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Blog: Top tips for a successful SIMALTO: Getting more with less via a robust trade-off technique

Kristin Lovallo, May 2021

A Vice President of Purchasing recently participated in a SIMALTO study with us and commented, “Purchasing new equipment or services for our facilities is always a collaborative decision. We have to give weight to the physicians, the surgeons, and other clinical leaders, but at the end of the day, if there’s not a clear advantage in benefits and costs, it’ll be very difficult for me to sign that check.”

Reviewing data
Reviewing data

A Vice President of Purchasing recently participated in a SIMALTO study with us and commented, “Purchasing new equipment or services for our facilities is always a collaborative decision. We have to give weight to the physicians, the surgeons, and other clinical leaders, but at the end of the day, if there’s not a clear advantage in benefits and costs, it’ll be very difficult for me to sign that check.”

It is therefore no surprise that medical purchasing decisions require a multifaceted approach. Between various stakeholders, cost-benefit analyses, and existing manufacturer contracts, institutions must consider a multitude of factors prior to committing to a new acquisition. It’s about providing value for the price, while ensuring a new purchase will meet the needs and requirements of the end-users. As medical technology continues to advance, and therapy areas become even more saturated with a broader range of offerings, manufacturers are facing a more competitive landscape than ever before.

With the COVID-19 crisis, health system margins have been impacted by the reduction in elective services, leading to further cost-cutting measures. As economic decision-makers tighten the screws, HCPs are becoming increasingly budget-conscious. Now more than ever, they are tasked to articulate the value as they advocate for new devices or systems.

So, how do we address these factors effectively when evaluating new products for our clients via primary market research?

Research Partnership’s answer is SIMALTO, also known as Simultaneous Multi-Attribute Level Trade-Off. It’s a trade-off technique that replicates real-world decision-making behavior. Respondents are given a budget and forced to spend that money to configure the product or system that best meets their needs, instead of going for an offering with all the bells and whistles that will likely get turned down by decision-makers.

In SIMALTO, price is treated as a constraint, and not a variable – this is how we’re able to imitate this real-life decision making component.

Ensure your asset offers optimised benefits at a realistic cost by following our top 8 tips to conducting SIMALTO research.

1. Think of SIMALTO in the context of configuring a new car
The best analogy for SIMALTO is to think about designing your own product or service. Let’s say you’re in the market to purchase a new car. You head to the car website, select your preferred model, and are given the option to start adding various features – maybe a sunroof, snow tires, navigation system, leather seats and so on.

Imagine your total budget for this new purchase is $50,000. As you begin to add those new components, you realise the total cost is now closer to $75,000. So, you need to make decisions – what’s most important to you? What components give you the most value? What is a nice to have and can be removed in replacement of something you really need? What would make your driving experience truly better?

This is the exact thinking our respondents take on when participating in a SIMALTO exercise.

2. Evaluating if SIMALTO is the appropriate approach
Imagine your company would like to expand its portfolio and offer a next-generation surgical tool. Does your team already have an idea of what types of features to include, even if not yet confirmed? Alternatively, are the potential features for this new device solidified? If yes to either of these questions, then this is a great first step in moving towards SIMALTO research.

If a needs assessment has not yet been conducted, and your team requires further exploration into current offerings, pain points, and potential solutions to these pain points, we recommend first collecting this information in order to help inform your potential SIMALTO inputs.

3. Deciding between SIMALTO and Traditional Conjoint
Conjoint will always have its place in market research, and in some cases, it may be the most appropriate methodology for your needs. There are, however, many compelling benefits that are offered by SIMALTO that cannot be achieved with conjoint.

  •  SIMALTO is an intuitive exercise – customers build their desired product or solution versus being tasked to pay attention to varying conjoint screens
  • SIMALTO has the ability to test up to 30 attributes, whereas conjoint is typically limited to seven or eight
  • SIMALTO allows for smaller base sizes compared to conjoint, as respondents are analysed on an individual level and not in aggregate
  • Attributes and levels are all shown at once within a grid format. Given all features are viewed simultaneously, respondents have full visibility into all potential upgrades, whereas in conjoint, features vary across screens
  • Given that price is treated as a constraint, respondents are reminded that product features often cost different amounts. In conjoint, price is a variable and therefore not tied to individual components or features.
4. You’ve decided on SIMALTO. It’s now important to ensure multiple stakeholders within your organisation are involved in the research process
The development of products is a collaborative process within any organisation. We recognise this and encourage internal parties with a stake in the research to join the process. Client teams typically involve marketing, sales, product managers, engineers and research & development. Through obtaining the buy-in of all key stakeholders, we can ensure the research is covering all angles in respect to the features tested – cost of goods, cost to the customer, degree of labor involved, manufacturing sophistication, intellectual capital etc.

5. Developing the SIMALTO features and attribute grid
An attribute and levels grid will be developed, similar to what is done with a conjoint. Each attribute is represented by features that range from the least advanced to the more advanced.

Specificity is key when developing this grid. Make sure you explain and/or quantify features as best you can so that nothing is left to the imagination.

For example, suppose you’d like to test a system’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) offerings, and your levels are: AI diagnoses basic diseases and AI diagnoses complex diseases. The words “basic” and “complex” may have different definitions to different individuals, so, we need to make sure all team members are aligned in how to clearly categorise these disease types.

6. Understand your asset in its competitive landscape
While developing your attribute grid, consider competitive offerings and what it is your product or service will offer as a point of differentiation.

Within our analysis, we’re able to obtain perceptions of what customers think they have today in their product/service and compare that to what they most value in your new offering. This provides your team with vital insight into how to best message against the competitive marketplace.

We know how important brand reputation is to customers. We assess equity within our SIMALTO analysis to understand how brand further drives, or hinders, preference for a new offering. We model not only your product or service, but your competitors, too.

7. Stay ahead of the curve
It’s perfectly acceptable, and encouraged, for your attribute grid to include features that your product or service may not realistically have available for another few years. We often test features that will require another 3-5 years in R&D before they are approved. Understanding reactions to these features will provide you with insight into what your next-generation offerings should potentially offer.

8. We know it’s cliché, but a picture (or diagram) really is worth a thousand words
We have the ability to embed images, diagrams, videos, and GIFs (graphics interchange format) into the SIMALTO. Respondents can simply click a hyperlink within the exercise itself to view this information. This capability is perfect for providing further explanation for attributes such as image quality, field of view, articulation, and size.

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