Trusting the man who wears the star

March 6, 2002

By: Greg FreiherrBack during my formative years, I worked as a pump jockey at a large gas station. This was before self-service was invented, when teenagers ran out to greet customers, twisted the cap off the gas tank (taking care

By: Greg Freiherr

Back during my formative years, I worked as a pump jockey at a large gas station. This was before self-service was invented, when teenagers ran out to greet customers, twisted the cap off the gas tank (taking care to use the cap to block the pump handle as a reminder to put the cap back on), and filled 'er up. We'd wash the windows and check the oil. (I just loved that jingle: "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.") We had our own little shack out there among the pumps where we would punch individual two-digit codes into the cash register before recording each sale. One day one of the managers assigned us all different codes. That's when the trouble started.

It was a simple thing. Just put in two different numbers. But I kept putting in my old code. Over and over. Like I'd done thousands of times before. To this day I remember the frustration of ringing up a sale and then realizing, a moment after hitting the register bar, that I had put in the wrong number. It taught me something-that there is absolutely nothing more difficult than trying to change old habits.

I think it's that way for everybody, regardless of whether they pump gas or practice medicine. That's why it's easy to be impressed with Siemens' decision to sell solutions rather than technologies.

The idea makes all the sense in the world. Understand your customers, document their needs, then find ways to meet those needs. The problem might be solved with MR, or CT, or nuclear medicine, or digital radiography. It doesn't matter, so long as it is solved the best way.

This approach transcends the much-talked-about but only sporadically implemented disease-centric approach to marketing, because it can work for any disease process, any department, any institution. That is, of course, if it works.

We like certain foods; buy certain cars; take certain routes to and from places because we know them, they are comfortable. And we don't want to change. But aside from this resistance to change, a lot of people don't like to be told what to do. This is an accepted phenomenon in diagnostic imaging, as vendors routinely boast that they have built software into their control consoles to allow physicians to program in the pulse sequences and display parameters they like.

It is an understatement, therefore, to say that Siemens has its hands full. The company has undertaken an effort that is as much a social experiment as it is a marketing approach. And it will be very interesting to see if they can pull it off.