Updates from Affiliated Monitoring's Catalyst 2018

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05/22/2018

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla.—I arrived Monday on Amelia Island, Fla., for Affiliated Monitoring’s third annual Catalyst conference, focused entirely on the sales and marketing aspects of the medical alert industry.

The first full day began with a welcome from, Mike Zydor, managing director for Affiliated Monitoring. He brought up the idea of “forced networking,” making sure that people are meeting and conversing with a multitude of different professionals, including ones they haven’t met before. To facilitate this, the conference has attendees in different groups throughout the event, such as with the table assignments or teams for networking events.

Zydor said that one of the valuable takeaways from the event will be the discussions and relationships made at Catalyst. Following this point, each attendee had the opportunity to stand and introduce themselves, their company, and where they’re from.

Next, Affiliated executive vice president Daniel Oppenheim presented “PERS: Today and the Future,” an overview of themes in the PERS industry and observations within Affiliated Monitoring. Oppenheim said how fortunate he is for what it is that the industry offers, “We offer a service that is vital to our customers, we save lives.”

The overall number of PERS signals that Affiliated received went up 45 percent last year, Oppenheim said.

“I feel very strongly in the future of our industry,” Oppenheim said. He pointed toward the baby boomer generation, the oldest of which are about 72 now, as a large opportunity—an entire generation that is about age into the typical PERS and mPERS demographics.

Related to that is one of the problems the industry will face in coming years, Oppeneheim said: that there are going to be more seniors, but there are projected to be fewer available caregivers. “There’s only one answer and it is our industry and technology that is going to solve this.”

An annual staple of the Catalyst program is the executive spotlight series, where Oppenheim has an on-stage conversation with leaders in the PERS industry, covering their perspective on the industry and the decisions that got them to where they are today. In 2016, Oppenheim sat down with Ritch Haselden of Essence USA, and in 2017, he spoke with Ken Gross of Connect America.

This year Oppenheim talked with Rob Flippo, CEO of MobileHelp, a provider of mPERS and health management solutions, which began in 2006.

“You bet big on mobile and you were right, what did you see that others in the market were not seeing at the time?” Oppenheim asked.

Flippo said that people weren’t using cellular in the home when he started, and he did his due diligence to figure out that there was no business reason for this and chose to take up the technology in his business. He noted that GPS technology was also in the early stages at that time.

Affiliated is now fully integrated with MobileHelp, Oppenheim announced on stage Tuesday. Through that process, Oppenheim met many members of Flippo’s team. He asked Flippo for his philosophies on putting together a team. 

Flippo first responded by agreeing with the phrase “The fish rots from the head down;” how management and ownership treat the people below them affects the entire business. Flippo also said that in assembling his team, he looked for people that would fit executive roles, before the company even had those positions.

Flippo provided an interesting perspective when asked to think about the future of the PERS industry, 10 years down the road. He said that the people buying PERS systems now, where about 65 when he started a little more than a decade ago. So, he challenged the audience to consider a 60 or 65 year-old now—that person will be a potential PERS user in 10 years. A 60 or 65 year-old now is more technological than in 2006, Flippo noted, and he predicted that PERS systems will come with more features and functionality that connects to other aspects of a user's life, much in the same way that the security ecosystem evolved to include more elements of home control.

The last session of the day was a panel, titled “Ask the Experts: Product Mix and Planning the PERS Future.” Here, Pete West, VP, North American director for KORE, moderated a conversation with Yaniv Amir, president of Essence USA, Ryan Bangerter, business development director for Mytrex, and Scot McGehee, VP of operations and sales at Climax.

To kick things off, Ward asked Bangerter about the value of the cloud for PERS. Mytrex is leveraging the cloud with its new PERS product, the MXD LTE. Bangerter said that, historically, PERS systems are a local installation, but the cloud element allows for an easier integration process and it helps with different communication paths.

Ward asked McGehee about the usage of mobile PERS inside of the home, as opposed to a cellular PERS system. Seniors can be much more energetic and mobile, he noted, and Users need something for mobile use outside of the home as well as usage in the house. “We’ve got to be able to cover both bases going forward to take care of the aging population,” he said.

Essence does business outside of the US, Ward noted. He asked Amir about trends that are in international markets that might enter the U.S. market. Voice activation is one such trend, according to Amir. Specifically, Essence offers a voice panic alarm system, where emergency response sensors can be installed throughout a user’s house and—because it relies on voice—doesn’t require a wearable. This is a good solution when caregivers would like to see more protection in an elderly person’s home, but that user does not want to appear frail.

To open the second day of Catalyst 2018, Mike Zydor had an on-stage conversation with Mark Melendes, managing director and group head—specialized industries, CIBC Bank US, about what dealers need to know a head of looking for additional funding.

Borrowing from a bank can be a great way to grow a PERS business, Zydor noted. He asked Melendes for the first thing PERS dealer should do when thinking about additional funds.

Melendes said to think of alternatives to borrowing from a bank. Borrowing from a bank can be very involved, he said, and there are other options that a dealer could look into; for instance, finding a local lender or sometimes the seller in a transaction can partly help with financing.

According to Melendes, key considerations include: whether financial records in tact, does the company have good financial reporting and a history of financial reporting, is there a good CRM system, and are there the right people to support a banking relationship.

The first time that Melendes meets a company, it can be when there is an immediate acquisition opportunity, one that might want to close quickly, and unless they have the right information it can be a challenge.

Zydor asked: What do people looking to buy need to pay attention to in buying a competitor?

While CIBC focuses on the financial part of the transaction, it is also concerned with the strategic fit of the purchase and the legal due diligence, Melendes said. “Strategic fit is definitely one that we focus on,” he said.

Something new for Catalyst that was included this year was a session devoted to a variety of discussion groups. Through an event app, attendees were asked for the topic that most interested them out of nine options. Four topics were chosen for discussion groups: Medicaid and government programs, customer retention strategies, leveraging social media for your business, and building your team: the most essential roles to fill.

I sat in on the social media session, curious for business leaders’ opinions on leveraging social media for an offering geared toward the senior audience, which is currently noted as not being very technological.

This group was divided into two tables. The table I sat with discussed how the main audience is often not the user themselves, but instead the younger caregiver—an individual more likely to be on social media.

One idea was that messaging about PERS products has been often built off of fear, the fear of a fall. The industry could benefit from portraying PERS as more of a lifestyle product, a device that allows its user a certain lifestyle with more freedom.

From there, the discussion circled around to newer ideas of advertising that are mainly focused on showing a product and then showing a user having a better experience from using it. This is a concept in imaging that PERS products could use to showcase the offering as a lifestyle-focused device, as opposed to one driven by fear.

After about 20 minutes, each table in the room—about nine in total—chose a representative to present the ideas of their group.

The final presentation for this year was from the featured guest speaker, Erica Javellana, speaker of the house for Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer. Javellana joined the company in 2007 as a human resources generalist and quickly rose to be the employee relations manager. She took the stage to talk about Zappos’ focus on customer service and how to focus on company culture.

Javellana began by talking about what Zappos calls P.E.C.: personal, emotional connection. Zappos wants each employee to establish a connection with each person they interact with, she said.

Zappos is committed to the idea of company culture and that means hiring and firing by those principles, Javellana said.

Zappos has 10 core values, central to the company’s culture, and one of them is to “Build a Positive Team and Family spirit,” and the wrong person can ruin a team’s dynamic. “If you get the right people, you get the right culture,” she said.

Other tenets of Zappos’ culture included “Deliver WOW through service,” “Create fun and a little weirdness,” and “Be humble.”

To “wow” through service means to go above and beyond, Javellana said. She shared the story of sitting in on a customer service call where a woman called in to try to find a specific sweatshirt. This woman hadn’t ever shopped with Zappos, Javellana noted, but the Zappos employee helped her none-the-less, and got to know her while searching for the sweatshirt. He eventually learned that the woman’s son had died in a car accident wearing his favorite sweatshirt at the time, and her younger son wanted the same one to remember his brother. The customer service representative, finding that Zappos did not have it, purchased one through a competitor and told the caller he would sent it to her.

It’s about the experience more than the transaction, Javellana stressed.

Creating a little fun and weirdness does not mean Zappos only hires extroverted people, Javellana said, it means they encourage employees to be their whole selves at work. Some people stress work-life balance, and are entirely different people outside of work. People could focus more on work-life integration, she said.

The last principle Zappos has in its culture is to be humble and the company has a small test for this. In hiring for any position, whether it be the COO or a department manager, they inform the candidate that all new hires are required to attend company-wide training followed by a period of answering phones, taking four weeks in total. If the applicant turns their nose up at the idea of answering phones, they are shown the door. One reason for this is that at busy times of the season, such as during the holidays, answering phones can mean all-hands-on-deck, Javellana said, including her and Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh.

Javellana ended her presentation with this question: “How will you wow?"