Medical device sales training – asking questions isn’t what it used to be

Everyone agrees … if you really want to be good at medical device sales, you must have great questioning skills. While the jury is in on the importance of asking questions, how you do it remains elusive.

Let’s take a look at three best practices.

The Internet Has Changed Everything. A significant amount of time is spent in most sales calls asking questions about basic background information – and rightly so. Today, however, there is a better way.  Medical device sales people can and must obtain most of that basic background information by using the Internet. As the “carpeted” part of hospitals increasingly become involved in purchase decisions, medical device sales people must create solid profiles of the hospitals in their territories – including their strategic goals, expansion plans, background of the physician practices and major physicians in the area to which they are selling – much of which now is available online.

Customers expect medical device sales people to add value – but they can’t add value if they are spending their time getting basic information that could of and should of been obtained before the call ever started.  You are simply squandering your “time budget” with the physician, nurse, or administrator.

Simple Wins Again. Over the years a prolific number of probing frameworks and models have been introduced – some have been simple and some have been relatively complex.  Here, it is important not to confuse more complex with better or more elegant.

In the end it is probably the other way around – simple is better.  This matters if for no other reason than time-to-learn. Today, medical device sales people must learn a diversity of skill sets and bodies of knowledge that dwarf yesterday’s requirements.  And they will just continue to grow. Given the large amount of time spent to develop clinical competence, do medical device sales people and their sales managers have to time to learn a complex questioning model? Learning to ask questions is important, no doubt about that, but so are a lot of other skill sets required for sales success in the medical device industry.

Substance Matters. Historically, teaching questioning skills emphasized there were different types of questions – soliciting different responses and having different impacts on customers.  Depending on the probing model being taught, the types of questions had various labels.

However, that point is only part of the story.  What really differentiates top performing medical device sales people from average performers is the content of their questions.  They simply “know what they are talking about.”  In general, most sales people would probably be twice as good at asking questions, if more emphasis was placed on substance.  If not, it is too easy to end up doing a good job asking questions about the wrong things.

One-Size-Doesn’t-Fit-All. One thing for sure in today’s medical device sales environment – what you ask and how you ask it depends upon the person on the other side of the table. Perhaps the acid test of this notion comes in sales calls with senior executives.  Nothing good happens in a senior executive sales call if the sales person follows the same questioning approach that succeeded so well at an entry level.  Nor is it a good idea to ask administrative questions of physicians or clinical questions of materials managers. There is no such thing as a ‘generic customer.”  Hence, a generic list of “good questions” is a myth – medical devices sales people need sales training so they are comfortable asking questions of different audiences – not a rigid step-by-step list of questions.

A final thought

Increasingly, a medical device sales force will not only have to sell its company’s competitive advantage; they will have to be good enough to be a competitive advantage.  Mastering the art and science of asking questions – consultatively – is one of the requirements to meet that challenge.

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Medical device sales training – asking questions isn’t what it used to be

  1. Pingback: Medical device sales – 8 questioning traps hindering sales success | Sales Training Connection

  2. That is the first time I frequented your website page and so far I amazed with the research. Excellent job!

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