Medical Sales During Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have an impact on you as a medical sales representative. If you sell products and services that treat or test for COVID-19, you might see an uptick in sales. Likewise, sales volume could drop if the medical services your products support are declining because of the current situation. . 
Whether business is trending up or down, this isn’t a time for medical device reps, pharmaceutical sales reps, biotechnology reps or anyone else selling in the life sciences to be passive. People remember what others do in times of crisis. You want to be remembered for the right reasons. This means understanding the priorities in your accounts and acting accordingly.

Know Customers’ Priorities During the Coronavirus Threat

High Priorities: 
  • Keeping themselves, their staff, and families healthy
  • Caring for patients
  • Keeping patients safe from unnecessary exposure and cross-contamination
  • Containing the spread of COVID-19 and influenza
  • Minimizing or avoiding any unnecessary exposure to themselves and their staff
  • Maintaining the functionality and economic integrity of their practices
Low Priorities:
  • Anything that doesn’t support activities in the High Priorities list such as…
  • Seeing sales reps who don’t impact anything in the High Priorities list

Unnecessary Exposure from Medical Sales Representatives IS NOT Welcome During the COVID-19 Crisis

HCPs are already have increased risk for coronavirus by virtue of close contact with patients. They manage the risk with precautionary measures as much as possible. They also seek to reduce personal and patient exposure by limiting contact with non-essential personnel. This may include refusing access to sales reps whose services are not currently needed.
Doctors and other HCPs know that those who have contact with more people are at higher risk. Medical sales reps go from hospital to hospital, clinic to clinic, not to mention the incidental exposure of just being out in public. HCPs can’t avoid their patients, but they can avoid you and will if you’re not part of an immediate and urgent solution. 

Lose the Handshake

Shaking hands is a custom. Normally, it’s regarded as polite and welcoming. medical reps no handshakingI’ve always believed that whether to shake or not should be left up to the customer. However, during a pandemic, handshaking and any other unnecessary physical contact should be avoided whenever possible.
When I suggest to medical salespeople not to offer their hand first, some fear offending the customer. The reality is that many healthcare professionals prefer to avoid physical contact for their own sake and that of their patients. Just offering a hand almost forces them to shake so as not be perceived as rude. Some doctors and their staff find this stereotypical salesperson act annoying.
The best way to handle the handshake issue is not to shake. Period. HCPs and almost anyone who has access to any news source is familiar with the recommendation to avoid unnecessary contact. At the very least, leave the desire to shake hands up to the customer. If they don’t offer their hand first, you don’t offer yours. Even if they offer their hand first, you still have a choice whether to shake or not. You can shake and accept the risk (hopefully washing your hands thoroughly after the encounter), or a better choice might be to nod your head in almost a quick bow and say something like, “My apologies, but I’m around a lot of people and just trying to reduce everyone’s exposure. Please don’t be offended (said with a big smile).” Almost everyone will understand and appreciate your awareness.

Be Relevant or Don’t Sell

This is not the time to blindly call on accounts with an attitude of business as usual. Any in-person sales calls should be based on relevant or urgent needs that cannot be addressed through other means of communication. In short, if an in-person visit isn’t requested, authorized, or in some way necessary, don’t go!
Many hospitals and HCPs will be burdened to the max during this crisis. Yes, they still require account management to ensure they have what they need, but they don’t need another body taking up space to catch or spread the virus. If you feel an onsite visit is necessary, get permission first.
Account stakeholders, who normally open their doors to salespeople, might not be accessible. This is not the time for them to consider new products, services and treatment option, unless…
…there is a compelling reason to do so.
What is a compelling reason?
A compelling reason is something that impacts their treatment efforts in a desirable way that is relevant to their current situation. For example, if you offer a product or service that can reduce HCP risk exposure, that’s relevant. If you offer something to address a pressing problem or need related to their ability to care for patients, that’s relevant. If you have something that can significantly reduce the financial impact of treating patients during this crisis, it’s relevant.
Salespeople are more likely to be welcome during this time if they bring solutions that are needed now. Anything else can and should wait. This doesn’t mean avoiding your accounts. By all means, stay in touch! Just don’t distract them from their primary job – caring for patients.

What Medical Sales Representative SHOULD Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Communicate with accounts: send emails, make phone calls, use SMS messaging if you normally communicate with customers that way. Let accounts know you’re there and you care. Make sure you’re meeting routine expectations.
  • Make sure your accounts have sufficient inventory of what they buy from you if there is higher usage during the pandemic. Be proactive by checking with them regularly to help them stay ahead of the need.
  • Look for ways to assist providers, patients, practices and institutions in relevant ways, such as by sharing a risk-reduction strategy other accounts are employing during the crisis they may not know about.
  • Call ahead, message or email customers to ask permission before dropping by
  • Contact competitive accounts and offer to be their Plan B to back-up their current suppliers
  • Be kind and patient. Recognize that people in your accounts are under pressure. Don’t take it personally if they’re not as friendly or attentive as in the past.
  • When you’re in the clinical environment, demonstrate good hand hygiene by washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer. Medical professionals notice!
  • Accounts may post a policy banning unscheduled sales reps during this time. If so, respect it. Again, if you have a product, service, training or other information that can help them during this traveling time, by all means call or message to let them know.
  • Use any downtime to strengthen or alter your sales plan for every account moving forward. In times of change, you must change.

What Medical Sales Representative SHOULD AVOID During the Coronavirus Pandemic 

  • Avoid visiting accounts without permission. This is not a time to randomly drop off brochures. If an account requests written information or documents, ask if you can send a .pdf file or other electronic version.
  • Avoid unnecessary follow-up at this time. Unless a product/service you discussed previously is relevant and urgent in helping your accounts to address present needs, defer your follow-up calls for a later time.
  • For your accounts that are on the front line of dealing with coronavirus patients, don’t assume that no news is good news. Don’t make them hunt you down. Check on them regularly, even if only by email to key personnel.
  • Avoid physical contact with everyone unless they initiate it or request it. Even then, avoid it if possible by saying you’re observing recommended universal precautions to keep everyone safe.
  • Don’t linger. When you visit an account, get in, address business, get out. This is not the time for small talk or non-business related conversation.
  • When communicating with accounts, don’t waste customer time by being unprepared or unclear. Failure to be specific and to the point could make a lasting poor impression.

During a Crisis, You Show Your Accounts Who You Are

Disappoint or anger a customer during a crisis, and they’re unlikely to forget it. However, make them feel that you have their back no matter what by going above and beyond what’s expected and they’re likely to remember that.
You may have heard that with crisis comes opportunity. The novel coronavirus pandemic presents medical sales representatives with an opportunity to be their best and make a positive impact towards patient care. The world might not know how you contributed, but your accounts will, and you will. You’ve done your job well. That’s all that really matters.