What the Presidential Primaries Teach About Medical Sales

If you’ve been paying attention to the presidential primaries, you’ve observed some sales presentations — mostly bad ones. There are some great lessons in how not to sell.

Many of the leading candidates spend a good portion of their time trying to tear down their competition instead of describing in detail how they’re going to improve America. While going negative might rouse some applause from the audience at the event, I believe it just makes candidates look weak and desperate. I’m not going to mention specific candidates because this is not a political discussion; it’s a sales discussion (and the candidates would be wise to realize that they’re actually in sales too).

Let’s look at this issue from the standpoint of a medical sales representative trying to sway the buying decisions of physicians and other healthcare professionals. I’ll compare going negative with taking the high road.

Trash Talking Your Competition 

How do you feel when you hear a candidate bash the candidate that you like. Do you feel a little defensive? Do you feel angry? Does it make you like the insulter more?

Probably not. When someone insults your candidate, they’re insulting you. They’re insulting your values. They’re insulting your intelligence and judgment. That’s not a good formula for winning customers over to your side.

When a medical sales rep attacks a competitive product that a customer is using, the rep is essentially attacking the customer’s choice. This is insulting, whether the customer acknowledges it at a conscious level or not. It may lead to them not liking you. It’s like saying, you’re choosing to buy an inferior product—you make bad choices.

Physicians and other healthcare professionals are smart. They know that some salespeople choose to tear down their competition instead of attempting to rise to the competitor’s level. Even if a sales rep spreads negative information about a competitor that happens to be true, a customer is likely to dismiss it because there is a conflict of interest.

Taking the High Road by Showcasing Your Strengths

If you describe your product, such that it sounds the same as your competitions’, you just wasted everyone’s time including yours. Why would customers switch to your product if there are no discernible differences? They won’t. Sure, some sales reps promote any simple, favorable advantages, such as having a lower price or having a product that’s on contract. But this approach only works if your customer is concerned about price or contract compliance, and often, clinicians see that as someone else’s problem.

A salesperson’s job is not to regurgitate product information, but to have prospects consider the value of a product relative to whatever they’re using now. How does your product improve their workflow? How does it improve the patient’s outcome. How does it improve anything?

Identify your product’s competitive advantages, seek buy-in, and then position the product strategically to outcomes the customer wants.

Which sounds better?

“Dr. Smith, Brand X is having lots of problems with their instrument. It doesn’t have the precision that ours has. It’s really a piece of crap. There might be a recall on it. You should try ours. It’s the best.”


“Dr. Smith, you said a moment ago that you’d have more confidence taking a bigger tissue sample if you knew the biopsy instrument would stay fixed in position so it wouldn’t compromise any of the nerves or blood vessels nearby. Many surgeons feel the same way that you do. My company reversed the jaws of the instrument and shortened the distance between the handles and the jaws so there is almost no movement. Your colleagues feel they are getting a better tissue sampling at biopsy while reducing the risk of compromising any of the adjacent neurovascular structures. Does the reduction in risk and the improved biopsy sampling warrant giving it a try?”

Putting Your Competition on The Defensive

Some candidates go negative to put their competition on the defensive. This can be effective, as a defensive response give credibility to the accusation and makes the accused candidate look weak. This can work for you, but with one big difference—It’s not your job to put your competition on the defensive. It’s your job to persuade your customers that you have a better product. When customers believe that and buy your product, they’ll put your competitors on the defensive for you.

Leave going negative to politicians. Take the high road and sell the strengths of your product. You’ll earn your customers’ respect and sell more long-term.

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