Virtual reality – a new day for medical product launch presentations

Virtual Reality and Sales Presentations

Virtual Reality and Sales Presentations

Each year medical companies develop a dazzling array of new products.  Some are minor upgrades.  While others are extraordinary new products designed to be game changers or, in some cases, “bet the company” entries into the market.

Unfortunately after all the market assessments, business plans, beta tests, and approvals many new medical products fail to achieve the anticipated commercial success. Why so?

Well, sometimes the product design was fundamentally flawed.  In others, the product concept was backed by poor market research.  In still others, the timing was just off.

Yet, even when all these problems are addressed, and increasingly they are, failure too often remains the final result.  Reason – the commitment to train the sales team to sell the new product is not commensurate with the potential of the new product. This omission constitutes a strategic oversight.

Even an extraordinary new product will not sell itself beyond early adopters. The sales team needs a comprehensive body of product knowledge and they need to fine-tune and adapt their sales skills to the customer requirements related to the new product.  They need the knowledge, skills and tools to present the product to their customer base in a compelling fashion that differentiates the product from a wide array of competitive offerings – the more innovative the new product, the truer this proposition.

There are a number of new and exciting answers as to how to better prepare a sales team to sell a new product ranging from sales simulations, to customer value profiles to tools for presenting and demonstrating the new product.

Here, let’s just explore one exciting option for the latter – using virtual reality as a tool for bring heretofore unimaginable imagery to the entire range of the benefits of the new product. Several weeks ago I had the privilege to talk with Matthias McCoy-Thompson co-founder of Agora VR an exciting, innovative company in the virtual reality market that is knowledgeable about the medical market.

For those of us concerned about providing sales reps with the presentation tools that can make a difference, the conversation provided some interesting insights about the use of virtual reality as a tool for medical product presentations:

  • It’s here now.  The impact of any new technology, such as virtual reality, tends to follow the classic S-Curve.  Therefore, it is very easy to overestimate the impact in the short-term and underestimate the impact in the long run.  When it comes to using virtual reality we are now past the inflection point on the curve – developing and using a virtual reality presentation is now a realistic alternative.
  • It’s truly compelling.  Unlike the traditional technologies for product presentations, most of us have had limited experience with virtual reality.  You can get a first order look via sample videos by going to the Agora VR website and if you wish to continue the search journey the folks at Agora can be a helpful guide.

One of my specific walkways from the videos and conversation with Matthias was the power of the technology for demonstrating implantable medical products such as stents and orthopedic replacements.  Reason – it is now possible to create a virtual reality model of the implant site into which the viewer can be placed so they can actually experience, for example, a stent being implanted.  Implanters can experience the subtleties of implanting and  learn how to deal with possible complications and operative considerations.

  • It’s just the beginning.  In considering the applications of virtual reality for product presentations it is well to remember it is not a mature technology.  Because it is an emerging technology there are associated up and down sides to consider.   We have referred to a number of the upsides.

Regarding downsides – because it is new technology, prices are manageable but still higher than they will be in the coming years.  There are also implementation considerations to address such as providing the customer the required viewing equipment.  Such downsides mean care should be taken as to when and where to consider a virtual reality presentation as a viable option.  The more innovative the product, the higher the upside market payoff, and the more difficult it is to demonstrate the unique benefits, the more seductive the option becomes.

During our conversation, Matthias noted four additional points in regard to using virtual reality as an option for medical product presentations:

    • Image quality. Virtual reality can make you feel like you’re in the same room as a potential customer. No, we are not at the Star Trek holodeck level yet and perhaps never will be in regard to some of that technology.  Right now, it still feels a bit like talking to a video game character but as motion and 3D image capture technology improves over the next few years the difference between a real life meeting and a virtual meeting will dramatically diminish.
    • Financial considerations. As to some cost estimates a good quality mobile virtual reality headset today costs as little as $600 (including a high-end smartphone) and doesn’t require a computer or any additional equipment. Fully animated 3D models of nearly anything imaginable can be created for a few thousand dollars. If a company already has 3D models of their products, it’s often fairly easy to repurpose them for a virtual reality presentation.
    • Analytic feedback. Analytics systems in virtual reality can be extremely robust. Data can be captured on a wide variety of variables from how long users looked at certain aspects of a product, to how engaged they were during the sales presentation. The sales presentation can then be altered based on the data and perfected over time.
    • Availability. Virtual reality is a reality.  Companies are presently using it for a wide variety of sales and marketing initiatives.  And, the good news is the initial research out of the Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab shows that virtual reality presentations can be powerful motivators for people’s buying behavior.

The answer to the question of whether the use of virtual reality is a viable option for presenting and demonstrating any particular medical product is sometimes yes and sometimes no.  However, the more important proposition is the technology has reached a point where the question is worth asking.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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