When Accounts Blame The Rep (i.e. …YOU!)

The familiar adage of being a “problem solver” for your accounts is well known in medical sales. While it’s impossible to fix every issue that arises, the goal is to tackle the challenges within your realm of influence, especially those that concern your role in the process.

Picture the intricate web of players involved in acquiring and utilizing a medical product. Take, for instance, a surgical implant. Securing the green light for its usage can entail approvals from an Operating Room (O.R.) products committee, a value analysis committee, a nod from Materials Management, and perhaps even a high-level executive like the CFO – and this is all before the product even sets foot in the hospital!

As the day of surgery draws near, a logistical ballet unfolds: instruments and supplies must be dispatched to the hospital in advance. For vendor representatives, this phase is a juggling act of assembling instrument trays, confirming the completeness of implant sets, consulting with surgeons on the required components and any special requests, meticulously documenting inventories, and ensuring timely delivery for processing and sterilization in time for the scheduled procedure.

Whew! Mind you, we haven’t even touched on arranging case coverage and the post-case task of instrument and inventory retrieval.

If you’re involved in selling surgical implants, this rhythm is part and parcel of your everyday routine. But today, we’re shifting the spotlight onto the conflicts that inevitably emerge due to the intricacies of clinical protocols. In this elaborate dance, countless individuals play their parts, each relying on others up and down the line.

And therein lies the crux of the issue.

In healthcare, everyone is expected to own their responsibilities, which they mostly do. However, it gets sticky when one person’s perception of their duties diverges from reality and shifts the burden onto another. Given the multifaceted nature of your role as a vendor representative, you might occasionally find yourself caught in these crossfires, even when you’ve impeccably fulfilled your duties.

Is Merely Doing YOUR Job Enough?

In the realm of medical sales, we frequently discuss the virtues of building relationships, preserving integrity, and nurturing a sterling reputation. That’s why you meticulously attend to the nitty-gritty details and logistical minefields while performing your role. But even then, the blame game might be played, and you could find yourself unfairly targeted. From a strategic standpoint, one of the last things you’d want to do is engage in a blame-shifting duel, even if the other party is clearly at fault.

Approaching Hurdles as a Team Player

In a scenario where you’ve diligently dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, yet someone still points fingers your way over a snag, the knee-jerk reaction might be to shift the blame back to its rightful place. However, such a response doesn’t fix the issue at hand and could damage your rapport with essential personnel. A more effective tack is to adopt a collaborative stance. You might phrase it like this: 

“Let’s analyze what transpired and brainstorm how we can collectively minimize or prevent such hiccups in the future.”

The core lies in pinpointing specific areas of agreement, which clarifies task ownership and timing. Moreover, it should accommodate contingencies for moments when standard procedures must flex due to circumstances. 

Here’s an example:

Many Sterile Processing Departments try to enforce a mandate that surgical instrument trays must be delivered no later than 24 or 48 hours before the posted date and time of surgery. In a utopian realm, this would be a flawless strategy. Yet, reality rarely complies.

Imagine your company is furnishing a loaner instrument set for a total knee replacement. It’s improbable that you have spare sets idly waiting, especially given the hefty investment they represent – often upwards of $30K to $50K per set or more. Navigating the logistics of transferring these sets between facilities can be daunting, compounded by the occasional vanishing act of individual instruments or even whole trays. In the event of complications, don’t hold your breath for Sterile Processing staff to nod understandingly – in their minds, it’s not their problem. After all, they can’t process what they don’t have.

So, how might you confront this situation collaboratively and preemptively? The answer lies in candid communication leading to realistic expectations and collaborative agreement ahead of time

I’ve witnessed sales representatives overpromise during the sales pitch, setting expectations that might be difficult to meet later on. If, for instance, a facility mandates a 48-hour instrument delivery prior to surgery, agreeing without any qualifiers is a recipe for trouble. Unless you have access to an unlimited stash of instrument sets, a time will come when the 48-hour rule becomes unattainable.

Collaborate On Expectations Ahead Of Time

The key is to convey the reality that certain scenarios will make it impossible to comply with the advance delivery mandate. For example, during times of high demand at other hospitals and limited instrument set availability, having the equipment delivered two days out isn’t possible. Proactively engage the stakeholders in a dialogue about managing these situations without disrupting their workflow or schedules.

Devise mutually acceptable protocols with your accounts for when their original expectations aren’t feasible. You’ll need to negotiate some of the sticky points, but it will be worth the effort over the long term. I suggest creating a written summary of the points agreed to, signed by, and distributed to all involved parties whenever possible. This preemptive approach mitigates those stressful “we-never-agreed-to-that” moments.

And once that’s done, honor it as though your professional destiny hangs in the balance—because, in many ways, it does!

Unfortunately, there will be instances when you’ve fulfilled your responsibilities to the letter, yet blame inexplicably swings your way. Instead of retaliating with finger-pointing, opt for a collaborative narrative. Share an accurate account of your side of the story, focusing on how to prevent such scenarios in the future collectively.

Remember, your core mandate as a medical sales professional is to be a problem-solver. Unfortunately, sometimes, your accounts will claim the problem is you. Some advanced planning and mutual agreement will go a long way toward avoiding or solving these situations.


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