices will enter a market that has multiple stakeholders who play a role in its successful launch. Companies need to clearly understand each stakeholder’s motivation and needs and tailor their value proposition to meet those needs. This ranges from what VCs have to see before investing to benefits to doctors in offering your product to patients. In addition, each of these stakeholders has varying need states, depending on market conditions. Things like elevated demand, increased competition, or (ahem) a pandemic can play into how a new device or technology is received.

Carmen Nobel explores a similar concept in Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing. Here he illustrates why product teams need to evaluate how the product will serve the customer’s changing needs. In Nobel’s example, a restaurant wanted to boost milkshake sales but was frustrated when, no matter what they tried, sales were stagnant. It was only when they identified the purpose that the milkshake filled for the consumer that they could make meaningful changes. Rather than offer more variety, for example, they catered to the person’s need state by adjusting how the product was delivered.

A similar analysis can be made for medical technology and a stakeholder’s willingness to adopt it. The following story illustrates why face value rarely tells the full story. We once had a client who was told that their product would fail because it was too expensive. It didn’t have a chance. But, after extensive market analysis, including primary research with physicians, we found doctors were eager to purchase the device. Why? Because the premium price gave them a premium product, which gave them a leg up on the competition.

The moral of the story is that launching a medical device requires a deep understanding of the people you rely on to bring it to life. You have to understand exactly what they need in order to deliver something of real value and importance, no matter how the market or product seems at first glance.

2. You demonstrated moderately positive clinical benefits and stopped there.

Simply showing clinical benefit doesn’t allow companies to check the “value” box off of their list. Demonstrating benefits that are just incrementally better does not lead to immediate adoption and sales. In many cases, to receive funding a product has to be significantly better clinically and have a strong economic story. VCs are not going to partner with a company that is “pretty good.” They want to see great results and a clear pathway to adoption and ROI.

Examine all positive aspects of a new product. This includes efficacy, but also financial factors, reliability, longevity, and patient experience. Evangelize these benefits and ensure you have clear data and analytics to support your claims. And remember that primary research is a powerful way to illustrate your findings. When you have already spoken to real potential stakeholders and customers related to their willingness to adopt the technology, your case sits on a stronger footing.

3. You don’t have a comprehensive market access and reimbursement strategy.

Before launching a medical device, companies need to know who will pay for it and what they are willing to pay. This is another foundational element of launching your product. If you can’t make the financial aspect work, the product won’t work. Period. Once the research is done and you understand the who and how much, you must align to that. We go through this process by asking ourselves “what needs to be true” in order to get this product launched. And we don’t stop until we know, based on the numbers, that the product has a path to reimbursement and market viability.

Similarly, companies need to know what purchasers and/or investors need and ensure your research and numbers align with those metrics. For example, in 2015, a single product medtech device startup approached a $1 billion strategic prospective to acquire their novel product. The startup knew their product would $1 million annually to the company’s bottom line and felt confident that they would receive the investment. A few days later the strategic turned them down. They were shocked. Simply put, after looking at the numbers, they determined they needed to realize $2 million to make the investment.

The moral of the story? You can’t assume something is viable. You need to know that it is.

A Comprehensive Approach That Leaves Nothing to Chance

A new medical device launch needs a strategy that considers the product and how it will navigate the market. Too often, companies make even one of the mistakes listed above and find themselves suddenly unprepared and in crisis mode. Considering these elements and devising a rock-solid strategy will help ensure your product receives the warm market welcome it deserves.  

Do you have questions as you get closer to your own medical device launch? We’d love to help! Contact us.

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