Do your customers know what you do behind the scenes to help them and their patients?

Many times I have heard a medical sales rep say something along the lines of, “I bend over backwards for that account and they don’t appreciate it!”  My question to them is, “Do your customers know what you do for them?”

A big part of medical sales is what you do after the sale to provide stellar customer service.  Creating a smooth, seamless experience for your customers allows you to keep them happy and keep the business.  Medical reps frequently go to extremes to make sure their customers have what they need, when they need it and it often includes out-of-the-way efforts that the customer has no knowledge of whatsoever.

Back in my days of selling orthopedic implants, rarely did a week go by when I didn’t make at least one late night or early morning (like 5:00 am early morning) run to meet up with another rep to obtain an instrument set or a missing implant.  I never thought much about it since I knew it was my responsibility to have what the customer needed for the patient.  I also feared that making these odd-hour journeys public suggested that my company lacked adequate inventory (which was often the truth!).  So I kept my mouth shut and did my job.

What made my silence difficult was when hospital staff and sometimes even surgeons themselves thought that implant reps did nothing other than make a few sales calls, show up for a case, and collect a big commission check.  They didn’t see the behind-the-scenes efforts that made everything come together.

I was preparing for a total shoulder replacement surgery the next day where the surgeon was using a new total shoulder system that had just been released.  My distributor had one set of instruments and two sets of implants.  A problem arose when I learned that two other surgeries were performed in a different territory  on my set up day, and in both cases, the same size humeral implant was used, which meant my set would be incomplete.  To make matters worse, it was the size that I templated (measured) from the x-ray during my preoperative planning.

No worries… a priority order to the manufacturer for an overnight shipment by FEDEX with a 7:00am hold-for-pickup should handle the problem.  It wasn’t to be…the missing implant was on backorder.

My last hope was to locate an implant somewhere in the state of Florida.  One advantage I had was a pilot’s license and access to an airplane.  I got lucky when I located the implant I needed  in Tampa and the distributor offered to drop it off at the St. Petersburg airport. Within the hour I was in the air and on my way.

The cost of my late night cargo run was about equal to the commission I would earn on the sale.  The only way I could profit from this case was to make sure I would get the surgeon’s next shoulder replacement as well.  It was time to “toot my own horn.”

I approached the surgeon when he was scrubbing for the procedure and described my previous night’s activities this way.  “The new shoulder system you’re using today became instantly popular.  We only have two sets of implants.  We have two more sets of instruments and implants on order.  Yesterday, the 11.5mm humeral component was implanted twice.  I thought I would have to call you last night and you might have to cancel the surgery but at nine pm,  I was able to locate one in Tampa so I flew over to St. Pete to pick it up.”

The surgeon looked at me in amazement.  “You went all the way to Tampa to complete the set?  Thank you for doing that.”

Guess which size was implanted?  Yes…the size I picked up the night before!

The surgeon was so enamored with my effort that when he saw the patient in his office for follow-up, he said, “The shoulder you now have is so state-of-the art that supply can’t keep up with demand.  In fact, the night before your surgery, the representative from the company flew over to Tampa in his personal airplane to pick up the prosthesis that’s in your shoulder right now!”

The doctor shared that the patient was very grateful. He also expressed confidence in doing business with me because he knew I would do whatever needed to be done.  He became one of my most loyal customers.

What if I never told him about my efforts?   He might have seen me as no different than every other implant rep who shows up for a case and walks out with a purchase order.

In today’s competitive and changing sales environment, it’s more important than ever to make sure your customers know the value that you bring to the table.  When you go beyond what is reasonably expected of you as a medical sales professional, figure out a way to communicate it to the customer.  If you frame the circumstances the right way, customers will appreciate your efforts, or better yet, they will remember it.  That’s good for your business.