The Differentiator in Medical Sales

The rules of medical selling have changed in most segments of the industry.  Where it used to be possible to ingratiate a customer with a nice meal or a weekend at a resort, there is now little that you can do outside of providing a great product, providing great service and saying thank you.

Or is there?

Medical reps are always asking about how to differentiate their products.  Often, it’s difficult because many products today are seen as commodities, that is, they all seem the same.  So a differentiator has to be something else.

Like what?

Like You.

What is your idea of great service?  If it means you return phone calls and solve your customer’s problems when they ask you to, so what?  That doesn’t differentiate you.  Healthcare providers and institutions are used to people returning their phone calls and solving their product problems when they request it.  It’s a baseline expectation, not a differentiator.

What about saying “Thank you” when a customer decides to do business with you?  Is your appreciation palpable to the customer if all you do is move your lips and utter two syllables?   When the barista at Starbucks says “Thank you” after you hand over $4 for a latte, is it the “Thank you” that makes you come back for another?   Saying thank you is good manners, but it’s not a differentiator.

It’s hard to differentiate yourself as the chosen supplier when your products look the same as your competitors, your service looks the same as your competitors, and yes, even the way you say “Thank you” is the same.

The only way a medical sales representative can remain relevant when products matter less is to BE the differentiator.

Every sales rep I meet pays lip service to the differentiators I talk about here, but few actually make the effort to deliver.  Why?  Because it’s hard work.

Knowing more than your competition is hard work.  If your entire base of knowledge is limited to the sales training and product training provided by the companies that you represent, you can’t differentiate yourself.   Clinical medicine is changing by the day.  What makes you think that something you learned months or even years ago equips you to compete against those who create the time to read, study, and practice?   When you can have a current concepts conversation with a customer that your competitors can’t have, that’s a differentiator.

Good service is returning phone calls.  Differentiating service is anticipating your customers’ needs and then over-delivering on their expectations before they ask.  Focus on providing patient and provider outcomes instead of selling a product and you differentiate your level of service.

Saying “Thank you” doesn’t differentiate you as a sales professional, but expressing your appreciation in a genuine, specific, and non-patronizing way does.  Instead of stopping at just a quick verbal “thank you,” why not mail the customer a handwritten thank you note saying that you truly appreciate the trust they put in you?  Offer one or more ways that you can make the customer’s job easier.  And then DO IT!  That’s showing appreciation.  And by the way, healthcare customers just like spouses and significant others start to think that you no longer appreciate them when you stop telling them that you do.  Don’t underestimate this seemingly small act—it’s a differentiator.

It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to differentiate at the market level, but at the customer level, differentiation is your job.   The only differentiator you control to improve and maintain the sales in your territory is the one in the mirror.