Replacing brochures with 500 iPads saved one company $1.5m -- but that was just the start

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Printing thousands of glossy product brochures and shipping them all over the nation was costing Maquet Medical Systems USA about $1.8 million a year.

The company needed to get details about its surgically-implanted medical devices out to doctors and medical facilities, but the costs had to come down, said Philip Freed, vice president of marketing for Maquet since 2009.

"I noticed we were losing a lot of money and not tracking ROI," said Freed.

The first step to cutting those costs was to find ways to improve the transmission of information to the doctors who needed to know about the devices, said Freed. For that, Maquet looked first at the BlackBerry devices being used by its sales people to communicate with customers and corporate headquarters.

The BlackBerry devices were great for corporate email, but they couldn't provide some of the features needed by Maquet sales people in the field, such as the ability to display on-the-fly video presentations to always-rushed doctors during brief sales calls.

"We started looking at surveys which showed that most health care technicians had already moved to iPhones, so we wanted to use what they use," said Freed. So in 2009, Maquet began to switch more than 500 users from BlackBerry devices over to iPhones. Two years later, those same sales people were given iPads for their work.

Soon, a second light bulb flashed on, said Freed.

"We were spending, between shipping and printing charges, about $1.75 million a year on paper and shipping alone so that sales reps could show things to customers," said Freed. Those glossy and labor-intensive brochure mailings cost lots of money to produce and ship out, and often the salespeople didn't even hand them out -- they would just sit in the trunks of their cars.

That's when Maquet began looking for apps that would allow them to show the old paper-based brochures digitally. The idea was that by showing the contents of the brochures in a dynamic way using video and audio, sales reps could demonstrate and display the company's medical devices in real-time, while qualifying their sales leads in person.

Freed began a brief search and found a suitable app from Prolifiq Software, which allowed Maquet to animate and digitize its sales brochure into a presentation that attracts attention and instantly delivers its messages to its clients. Freed also looked at modules offered by CRM companies, but chose to go with Prolifiq because it best fit their needs, he said.

Since moving to Prolifiq for presentations on iPads and iPhones, Maquet now spends only about $300,000 annually on brochure printing and shipping, according to Freed.

So what did the company do with the first year's $1.5 million savings? That was easy – it more than covered the iPads and iPhones Maquet bought for its sales force. "It paid for itself."

With the iPads and iPhones in the hands of the company's sales team, Maquet then began looking at creating a group of new apps that could help extend the use of the devices in other ways in the constant hunt to find efficiencies and increase sales.

"We wanted to save money on more than just paper," said Freed.

One app was developed to help manage and track medical device inventory that was being carried by sales people out on the road, he said. Too often sample medical surgical devices, such as devices that are implanted during heart, lung, or blood vessel surgeries, were being lost or misplaced, and the devices couldn't be accurately tracked for recalls or product expirations. Formerly the devices were tracked using old-fashioned paper records and faxes.

That was a costly problem. "We had to figure out how to stop losing inventory in the field," and that's where the inventory app and Apple devices solved the problem. "We decreased our loss of products that were not properly accounted for and we had better control of our inventory of our in-trunk stock."

Keeping close track of such devices is critical from a public relations end, too, he said. "These are medical devices issued by prescription use, and only for a surgeon in an operating room. It's not the kind of thing you want to show up on eBay."

Another app that was created was a real-time method for tracking orders so that surgical device manufacturing and inventory levels could be better matched, said Freed. Because the surgical devices have expiration dates for sterility, Maquet has to be careful not to build and stock too many or it will lose money on unused and expired devices. "It's expensive to do that," he said.

Freed said he's also now able to see exactly how many doctors and other medical professionals are viewing Maquet's iPad and iPhone product presentations, which gives him some seat-of-the-pants numbers that he can use to predict how many orders that might come in.

"We can see how many times the Prolifiq presentation has been downloaded or forwarded so we can see what interest is out there," he said. "It doesn't give us names and identifications of who is looking at the presentations, but we can see how many doctors and hospitals are talking about it."

That information can be tied in with sales projections to reduce overproduction or backorder problems, he said. "It's not a perfect system, but it's improved by at least one-third our ability to get the right forecasting to the manufacturing people."

Maquet sales people use about 15 company-issued apps on their iPhones and iPads for their work, including Prolifiq and about 11 internally-developed apps. Prolifiq is the only outside sales tool app that they bought because they couldn't build it for themselves, said Freed.

The iPads and iPhones have dramatically changed the company's sales procedures and success rates because they helped make the sales presentations essentially come alive for potential customers, he said.

To make the sale, "you've got to be able to touch the iPad and manipulate it in demos and using their apps," said Freed. "The capabilities have been very good. The iPads have been robust enough so that we can migrate data to them and sales reps can analyze it before they make a sales call."

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