Training new medical device sales reps – getting it right

If you did not catch this article in the Winter 2012 issue of FOCUS Magazine, we thought we’d re-post it here to provide our readers with easier access.

Training new medical device sales rep


When designing a training curriculum for new medical device sales people, clinical knowledge is first and foremost. But on its own, it’s not enough for sales success. Adding traditional sales skills training also is important, but insufficient for sales success.

New medical device sales people need something more from sales training. Because they sell to a small community of close-knit specialists, like electrophysiologists or orthopedic surgeons, new medical device sales people can’t afford starting off on the wrong foot.  So new hire sales training must include a third component foreshadow those day-to-day challenging situations new sales people frequently encounter and share how those situations can be handled.

What challenging situations should be built into new hire sales training?

  • Determining why physicians switch devicesBefore approaching a physician about changing devices sales people must know what’s driving current usage. Is it – better patient outcomes? technical superiority?  personal or hospital financial gain? contract compliance? fear of adopting a new technology? be an innovator? Sales training can share the most common reasons physicians change device vendors and how sales people can influence physicians to make the switch.
  • Knowing when to access physicians – Since so much of new sales people’s time is in the OR or Lab, that’s where they usually get access to physicians. Unfortunately sometimes new sales people are so anxious to talk with a physician they don’t “read” the environment and therefore make a misstep like button-holing an implanter following a tough case. New sales people must be sensitive to the “do’s and don’ts” of when and where to approach physicians and clinical staff. This is particularly true in medical device sales where implanting some devices, such as cardiology, can have “life or death” consequences. As with the other challenging situations, sales training can share a starter list on strategies new sales people might use to gain access to physicians.
  • Handling tough conversations with physicians Selling to physicians strikes fear in new medical sales people; yet not tackling the fear only exacerbates it. This is a critical issue in medical device sales because sales people spend long stretches in the OR or Lab with physicians during cases. Despite the stress of a case, there’s ample time for physicians to “quiz” new sales people on clinical topics such as: their devices, competitor devices, and disease states. All the while the sales person is working “without a net” – with no prepared presentation to rely upon. In sales training, role plays can provide new hires with practice dealing with these conversations.

While every medical device sale is unique, commonalities exist that can be shared with new sales people during sales training. Polling sales people with 12-18 months of experience yields a treasure trove of challenging situations. Challenging situations  can also be captured by including sales managers in the sales training program. As Chas Weems, group director of Smith & Nephew’s Sales Academy – Advanced Surgical Devices notes, “Integrating sales leaders as coaches in our programs has been instrumental in keeping our training content dynamic and relevant.”

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Janet Spirer

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. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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