The Insanity of Medical Sales Reps and Their Managers

Insanity of Medical Sales Reps and Their ManagersI’m brought in to work with under-performing medical sales teams.  When I interview reps one-on-one and ask why they’re not growing their territories, they’re often quick to blame the company for not supporting their efforts or crediting their competition with having better products.

Flash forward to the sales training workshop when I get to see the sales team in action. That’s when the main reason for poor performance rears its ugly head.  It’s obvious to everyone in the room who observes the top performers vs. everyone else. The top performers are having very different conversations with their customers.

Here’s the kicker—the average and low-performers—they know what they should be saying and doing. They’re just not doing it! The question is why.

It has been said that the biggest gap in the world lies between what people know and people do. The average salesperson knows that he is supposed to have a conversation that is customer-focused, yet the vast majority of the time, if you observe them, it’s product-focused. The reason is because the sales reps have not been trained to have the right conversation. Oh sure, they’ve been taught, but no one in the organization has determined whether or not they’re competent.

Imagine you were learning to fly an airplane. Most wannabe pilots begin their education by reading about flying. They’ll watch videos and maybe even play around with a computer flight simulator. At this point, does the flight instructor toss them the keys to the airplane and say, “Here. Take her for a ride. You understand how to fly a plane”? The answer is no. Why? Because the student pilot would kill himself. It’s one thing to know and understand how something is to be done—it’s another thing to have the skills to do it.

Student pilots get an average of 20 hours of individualized, intense flight training before they’re allowed to fly solo. The flight instructor doesn’t turn them loose to practice on their own until he’s sure they won’t hurt the airplane, themselves, or anyone else…

Yet managers turn sales reps loose in their territories without ever seeing them in action.  These reps engage valuable customers, trying to sell a product where millions have been invested and no one has validated their abilities. It’s nuts.

Left to their own devices, the vast majority of sales people will continue to sell intuitively, crashing and burning in front of their customers. Yet, managers shrug their shoulders as if they haven’t a clue why their sales teams are underperforming. It’s because the sales reps haven’t been validated to make sure they “know how to fly.”

A few reps seek help on their own. They’ll invest in online training or hire a sales coach. But most won’t spend a dime of their own money. They’ll wait to see what the company provides and just keep on doing what they’re doing. Yet they’ll bitch and moan that they can’t get an appointment with a doctor or a key decision-maker. And they dread the manager’s phone call questioning their poor sales numbers.

Companies are often just as guilty. They leave everything to their training departments, blame the sales reps, and hope that things will improve. One can’t help but think of Einstein’s definition of insanity:

“Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

If you’ve worked in this industry for as long as I have, you know that top performing sales reps with an average or mediocre product will outsell average sales reps with great products. It’s because top-performers are competent.

Sales reps—what are you doing to become and remain competent?

Sales managers—what are you doing to make sure your sales reps are competent?

…and before either of you answer, review Einstein’s definition first.