The Changing Face of Medical Device Sales—Selling Beyond the OR

Picture the stereotypical medical device sales rep of the past. He was athletic and outgoing—and best buddies with the surgeons he went with on trips and to sporting events. His success was built on a foundation of strong relationships in the OR, particularly with the surgeons. But like so many other things in today’s increasingly complex system of healthcare and hospitals, the medical device sales environment is changing.

Today, success is less about becoming best buddies with the surgeon and more about selling to a wide range of stakeholders. Medical device sales reps need to move beyond the OR.

Stakeholders in the modern healthcare environment include, among others, the surgeon, their support staff, the OR nurse manager, and the materials/supply manager. Each stakeholder has a different perspective and is working towards different goals.

To optimize performance, successful sales reps need to identify the goals and gain insight into the perspective of each of these stakeholders. Simple, right?

However, this presents a real challenge to our stereotypical device sales rep. He isn’t likely to be able to build relationships outside the OR with all these individuals just by discussing the latest football scores or attending events together.

All of this doesn’t have to spell doom and gloom to the “relationship” rep. People still buy from people whom they like and trust. But in the new paradigm, the relationship with a surgeon isn’t enough in and of itself.

Sales reps need to use their relationship-building skills to expand and build a network with all the key stakeholders. And as a bonus, the relationships and insights gained from a network of stakeholders are also key to getting beyond the usual “we need a 30% discount” response.

These four steps will help today’s medical device sales rep optimize their success:

1. Educate Yourself And The Stakeholder

Education is a critical component of selling in the healthcare industry. Use this to your advantage by becoming an expert in your field. Then, make the education of each of your stakeholders a priority.

The focus does not need to be solely on the value and benefits of your particular product, but can be more broadly about the segment of the market you work in. Tailor the message to the needs of your audience. This will likely be an easier conversation with the OR nurse manager than the materials/supply manager, as with the OR nurse manager you share common ground—namely the OR and surgery.

So, how do you engage in a conversation with the supply manager? First, do your homework. For example, research current healthcare trends such as increased use of bundled payments or the impact of the Affordable Care Act.

Make sure you understand how the hospital is reimbursed for surgical procedures. Know what key acronyms mean (e.g., IDN, DRG, etc.). Use topics such as these as conversation starters. Then, ask questions of the stakeholders to help educate yourself about their roles and interests.

2. Share Information And Data

Big Data is everywhere. Take advantage of the accessibility of information to further educate your stakeholders. Share pertinent information, articles, and Web links that relate to your business segment, product, and surgical procedures. As your relationship develops, make a point to revisit the stakeholder and share an interesting article or link you came across.

Sharing information can be another touchpoint with that stakeholder. You are asking nothing in return. Instead you are helping to educate the stakeholder, making them more informed and valuable in their role.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

A misconception exists outside the OR of what a device sales rep really does. To the outsider, the sales rep shows up when their device or implant is ready to be used, writes down the part numbers, maybe restocks used inventory, and then heads out as soon as possible to hit the golf course.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the successful medical device rep needs to make sure that each stakeholder knows the value they bring to the surgeon and OR staff.

Make a point to communicate that the rep’s job is not simply to show up in the OR for that brief period while the device is implanted. For example, make sure the materials/supply manager knows that you were there last night at midnight to receive the set and prep for today’s surgery.

Be sure to let the nurse manager know that you were happy to help out when the OR was understaffed. Solidify your relationships with all the stakeholders by demonstrating your value in a positive way.

4. Shift Away From “Position”

While the first three steps are relatively easy to enact, what happens when the materials/supply manager does ask for that 30% discount? If you’ve used the above steps to solidify relationships with the stakeholders, you will find yourself more able to move the conversation away from a “position” like that of the 30% discount.

The key here is to understand the reasons behind their request. Is the materials manager asking for a discount because they are concerned about the impact of reduced reimbursement for the procedure? Or, is the materials manager primarily concerned about meeting their cost reduction goals? How would you know what their motivation is? The simple solution to this problem is to ask.

Ask the manager why she feels she needs the discount. Ask stakeholders about their personal goals. Ask them how their performance is measured. Use the additional insight you gain from questions such as these to craft win-win solutions that go beyond mere “position.”

While the medical device sales environment, like much of today’s healthcare industry, is changing rapidly, the successful sales rep still needs to use their relationship-building skills.

The difference is that now these skills need to be applied to a network of stakeholders, both inside and outside of the OR. This means that education is increasingly a priority. Providing it helps to build relationships, and your expertise will help you start meaningful conversations.

The insights you gain from these conversations are key to crafting mutually agreeable solutions. And, to making yourself valuable. It is by demonstrating your worth and building a network of relationships that extends beyond the OR that today’s medical device sales rep optimizes success.


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