Learn How Medical Device Sales Representatives Balance the Needs of Medical Device Equipment Manufacturers & Healthcare Professionals
Breaking Into Medical Device Sales
January 29, 2024
MDSI Article: 009
At a fundamental level, the role of a medical device sales representative is to serve as the liaison between the medical equipment manufacturer that commercializes and distributes the medical devices, and the healthcare professionals who utilize these devices.
However, as we will see, the role of the medical device sales representative can be demanding and complex, but also highly rewarding.
The medical device sales representative is assigned a specific geographical area known as the business territory and a sales goal also referred to as the quota. This target represents the minimum level of business expected from the territory over 12 months, typically the calendar year.
In greater detail, to successfully fulfill their role the medical device sales representative must consider and balance the needs of these two distinctly different parties:
ONE: The Medical Equipment Manufacturer
The medical device manufacturer and distributor, sometimes operating as a single entity, aims to be a successful and profitable commercial organization. Its goal is to increase sales revenue and profitability year after year. Profitability is increased by increasing sales while reducing expenses. Skilled medical device sales professionals must be able to convey differentiated, evidence-based value to the customer to justify price/cost to buyer influencers in the healthcare market.
The responsibility of the medical device sales representative is to represent the interests of the commercial company. This can be achieved through various methods, including:
Presenting the features, benefits, and value of products accurately and succinctly to potential new customers.
Providing ongoing training and support to maintain and grow business with established customers.
Growing sales while maintaining the best-selling price.
TWO: The Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare professionals, primarily doctors and nurses, are the end-users of the products. They utilize these devices to treat patients and evaluate them based on three main considerations:
Efficacy – how well the product delivers desired patient outcomes.
Efficiency – time saving and ease of use without compromising efficacy.
Cost – will using the product save money without compromising efficacy & efficiency or will it increase costs.
A successful representative will be able to satisfy the demands of each interested party by delivering at least the minimum expected levels of business for the medical equipment manufacturer while remaining empathetic to the needs and considerations of the healthcare professionals. It is maintaining this delicate balance that exemplifies the successful medical device representative.
Strict guidelines exist for the actions of a visiting medical device sales representative in a hospital, particularly in the Operating Room, when providing technical support for a surgical procedure. These guidelines are known as "Compliance" and they govern all aspects of medical device design, manufacture, sales, marketing, and use. Additionally, there are specific criteria that must be met before the medical device sales representative enters the hospital in a professional capacity, such as background checks, operating room protocol trainings, regulatory training, and requisite vaccinations.
If we take a closer look, we can identify four main attributes that contribute to the medical device sales representative fulfilling its responsibilities and obligations to the medical equipment manufacturer and healthcare professionals.
Business Acumen - Medical Device Sales Representative
Business acumen is crucial as a medical device sales representative. The rep is responsible for managing a sales territory and interacting with various healthcare personnel, including clinical staff, executive management, and purchasing & procurement departments. This requires strong networking skills and the ability to provide a business case to support the use of the company's products.
Within hospitals and healthcare systems, there are key healthcare personnel who make up the medical device sales representative "call list" and become the sales contacts.
These contacts include clinical staff such as doctors (surgeons & physicians), nurses, and technicians. Additionally, executive management, clerical staff, purchasing & procurement, finance, and central/sterile processing staff, represent just a few of the non-clinical customers with whom the medical device sales representative must interact.
Depending on the types of devices sold, the decision-making and purchasing process may involve input from key decision-makers across multiple departments. This requires the ability to coordinate and employ networking skills across these departments.
It is not uncommon for the medical device sales representative to be asked by purchasing departments and management to provide a "business case" in support of using the representative's devices in the hospital. This business case often involves a value analysis committee comprised of both clinical and non-clinical decision makers or influencers.
This could require documents or a presentation that outlines the reasoning behind a specific purchase decision.
Ultimately, the hospital is seeking a justification to implement a new solution or switch to an alternative supplier. Often, this justification is based on direct cost savings.
In other cases, the cost savings may be indirect, such as improved patient outcomes or faster recovery times. In these situations, the device or treatment being promoted may be more expensive than what the hospital currently uses. This is where skilled medical device representatives shine and truly demonstrate their value.
Technical Proficiency and Clinical Knowledge - Medical Device Sales Representative
Technical proficiency and clinical knowledge are essential because the medical device market is driven by technology and innovation. The medical device sales representative must have a thorough understanding of the clinical procedures in which their products are used and be able to provide support in the operating room (OR).
Throughout the surgery, the medical device rep is there to instruct and guide the scrub techs as needed, answer any questions from the surgeon, and to suggest or provide alternatives should challenges arise. They’re also responsible for responsible for ensuring all tools, instrumentation, equipment, and supplies are on hand for and ready for surgery1. This includes tapping into the hospital's inventory, as well as supplying their own implant systems. As part of the surgery planning process, reps must prepare for the unexpected, which means having with them different implant sizes, other tools, and instruments during as necessary during a procedure.
Dependability2 is a critical trait for a medical device sales representative: consistently being reachable and on-site in the operating theater as scheduled, bringing all essential equipment, possessing an extensive understanding of the equipment, and having the ability to troubleshoot if necessary.
By increasing operating room personnel efficiency, deficiencies, and planning for mitigating circumstances, the medical device sales representative plays an integral role in the most important part of a surgical procedure – patient outcome.
Sales skills are necessary as the role of a medical device sales representative is primarily a sales role. However, it is the effective utilization of these skills that distinguishes a successful medical device sales representative apart. This includes the ability to listen, empathize, problem-solve, and offer solutions. The best medical device sales representatives provide value in the sales process by seeking to improve patient outcomes, enhancing procedural efficiency, and the profitability of the surgeon’s practice and healthcare institution.
The term 'sales' is often criticized and associated with the use of techniques, including deception and sometimes persuasion in response to valid objections.
It has been said that we are all in sales, but most of us just don't realize it. The interaction between individuals requires sales skills, such as the ability to listen, empathize, solve problems, and offer solutions. Healthcare and procurement professionals are knowledgeable and sophisticated enough to recognize when they are being "sold to".
Medical device companies want to employ sales personnel, but healthcare professionals do not want to be “sold to”.
One could argue that understanding human relationships, delivering customer service, and applying problem-solving skills are the essential elements of sales skills needed in the field of medical device sales. The best medical device sales representatives provide value in the sales process by seeking to improve patient outcomes, procedural efficiency, and/or the institution’s profitability with their products.
People Skills - Medical Device Sales Representative
“People like to buy from people they like and respect.”
People skills are crucial as the ability to establish strong professional relationships with healthcare professionals is key. These relationships are formed through knowledge exchange and the added value provided by the medical device sales representative. Even though this added value may not be explicitly stated, it is an important consideration for end-users and clinical decision-makers. The goal is for the medical device sales representative to be seen as a valuable connection in the eyes of the customer.
However technically challenging or complex a medical device or a procedure may be, it is humans who are involved in its operation, assembly, or the overseeing of its use. This applies equally to both high-volume commodity devices and specialized medical robotics and AI diagnostics.
One of the most valuable skills for a device representative is the ability to establish strong professional relationships with healthcare professionals. These relationships are formed through the exchange of knowledge, such as product or procedure education, and by providing added value.
The concept of "adding value" may seem intangible and ultimately determined by the customer, but it should not be dismissed or undervalued. While this added value may not be explicitly stated in a business case, it will be a consideration for end-users and clinical key decision-makers. Ultimately, the medical device sales representative should strive to be seen as "trusted and reliable resource" in the eyes of the customer. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the patient is the ultimate person involved in this complex interplay of human interaction in medical device sales and support.
While the sales representative of medical equipment may not have direct contact with patients, it's crucial that they always consider the patient, who is fundamentally the most significant element in all aspects of the medical equipment representative's duties.