Tips to More Effective Healthcare Sales
Is there a gap between how medical device sales reps sell and how healthcare institutions buy? For some companies, there is a starkly divergent view between the two. Performance suffers when a gap exists between the device sales rep and the buyer. Closing the gap between expectations and performance begins with understanding the buyer. In this article, we explore the gap and how to unify expectations.
It Starts with Hiring
As a revealing thought experiment, I’m comparing job listings for a medical device sales rep and a healthcare procurement director. Both are public companies based in the United States. Before you read the descriptions, ask yourself what you would look for in each position.
Job Description: Medical Device Sales
Goal: To build and maintain relationships to identify new opportunities to grow and develop the company’s products and technology utilization.
Duties and Responsibilities:
- Achieves business objectives for assigned territory.
- Identifies, develops, and manages partners to achieve goals.
- Executes strategic account plan to win accounts and drive market share.
- Develops, builds, and cultivates long-term relationships with key management within the customer organization.
- Assists management in devising sales plans and strategies.
- Develops sales forecasts for assigned territory.
- Reviews and updates account plans based on changing market conditions and competitive activity.
Job Description: Hospital Procurement
Goal: Serves as a leader with advisory capacity in the procurement group and can work independently in managing the procurement process.
Duties and Responsibilities:
- Participates in staff, departmental, and vendor meetings as required.
- Assists Buyers, Senior Buyers, and Contract Administrators with procedural questions.
- Advises end users of procurement options, product availability, and marketplace changes relating to their requirements.
- Monitors contracts and work with departments and vendors to resolve any ongoing performance issues when necessary.
- Excellent interaction skills, including tactful communication, mediation, diplomacy, facilitation and negotiation, leadership, influencing, and teamwork, are required.
How did the descriptions match your requirements? The first thing that stands out to me is how polar opposite these two job descriptions are. The medical device company is looking for someone who can achieve the objective, execute, and build market share. Alternatively, the hospital is looking for someone who can assist, advise, and monitor. This position also requires leadership, diplomacy, and negotiation skills. When I read those two job descriptions, I noticed that the skills we train medical device sales reps on are the skills the hospital is looking for in their procurement leader.
At Janek, we’ve worked with medical device manufacturers who sell to enterprise healthcare systems. We’ve also worked with manufacturers who sell to private practices. The similarities are surprising. Regardless of the institution’s size, most medical device sales reps face the same challenges: Finding someone to help them navigate the complexity of the buying process.
We call this person a champion. To find a champion, you must win the heart and the mind. At a private practice, it could be the office manager. This person is close to the physician or dentist and understands the clinic’s needs. In addition, they likely understand the financials of the practice. At smaller institutions, they may not have the title, but they certainly have access and power. This person may not have final purchase authority, but they do have the ability to say, “We’re all set.”
At larger institutions and healthcare systems, they have used terms like Value Assessment Committee. If you notice the job description above, they have a team of buyers. This complicates the sale for medical device reps. Surprisingly, even at smaller practices, there’s often an informal committee. The front desk person talks with the office manager, and the sales rep has to navigate both. Whether an individual or a committee, the sales rep must find a champion to help them navigate the sale.
What’s a Champion?
A champion is someone with access and power who sees the product’s benefit to their institution. Titles can range from office manager, administrator, operations director, or physician. Their title is not essential. What’s critical is that the champion sees the benefit to their institution and has an interest in the sales rep successfully introducing and or selling the product.
Too often, the sales rep cannot advance because they fail to develop a champion. They call and call on the institution without making progress. Why? To find the answer, we must view the selling process from the champion’s perspective. Doctors, hospitals, and healthcare institutions are approached daily with cold calls, emails, and in-person visits. The healthcare segment is highly solicited because everyone assumes the budget is available. In other words, these stakeholders have more experience being sold to than most sales reps do in selling.
For a champion to move any new product forward is risky. What would happen if the champion went straight to a higher authority every time they saw a product and said, “You’ve got to see this new product”? The psychology of this dynamic is complex. People want to avoid looking inept but seek to validate their intelligence and competence. Looking intelligent to a higher authority is an excellent reason for a champion to be interested in the sales rep successfully introducing the product.
Creating Interest in Your Success
Dropping off donuts and leaving a card with a flyer might have worked a decade ago, but modern selling has evolved. Healthcare Champions are skeptical but patient-driven, concerned about quality care and the economic value proposition. Champions with more clinical backgrounds likely value patient care, while those with a business background value economics. The best approach is the one tailored to the champion. Remember: KYC, Know Your Champion. LinkedIn is a great resource to start because you can review their background and experience and make informed decisions about what they would likely value most.
Value is in the eye of the beholder. The champion has heard about artificial intelligence, medical robots, and 3D printing. However, preaching about the virtue of the new technology is ineffective. Consider every rep with a new product evangelizing to the buyer, “This is a game-changer. A disruptive, transformative, patented, proprietary, no-brainer product.” Such sales gibberish will derail the sale. Only data will accelerate sales. But it has to be data that the champion values.
Delight with Data
Selling medical devices to institutions necessitates data from two components, clinical and economic value proposition. From our experience, most sales reps do an excellent job with the clinical data. When we work with sales reps on the economic value, we often find they are barely scratching the surface.
When a sales rep just scratches the surface, their message is built around cost savings, time-savings, staff hours, and ease of use. Most sales reps have this down but will not influence a champion. A more profound message will address how the product fits system-wide, is scalable, and how the company can help the institution once the product is delivered. Economic value includes results and service levels. Showing how you deliver value in service in addition to a quality product is enormous.
No one at a healthcare institution has the title of champion. But for medical device sales reps to succeed, they need one. Unlike a surgeon working with an MRI to guide their work, the medical device reps are guided by insights and relationship-building skills. And like a surgeon, they require constant practice to perfect.
Medical device sales reps have to be efficient with their time. Wasting time on outdated tactics that do little to create champions reduces the time they could invest in pursuing a relationship that will. The best way to create an internal champion starts with understanding what they value. Based on that, they must align the message around the value indicators both the champion and the institution are looking for. Finally, the champion must feel confident that introducing your product will validate their professionalism and decision-making skills. Drop the ball on any of these steps, and performance will suffer.
If this sounds complex, it is. People skills, not only sales skills, are requirements. At Janek, we call this person a trusted advisor. Like champions, trusted advisors play an essential role in medical device sales. A trusted advisor can marry the clinical with the economic, has system-level thinking, not product-level thinking, and can demonstrate why a slightly different product is more valuable than the incumbent product. When the sales rep gets all this right, the champion says, “I saw a new product that looks interesting. We need to take a deeper look at it.”
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