It Takes a Team to Excel in MedTech Sales
Remember the days when medtech sales seemed so much simpler from a vendor perspective? The times when an organization could thrive simply by hiring a few rock star sales reps and giving them the tools and the leeway to do what they did best – forge solid physician relationships.
Those organizations that achieved the most success were the ones with the greatest number of impenetrable physician and nurse relationships as (often times) they were the sole decision-makers in the purchasing process. The thought process for the era was that purchasing decisions should be made largely by those professionals that were closest to the patients.
There are still areas of the industry where this form of supply purchasing still exists, but it is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule.
As small community hospitals continue to get gobbled up by monolithic health systems with an endless thirst for expansion via acquisition and more and more physicians seek the risk-aversion of hospital employment, the purchasing process for medtech products has changed rapidly.
Prominent focal points such as “generational improvements” describing “better” and “improved” products were replaced in the lexicon of hospital supply chains with the endless pursuit of one emergent characteristic: VALUE. Laws were drafted targeting this pursuit of value, and entire practices and protocols evolved seeking ways for hospitals to achieve greater “value” purchasing.
“Value-Based Purchasing” and “Value Analysis Committees” presented themselves as new means to new ends, as statistical MBA types started to have equal power in the decision-making process as those same physicians and nurses tasked with direct patient care and outcomes.
As the provider side of the industry “unionized” their supply decisions via committees, they made advances at reducing the effectiveness of a medtech organization’s single greatest asset – the sales rep. Efforts achieved peak proportions when the term “rep-less model” was introduced to the world, with the thought being all correspondences and negotiations should take place not between individuals in the halls of the hospital, but between organizations in the boardrooms.
The concept for “rep-less models” centered around the principle that cost savings established through a decreased reliance on “individuals” could be passed on to the hospitals – an idea that may have some validity in theory, but not in practice.
The primary driver for this shortcoming being the litigious nature of the healthcare industry. The majority of medtech products are sophisticated devices that require some level of customer service to ensure comfort and confidence in the safety and quality of the product. With aversion of malpractice lawsuits guiding many healthcare practices, it is difficult to justify forced changes in product utilization based solely on non-clinical factors.
Trust for the device and the manufacturer must occur concurrently in the boardroom as well as the operating room.
If the objective behind the introduction of the “rep-less model” theory was to minimize the power of the sales rep, then mission accomplished. However, those that were seeking complete diminishment of the role failed, as the medtech sales rep is still an integral part of the medtech sales model. Whereas in previous eras they were the sole face of an organization in a given territory, they have merged into part of a team.
Putting this concept into easier to understand sports terminology, the sales rep went from being a pro-golfer on the PGA tour (where all successes and much of the failures rested solely on their shoulders) to being one of the players in the offensive huddle of a football team.
Sticking with sports analogies, sales reps are still definitely more quarterback than kicker, but the thing about team sports such as football, is it is the absolute exception for one player, as great as they may be, to be able to carry an entire football team on their own to success over an entire season. They may single handedly help to sway the outcome of single games, but it’s too difficult to do this throughout a long season.
The same axiom holds true in medtech sales today. The sales rep is the quarterback that guides an offense and sets the tone for the execution of the team’s strategy, emotionally, mentally, and physically. They are the ones that largely need to find opportunities, leveraging the strengths of the organization (i.e. technological advantages, contracts, etc.) while establishing trust in their territories via grassroots relationships with the clinical end-users.
Final execution requires alignment across his team – he needs strong support from his corporate account team (the offensive line) to provide him with opportunities to leverage. He needs the marketing and engineering teams (the assistant coaching staff) to design product features and messages that define the character of the products and the organizations. And, of course, he needs a strong clinical support team (the running backs and wide receivers) to execute it in order to get the ball over the goal line and successfully convert new customers.
Every hospital (just like every game) will require greater effort and emphasis from different parts of the team to succeed, as no two hospitals are the same. Success in some hospitals will come on the heels of strong corporate/purchasing group agreements, while others only care about the vote of their clinical advisory boards to determine quality. Either way, it’s up to the sales rep to survey the circumstances and pass the information back to his team in order to effect the best strategy for success in that account.
Medtech sales has evolved into a team sport. Organizations that accept this and develop their organizational structures around this concept will achieve the greatest success.
Those that still choose to rely on only one part of their team will still be able to achieve limited success on a hospital-by-hospital basis. But how long will it take for one of their current customers to get acquired by one of the bigger health systems that only choose to work with suppliers able to present them with teams capable of executing seamlessly throughout their systems?
The fear, within many smaller organizations, is that the team concept is only reserved for the biggest medtech companies, but that is not the case today. There are multiple organizations that can supply access to sales reps (ISR rep groups, specialty distributors, etc.), corporate account consultants (like Healthcare Supplier Solutions), and clinical educators (networked through organizations like The Clinician Exchange).
It’s true that sales success is harder than ever to achieve today as the stakes of every sale are higher than they have ever been, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. The upfront investment may be slightly more than previous times, but the rewards are stronger than they have ever been.
Only strong teams of field sales reps, KAMs and clinical support teams can lead to sustained organizational success. The resources are abundant and more cost effective than ever before. Choosing those that are most aligned with your corporate culture and vision will result in the greatest success, but this can only happen if you have laid the foundation for a good team strategy. Like the management team of any successful sports franchise, put the right pieces of the team in place, and the results will take care of themselves!