Medical device salesmen go through months and even years of learning about their products and how to sell them. They navigate earning qualifications, building knowledge of the medical field, and networking just to stay competitive.
This can be a tall task for any medical sales rep and an overwhelming one for newer sales professionals. So in a field with so much competition and many required skills to harness, what can a sales rep do from the onset of their career or with their newest opportunity in order to stand out? More importantly, how might they create trust in their new sales relationships?
Here’s a starter’s list:
1: Be Accessible
From promptly arriving at a clinic as the day begins — even before the physicians themselves — to being just a phone call away when they call upon you, making sure you’re accessible builds your credibility with physicians and their staff.
2: Be Easy to Work With
This one should be obvious, however, many salesmen can often be tough to work with. Being organized, responsive, and prepared requires organization on behalf of the sales rep.
For example, simply being proficient in all matters of your device, guaranteeing it is ready for a physician when needed, understanding and researching their cases are all ways your organization makes the life and job of a physician easier.
3: Make Your Device Simple to Embed
If a device is difficult to use, physicians won’t like it. Of course, there are some things a salesperson can’t control, like the adaptability of a wire, but salespeople can do their best to set their physicians up for success. Ensure the implanter is proficient with the device as well the lab or any additional staff.
4: Remember the Patient
As a sales rep, it’s very easy to get lost in the technical side of your device and any challenges you may run into long before that device reaches the person it’s ultimately intended for: the patient.
At the center of all the work you and a physician do is the patient — the person who will live with the device you’ve made available to them. The best sales reps never overlooks the patient, and neither will the physicians and medical staff who help them.
Outside of the doctor’s office is a world of purchasing advisory groups, medical staff, executives, and even sales rep associations in which you will learn from and work alongside. Learning all the people involved in the purchasing process, their responsibilities, key concerns and challenges, and even their impression of you versus a competing salesperson can be key in sales achievement.
6: Be Open to Feedback. Even Negative Feedback
One thing we’ve learned is that the people implanting your devices have long memories. Be ready and open to negative feedback about your devices, constructive feedback about your own organization, and even observations about earlier sales reps and team leads a physician may have worked with in the past.
This feedback is valuable and like complaints, should be acknowledged and taken care of (when needed) thoughtfully.
In today’s realm of leaning on essential frontline workers, pharmacists carry an integral role in delivering healthcare directly to those in need. And to a medical sales rep whose job will change dramatically due to COVID-19 — a role that has traditionally relied on much face-to-face interaction with clients and pharmacists alike — the pharmacist is one person who will remain critical to your success.
In the simplest terms, a pharmacist is a rep’s sales partner. You’ve gone through the product training, honed your skills and built strong relationships with physicians, and finally, it all comes to a head with prescriptions being filled at the pharmacy and eventually to the patients themselves.
Naturally, this means strong relationships with pharmacists in your region can be just as important as the relationships with physicians and therefore, should require your attention and care just the same. An authorized pharmacist is a pharmaceutical expert, specializing in pharmaceutical disease management, while the physician specializes in simply diagnosing the illness and method for treating it. This means physicians rely on informed, trustworthy, and reputable pharmacists to train their patients to use metered-dose inhalers, blood pressure monitors, and injectable medications effectively.
Meanwhile, the patient relies on their pharmacist to instruct them in the proper use and dosages of their mediations, they inform them of the expected results or side effects to look for, and even care instructions in case of a negative response to a prescription. For all these reasons, the sales rep relies heavily on a quality pharmacist for support in both patient education and follow up with physicians, working as another source of feedback to the medical professionals that are a rep’s client base.
So how do you, the medical sales rep, work with a pharmacist in a way that sustains success with your clients?
Approach Pharmacy Calls As If You Are Presenting to a Physician
A diligent medical sales rep will regularly approach his calls with a pharmacist with the same focus and urgency of presenting to a physician, be it sharing clinical trial data or being open to feedback on a product’s impact, positive or negative, on its patients.
However, pharmacists don’t want you to sell them your product. This isn’t a pitch, as they’re not the person prescribing your drug. They are, however, the person who can ensure your product is being put to effective use if equipped with the most up to date information and data. So let them know as soon as you open the call what you intend to cover. Do you need approval to show solution vouchers or coupons? Would you like to advise the pharmacy staff about another medicine dispatch? Knowing and sharing your intentions immediately can make each interaction more productive for your overall success, and reminding the pharmacist who you are will help you build a stronger relationship over time.
Delivering your information thoroughly is important, as pharmacists need to know the specific dosing, methods of application, harmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) profile, and events of symptoms aligned with your product. The better equipped they are with this information, the more productive their meetings with physicians and patients will be, in turn.
As COVID-19 has introduced new challenges to person-to-person visits in clinics and the ways in which patients even receive their medications, an informed and prepared pharmacist is an even more powerful ally to the sales rep than ever before, ensuring their products are used effectively and with the best results possible.
Success in medical device sales, as in many sales professions, comes with delivering the right message to the right person at the most opportune moment. Establishing oneself in the field requires knowing who’s who and having relationships that are rooted in qualities like accessibility, integrity, and credibility.
A couple of months ago, we were meeting with the Regional Vice Presidents of Sales at a medical device company. Two of the VPs brought up a common observation: It’s standard for medical device sales reps to have a cursory knowledge of what their current clients use, but they may not know why their clients may use one device or another.
In the conversation, we dove into the main factors behind why a physician uses a particular product or device:
This is what the physician used as far back as their residency and now they’re proficient with it. For an experienced doctor, it’s likely now simple to use and doesn’t require any new training.
The physician has an established relationship with a company and opportunities for building on their own practice in return.
In the same light, physicians often have a relationship with a rep inside as well as outside of the or lab or clinic. Familiarity, trust, and continuity have a major impact here.
This is, after all, a business, and profitable deals and agreements can secure the longevity of both emergency clinics and independent practices alike.
With these factors in mind, we considered what it would take for a physician to move from a favored company, existing sales rep relationship, or new device altogether:
Often, physicians prefer not to be left behind in their field, passing up on new innovations that would otherwise drive patients to their practice.
If physicians don’t follow the most significant trends in their training, independent medical procedure center or clinic, the physician may appear ineffective among their colleagues and leaders in their field.
Once again, this is a business, and profitable deals and agreements can secure the longevity of both emergency clinics and independent practices alike.
If a sales rep’s company and product can offer at least one advantage over the status quo, they offer physicians the opportunity to make a change.
Time and again, conventional sales training methods overlook some of these factors when preparing medical device sales reps to build their client base. Establishing these considerations in their structure — looking beyond just the traditional dos and don’ts of regional coverage and arranging appointments — can be key in training newly recruited employees as well as setting up existing sales reps for success.
4 Ways New Medical Device Sales Reps Can Build Credibility and Trust With Physicians, According to Physicians
When asked their top concerns with selling medical devices, new medical sales reps often fear working one-on-one with physicians. It’s a logical apprehension because regardless of how much medical training a sales rep gets, communicating in person with a true medical professional can be intimidating for any new salesman.
Horror stories float around companies, clinics, and inside physicians’ offices about medical device sales reps who were in over their head but couldn’t own up to their shortcomings, hoping to build some credibility. But physicians realize that a medical sales rep’s knowledge in their product and field will grow over time, and as such, we figured they are the best people to ask: What are the best ways new medical sales reps can build credibility and trust?
Don’t fake it ’til you make it
There is no shame in saying “I don’t have the foggiest idea” or offering a physician a genuine “I’ll get back to you with that answer.”
It can often be transparent when a sales rep is fidgeting and shies away from responses like these, which inevitably only damages their credibility with that business partner.
Own up to mistakes
To the same point, taking ownership of mistakes is actually an opportunity for a salesman to earn trust.
Do what you say you will
Whether it’s following up with an inquiry or checking up on receipt of a device, responding to a physician or their staff when you’ve promised to will prove you’re reliable.
Have tact and be aware of your timing
While crucial to harboring good fortune in any business setting and any industry, physicians (and their medical staff) are especially reliant on a medical device sales rep’s attentiveness to appropriate timing. For the record, there’s an app for avoiding this called Preferred Time, where reps can introduce themselves to physicians and meet new potential clients virtually and even schedule first meetings digitally, leaving no room for getting shut down at the front desk thanks to poor timing.
Cath lab managers as well as directors, for example, often don’t acknowledge medical device salesmen who regularly hold up a physician in discussions, which results in delayed appointments and procedures throughout the rest of the work day. Similarly, physicians themselves don’t enjoy being approached by a sales rep directly after a procedure that may have gone poorly. Understanding simple unspoken rules is basic to building trust and credibility among the physicians a sales rep can hope to work with.
A final thought:
Naturally, a new medical device salesman will need time to build new, individual relationships. However, drawing on the reputation of their company and aligning with the credibility they’ve maintained can set a foundation for you, the new rep.
For what reason would I be keen on employing independent sales reps? The quick answer would be to achieve higher sales numbers, get those sales quicker, and all at a low cost. In particular, if you have to bring your company into new markets or develop existing markets with a lower upfront expense, the independent sales rep is often a viable option, but it’s important to know there’s no one-size-fits-all best practice when it comes to company’s turning to their services.
So what is an independent sales rep?
An independent sales rep, otherwise known as a manufacturer’s rep, is typically a commissions-based associate who will use everything from business expos to showrooms, clinic visits, and even cold calling to reach new clients and ultimately work with them face-to-face. From meetings with clients to showcase a product or ensure its delivery, closing sales, and handling any in-person servicing issues, and everything in between, to the clients, they are the face of a product.
What are the benefits of utilizing Independent Sales Reps or Manufacturer’s Reps?
- Reps are paid for their results, not their time, promoting an incentivized sales potential.
- One item deal can “trigger” the sales of other items with an independent rep.
- The sales costs are transparent.
Companies can enter new markets rapidly and cost-effectively with the aid of a qualified rep who brings his or her existing client base into the business they represent. The rep is assigned their region and maintains their own built-in system of purchasers as well as other reps. And for new companies looking to make their impact on the market, all these elements are essential.
With expertise in their field and a broad network of professional relationships to tap into, independent reps can rapidly grow the potential for a new product’s reach while an inside salesman may take months or even longer to create that same opportunity for their business. And since they are independent agents, clients even enter their relationship feeling confident they can report honest feedback about a product as well as the market — a result of knowing their rep works for themself, not the manufacturer. In turn, this opens avenues for a manufacturer to improve their product’s relevance in the marketplace.
Further, reps have recognition among their client base, hopefully having built trusting relationships as they live and work in their region — another incentive for them to maintain personal relationships, whereas an inside salesman may not.
How does utilizing independent sales reps or manufacturer reps increase sales?
The bottom line is an independent sales rep can expand their company’s potential by bringing various things to the table that in-house sales will not, like, for example, their freedom to deal non-competing products to the same client. Their sales are therefore made more efficiently and all at a lower cost to the employer. By representing several products or non-competing companies, they maintain a wider potential client base. The outcome: entering the market with greater opportunities and in all likelihood, more sales, with an independent sales rep.
The current trend toward information overload is important to keep in mind when preparing to broker a pharmaceutical deal. Like all of us and like all aspects of life, physicians need the right tools to filter only the most relevant, meaningful information in an efficient way.
Pharmaceutical companies can expand their business opportunities and bottom line by encouraging salesmen to help physicians navigate this challenge, rather than to simply “sell a product.” Besides, the best pharma reps will already be working to build solid, well rounded relationships with the physicians they serve. Rather than resisting the digital shift altogether, many are simply embracing new platforms like Preferred Time, where they can reach a wider network of potential clients digitally and in-person.
Physicians are also constantly navigating a flood of sales calls and attempts to “seal the deal” from a sales industry that sometimes is less focused on the proficiency of the product at hand and more focused on the “complimentary gifts” they can use to influence sales. Coupled with the ever-growing demands on their time spent with patients, physicians are more likely now than ever to restrict the visits of pharmaceutical salespeople in their clinics and therefore, stifle the opportunities for traditional in-person sales methods.
Throughout my own career as a pharma drug rep, I’ve seen how some reps are treated favorably by clinical experts while others are treated as nothing more than an annoying salesman. And one primary factor that separates the reps that physicians and their staff hold in high regard from all the others is the rep’s mastery and knowledge of their product and how it is applied in the medical field at large. The super drug reps know their stuff back to front and front to back, including the pharmacology of their items, the clinical viewpoints surrounding them, and their clinical examinations.
So, what would it be a good idea for you, the sales rep, to do?
1: Carefully vet any company you’re considering working with. You can utilize everything from corporate sites to Google and LinkedIn to get a scoop on any viable company. Look at their product offering, their market examination, and how they treat their representatives to learn if it’s a place that holds a future for you.
2: Be aware of how companies view (and may eventually rethink) the salesman’s job. Physicians are relying on a more educated rep nowadays — a professional who can serve as a specialist in their item, rather than a person constantly attempting to close the deal over lunch.
3: If you need to be in the pharmaceutical sales field, it’s of the highest priority now more than ever to market yourself as a first-class up-and-comer. Learn from a lifelong mentor if you’re lucky enough to find one, inquire about ways that promising applicants get into clinical sales, and use out-of-the-box strategies like 30/60/90-day sales plans.
The first-class, up-and-comer label also requires a strong knowledge of the science and technology behind what you’re selling, as well as versatility in an evolving sales approach that incorporates internet-based marketing and information to foster sales. Recognize what the market is moving toward and discover what various companies are doing to meet those changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed almost every industry, and the pharmaceutical industry — which was already no stranger to employing inventive ways to reach its clients through online services and platforms like Salesforce — is no different.
Before COVID-19 made new work-from-home regulations the status quo, direct and personal access to Health Care Professionals (HCP) was already diminishing. The use of online platforms and more time spent talking on cell phones than in-person stepped in the place of many conventional sales methods, both creating and calling for a realignment of advanced developments in the field of salesperson-to-physician engagement. Those factors have led to thinking of new ways to ensure sales reps and physicians continue to build mutually beneficial relationships, like launching a digital platform devoted entirely to connecting the two professions virtually, rather than relying on the age-old method of impromptu clinic visits and lunchtime meetings. Of course, as the world navigates a global pandemic and the social distancing measures that prioritize health and safety, we know the future market will call for even less face-to-face engagement opportunities between a Pharma sales rep and the physicians they help.
Multi-Channel Marketing has risen to supplement Salesforce activities as a way to connect with clients in the most proficient and savvy ways, for example. You may accept that the world wide web has given physicians an edge, and in many ways, it has. It’s provided access to a greater range of patient information to both physicians and medicinal service experts alike, but to anybody who’s tried, filtering through all the information available is one colossal errand. And this is where the pharmaceutical sales rep gains the opportunity to build an even more valuable relationship with the physicians they serve.
Schimmer states, “Physicians must not just retain this surge of new thoughts regarding treating, diagnosing, forestalling, and getting sickness – choosing which information is pertinent and which isn’t – yet besides figure out how to apply and disclose this information to the patient sitting with them in the test room or laying sick in a medical clinic bed.”
By providing appropriate information about a physician’s direct needs — another chemotherapy sedate for malignant growth docs, for example — a salesperson can stand out as a physician’s guide through the ocean of medical information that would otherwise be overwhelming. In a landscape where COVID-19 will continue to limit in-person visits to clinics and medical centers, this is just one way a sales rep can remain invaluable.
In 2006, an article in Entrepreneur said, “Physicians don’t have the opportunity to survey voluminous research reports… Enter the pharmaceutical delegate… The pharmaceutical companies and the medical network must cooperate to best serve the patients with strong information.
Agents who see themselves basically as medical information colleagues to the physician assume a completely unexpected job in comparison to the people who administer favors to sell enormous amounts of medications.”
Current pharma salesmen must be ready to give physicians the best, most reliable information at the ideal time, and they should offer it in engaging, non-aggressive ways. Research has found that physician relationships are the key variable in successful pharmaceutical sales, and physicians will change and adjust their methods only when they feel genuinely trusting of their sales reps — when they see them as people helping in their profession, not simply shills for an anonymous brand.
Every industry across the globe has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some crumbling in an economic collapse and others adjusting to the new times. It is an uncertain time for some fields but one thing the coronavirus pandemic has reminded the world of is the importance of sustainable, accessible healthcare. As we slowly navigate this life-altering time, now more than ever, the world is reliant on every aspect of the healthcare industry to evolve and help more people.
One such cog in the healthcare machine whose job will become ever more important, albeit different from we’ve grown accustomed to, is the role of the medical sales rep. As a manufacturer’s ambassador, the sales rep is an independent agent who operates in the space where a company’s products and services meet the physicians and clinics in need of them. From the employer’s perspective, most reps are paid commission for their work, with few who take a draw (or advance) against future commissions. Fundamentally, a sales rep is an entrepreneur whose business is selling the manufacturer’s product. And because of that, it’s essential to understand this aspect of the sales rep/manufacturer relationship, as these entrepreneurs produce the best results for companies when they are sold on the integrity of the manufacturer they represent, the product(s) they sell, and the company’s vision.
Post COVID-19, we should expect companies to still lean on experienced sales reps who employ stronger digital strategies through platforms like Preferred Time, for example, but the sales rep’s ultimate objective of serving old and new clients through whichever product they represent will remain the same.
Why Work with a Rep?
The manufacturer needs a rep with experience (and a network to sell to) because that salesperson will bring your team access to potential clients a company wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Further, having an employee who works on commission and isn’t owed a set salary is attractive to both parties. The buyer, on the other, favors a sales rep because these are individuals they’ve often built trust and connections with.
So simply put, the sales rep helps his or her company distribute products and services at a low risk/cost, while creating new opportunities for a manufacturer that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Challenges Between Reps and Manufacturers
There are often significant and considerable obstacles in building a smooth relationship between a rep and their manufacturer. Understanding and anticipating them can be the very thing that helps a manufacturer avoid them altogether and instead, create a partnership that is beneficial to all. First and foremost, both sides need to maintain and uphold their trust in each other.
Many manufacturers don’t invest much time in the training of new reps, they simply send them tutorials and training materials in hopes that the individual will get to work in the field sooner rather than later. The hope may be that the sooner a rep is out in the field, the sooner their sales will start rolling in. This isn’t a sustainable formula for longterm progress, rather it’s thorough, detailed, and attentive training specific to your product that can help your rep better inform the physicians they work with.
Finding and Selecting a Sales Rep
Consider the qualities you want in a particular rep, as they are the face of your company when they enter clinics and offices. What aligns with your company and the image you want to convey? But on top of that, any successful manufacturer will also take into account a potential rep’s existing client base and the types of products or devices they may have past experience selling.
The Future of Reps and COVID-19
The future of the medical sales rep’s role has been under speculation for some time now, with declining access to doctors and the availability of technology and information aimed at making the distribution of products more efficient. Of course, the call for social distancing practices and society’s reshaping of workflow in combatting COVID-19 has given more reason to think the sales rep may be a thing of the past. However, it’s not the sales rep who will disappear, simply their traditional methods of constant impromptu clinic visits and daily travel. The relationships reps build with physicians and clients are still just as valuable, and the evolution of the job will simply lead the industry toward more mobile and remote meetings, a greater need for the informed rep who can educate physicians, and more expertise in digital outreach and marketing. In 2019, AffinityMonitor found that even in the decline of physicians’ available time for reps, less than 10% of physicians actually engage in digital marketing, proving that the need for the person-to-person relationships afforded by the full-time sales rep will never truly go away.
Tragically, COVID-19 has turned many industries upside down and left many people across the world without jobs. The uncertainty of if or when they’ll be able to return to work has left some actively searching for new jobs and others wondering if a career change is in their future.
But while the global pandemic has shaken many industries up, some remain more valuable than ever, such as healthcare. And within the infrastructure of healthcare, COVID-19 has undoubtedly created a need for pharma sales to have a greater impact on access to both devices and prescription drugs across the world. The job itself will undoubtedly look different in a pandemic landscape, but it will remain an integral part in treating patients everywhere. For example, new technology and even a virtual platform known as Preferred Time has been built specifically to cater to the evolving needs and procedures that will come with the changing times. But the sentiment will remain the same: effective medical sales are an integral part of the patient care structure.
Pharmaceutical sales jobs cover a wide range of specialties within the industry, from biopharma to biotech and everything in between. With that in mind, it’s an intriguing field for any professional to enter, all with endless opportunities for growth and success. But even with such a broad range, it’s important to learn some universal skills that apply to the industry for building sustainable, longterm success.
The pharmaceutical salesmen is required to manage a variety of potential clients, serving and helping physicians as well as maintaining relationships with everybody from pharmacies to nursing homes and front desk staff at clinics, all requiring different communication skills and customer service skills specific to their needs. So while a college education focused solely on pharmaceutical sales isn’t required to enter the field, past sales experience and degrees in similar business divisions can be appealing to potential employers. But no matter your personal work experience or education, very few companies like seeing a job candidate with several occupational changes before coming to pharma sales.
But no matter how much a potential pharma sales rep wants to make themselves attractive to prospective employers, it’s also important to consider which companies will be attractive to you. Embarking on your search for a new pharma sales job with this perspective can have a profound impact on your future success by leading you toward a company, product, or specialty within the field that you may be especially passionate about. Perhaps you’ll represent a new treatment for an illness one of your own family members struggled with in the past, for example, giving you a first hand experience, knowledge, and insight that could be invaluable to the work you do.
Browsing the internet should give a sufficient rundown of companies actively looking for new reps, giving you the opportunity to screen for the opportunities that best fit your own needs and career goals. You may also learn in this part of the process whether it’s medical devices you’d like to focus on, or perhaps you’re more inclined to work alongside specialists like orthopedics, pediatricians, urologists, and the list goes on. Of course, pharmaceutical sales reps have the opportunity to earn a great salary with the right skills, experience, and dedication to the job. And many roles are geared toward companies incentivizing their reps with bonuses, opportunities to travel, and plenty more, so long as a rep meets the expectations of building a strong client base as well as maintain the existing foundation of clients they serve.
Prior to the spread of the novel Coronavirus, pharmaceutical companies were already drastically decreasing the number of pharma salesperson jobs within their organizations. Digital promoting channels have drastically shifted the reliance on face-to-face relationships for both physicians and pharmaceutical companies when it comes to providing the resources patients need, at the cost of as many as half of past salesperson jobs. Many of those digital influences simply make information more readily available or introduce corner-cutting methods of distributing and marketing products. But there are also new platforms like Preferred Time, for example, where reps and physicians can take advantage of digital connectivity and access to information while also maintaining personal relationships and individual client care. Nonetheless, the newly-evolving needs of limiting both contact and travel in all industries can inevitably push the medical sales industry even deeper into digital trends.
A few major factors are driving this decline:
1: Physicians are currently required to give more of their time to a higher volume of patients every day and therefore, they have less time for pharmaceutical sales reps.
2: There has been a shift to higher-developing markets like China, for example, and away from low-development regions, for example, the USA.
3: Much of the information an agent can offer is readily available online and at convenience of the physician’s schedule. Valuable, reliable resources are more accessible than ever through even the most common tools like cell phones and tablets.
4. As mentioned, the Coronavirus pandemic has put a halt to many traditional tasks of a sales representative. In the US, things like dinner meetings, conferences, and corporate travel are off the table for many, and there’s no predicting how, when, or if those methods ever make their way back into growing salesperson-physician relationships.
So, what will the pharmaceutical salesperson of tomorrow look like? We imagine that the pharmaceutical salesman isn’t a relic of times gone by. He or she won’t be replaced by online platforms and call centers, however, their capabilities will change significantly.
From a medical point of view, agents with some medical training will become more prominent, such as those with degrees in nursing. And this focus on medical specialization will become even more significant as treatments become increasingly complex, such as RNAi treatments, remedial antibodies, and so on. In any case, as the marketing aspects of the industry go digital (and mobile), having agents with web-based expertise and a depth of web marketing knowledge will also be valuable to pharma companies.
On the sales side, consider how to position your products and relevant information online by understanding how physicians search for, use online reference books, diary vaults, and the latest press to access medical information. This is more than just digital marketing, it is a relocation of sale tools and methods.
With this in mind, there are a few effects on the salesperson:
1: Sales filters and opportunities are redistributed in ways that don’t rely solely on the rep. To the companies who employ a successful mix of online marketing and medical experience in their reps, simply “leasing” a salesman won’t be sufficient.
2: Current and future reps will require training beyond their company’s minimum or even nursing degrees. In particular, extra training will be required in successful SEO practices and web marketing.
3: Online marketing should be accessible on different devices (laptop, desktop, and mobile), optimized through various channels (search engine optimized, online reference books, and so on).
This is a time for the pharmaceutical business to reshape how it relays information to its physicians, which we can expect will lead to more informed medical professionals and more importantly, better patient care.