Medifast has used a lot of jumping, starting, and winning goals in its global fight against obesity. The strategy has resulted in robust health and a rosy future for the company that produces a clinically tested, portion‐controlled weight management program. Fortune Magazine cited Medifast as the fastest growing company in 2010.
“Our brand awareness is now up to 40 percent. When I first started, it was in the teens,” said Brian Lloyd, CSAP, executive vice president of international & business Development, during his session “One Word to Jumpstart or Re-invigorate Your International Growth Strategy: Partnership” at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit held at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Florida, USA.
International partnerships are providing a huge boost for Medifast in its step-by-step efforts to expand its global footprint. “From an international standpoint, we are trying to become the partner of choice,” said Lloyd. That requires getting partners onboard in their global “mission to drive people to make them healthy,” he added. “Mexico is now number one in obesity, and the US is number two. We saw an opportunity to expand by partnering with a pharmaceutical company in Mexico.”
Key to the success of that partnership is cultural understanding. In one country, playing soccer with the CEO became an inroad for success, and it now comes up every time he visits the office. “What happens outside of the office is just as important as what happens inside the office,” he emphasized.
Clear communication is also key. Language barriers can turn into misunderstandings and kill an otherwise solid collaboration. Addressing the flaw in hiring talent was critical when he first came onboard with Medifast: “They didn’t have anyone in key roles who could speak Spanish.”
The company invested in more Spanish speakers and there is now a monthly report that includes languages spoken by employees. The partners also invested in English classes. Medifast expanded its mission to Central and South America, as well as adding a new partner is Canada. “You could say they are a competitor of ours, but we have been able to identify the collaboration and make it a win-win,” he said of that partnership.
Health tracking devices, such as Fitbit, are valuable expansion tools for Medifast. He attributes Weight Watchers’ loss of 40 percent in value to not adding similar apps. Other steps taken to increase profitability are:
- Weight control centers where clients see someone weekly - a kind of “Cadillac” where you pay a bit more
- Medical providers and tools that expand services, hospitals, health systems supporting the process, and leading cardiologists
- Technology partnerships to help drive consumer retention and engagement
Lloyd left the large audience with his “Top Ten Key Takeaways”:
- Getting C-level buy-in means more than getting their approval to enter an alliance – active engagement is required and ongoing
- What happens outside the office can be just as important as what happens inside the office – enable trust and shared vision
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- You will run into problems, gaps & delays – so plan for them!
- Understand the “nuances” of cultural impacts: both geographically and the partner company’s cultural impacts
- Be mindful of timetables and their pace of business (i.e., while we may be running they plan to walk)
- Deliver on the quarterly metrics, but have a 1-2 year vision for future expansion and growth
- Resolve conflicts early: communicate and implement learning loops
- Document everything! Turnover happens as well as issues arise
- Be a Change Agent! Empower others through knowledge & opportunity