Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Successful Medical Device Sales: How to Uncover Your Prospects’ Pain to Get Them to Buy

By Rick Fromme

A Pain That I'm Used To
A Pain That I'm Used To (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the biggest emotions we have is pain or discomfort. When medical sales reps can uncover their clients’ poignant pain and offer a solution to remove that pain, they’re more likely to get the deal. (Incidentally, in a subsequent blog, I’ll discuss how job candidates and interviewees can directly apply this proven methodology during their interviews to maximize their results.) 

People buy emotionally and make decisions intellectually.  That is, people often make buying decisions from an emotional, non-rational basis, whether they realize it or not.  Successful medical device sales reps can benefit from understanding and utilizing this concept to close more sales consistently.

One of the biggest emotions we have is pain or discomfort. When medical sales reps can uncover their clients’ poignant pain and offer a solution to remove that pain, they’re more likely to get the deal. (Incidentally, in a subsequent blog, I’ll discuss how job candidates and interviewees can directly apply this proven methodology during their interviews to maximize their results.)  

After obtaining a legitimate lead, first things first, you need to build a rapport. This is crucial. In order to help establish a rapport, you need to learn more about the key decision makers who will ultimately approve the purchase order (administrator, hospital manager, OR manager, purchasing department head, etc.) and his or her hospital, department, etc.  Research time: Find out as much about this individual (or individuals) as possible so that when you do meet them, you can build upon some avenues of commonality. You need to personally or professionally identify with the prospect. Whether it’s a mutual acquaintance, graduated from the same school, share similar hobbies, belong to the same professional groups, attend the same house of worship, etc., you have about 15-30 seconds for a prospect to size you up and determine if they’re going to like you. 

The second step is to have a conversation to probe and determine what are their true needs and pains. The key ― by running them through a series of probing questions ― is to identify the emotional pain they may feel towards the issue you’re discussing and getting them to tell you what would be the ideal solution. You don’t want to go through all the features and benefits of your product if it doesn’t address a prospect’s true interests and/or needs.  For example, let’s say someone learns I’m in the marketplace for a boat. So they contact me about their various motorboats, telling me how fast they are, discuss various outboard motor options, the boats’ amenities such as diving platforms, if they can rigged for deep sea fishing, etc. Right?

Wrong. Turns out, I’m in the market for a small, easy-to-operate, personal sailboat. 

Sailboat GBR 50816, Sada, Galicia (Spain)
Sailboat GBR 50816, Sada, Galicia (Spain) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m a big proponent of a system developed and taught by Sandler Training. What I learned in Sandler Training is that after building rapport, before you start talking about your product and what it has to offer, you need to back up and start asking probing questions. You’re trying to find out what their pain or discomfort is. By locating their pain and learning how it makes them feel, they’ll tell you what happened to them in the past, what other products they’ve purchased, what their concerns are, etc. You have to expose and understand those underlying issues, similar to a psychologist who’s trying to help a client experiencing emotional difficulties. 

At that point, once you’ve established what their pain points or concerns are, you can position your product and/or services to eliminate their pain. When doing so, you’re predominately going to highlight the specific features and benefits of your product and/or service that are going to make their pain go away, whether it’s customer service, costs, features and benefits, cross-specialty utilization, ease of use/training, etc. You’ll predominately share those key elements of your product and/or service that are going to make them feel better. 

It’s actually kind of like an interview, with you taking judicious notes. You ask them what they want and why, and, if you’ve followed through with the above, they’ll tell you. Hence, when you create your proposal, it will address exactly what they told you they wanted, based on their emotional pain or concerns. Chances are, if you demonstrate how your products or service can alleviate their pain, you’ve clinched the deal.  Never put together a proposal or bid without understanding why they want to buy from an emotional standpoint.

Here’s a real-life example from when I was a successful medical device sales rep at Medtronic:

One of the products I used to sell was image-guided surgery (IGS) systems. This equipment allows surgeons in a variety of specialties to three dimensionally track surgical instrumentation while navigating through high-risk anatomical areas such as the brain, sinus cavities, spine, and other delicate regions. It’s like an internal GPS system. These systems are fairly pricey, ranging between $180,000 to  $500,000+.

One day, I received a general lead from a hospital O.R. director in southeast Georgia that wanted to purchase an image guided stem. At that time, Medtronic was just one of many companies offering this sophisticated device, along with GE, Stryker, Brainlab and others. 

I knew this was a C- Level decision, so I called the hospital’s administrator several times ― for this story, I’ll call him “Mr. Jones”― but he wasn’t returning my calls. So I reached out to Mr. Jones’ secretary who told me to send in a bid for one of my firm’s IGS systems  just as my other competitors already had. I said, “Sure, but I’d like to drop the proposal off in person so I can briefly introduce myself to Mr. Jones.” She made an appointment for the following week for us to get together. 

English: Georgia Bulldogs helmet. Made with Ph...
 Georgia Bulldogs helmet. Made with Photoshop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I still didn’t know exactly what Mr. Jones wanted, that is, what his specific emotional pains or concerns were regarding this piece of capital equipment. In order to discover these, I needed to talk to him.  But before  doing so, I needed to learn more about Mr. Jones. I did my  research and found out he’d graduated from the University of Georgia, that he was a big football fan, was a strong alumni supporter, etc. 

So when I went to visit him, I wore a red shirt and black pants. No kidding. And, of course, once I was in his office, we immediately started talking about the Georgia Bulldogs, college football, the SEC, and the like. In talking with him, I also made certain comments and observations that would help establish some type of common ground between us.  

Eventually he asked me, “Where’s the bid?” 

Keeping in mind that several other companies had already submitted theirs, I replied, “There were several bids I could send, but I wasn’t sure which one would be best. However, I’m happy to fax you the bid once I know exactly what it is you want.” With that, I began my interview process by asking probing questions to ascertain his concerns (i.e., “pains”). 
BellcoFormula in
BellcoFormula in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“We’ve purchased expensive capital equipment before because our docs said they’d wanted it,” Mr. Jones explained. “But several times these investments just turned into large and costly ‘paperweights’ that nobody uses,’” he said ruefully. He then went on to mention some of his other pains, such as experiencing poor customer service with previous suppliers and having to moderate multi-specialty requests for similar equipment. 

“You really should only buy what you’re going to be comfortable with,” I responded, after carefully noting his issues with previous expenditures. 

My meeting turned out to be fairly comprehensive, where Mr. Jones ended up telling me exactly what he wanted and why, all the way down to the terms, pricing, guarantees, service requirements and other key details. “Give me a day or two and I’ll have your bid,” I said, exiting his office. “And go Dawgs!” 

As promised, a couple of days later, I drove back up to Georgia to personally drop off the bid he’d requested. 

 "$!" in Old Script font. Italiano: "$!" nel carattere Old Script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After taking a few moments to look it over, Mr. Jones looked up at me and said, “Rick, this is exactly what we want.” It’s as if he’d forgotten about our previous conversation. For in creating the bid, I essentially gave him precisely what he needed that would address his needs and “pains” that I’d uncovered.  He then told me he was going to sign a requisition for my IGS system.  In response, I asked him what he was going to do if one of the competitors came back around trying to get his business. He answered with a Cheshire Cat-like grin, “I haven’t spoken to them and only received bids from them. I’ve not spoken to any of them. But if they come sniffing around, I’ll make them go away.” And I landed the deal. (No small feat in the competitive world of medical capital equipment sales). 

To summarize the steps I took to secure this lucrative sale: 

  • Research your client
  • Build rapport
  • Ask probing questions
  • Identify the client’s “pains” (Why do they want to buy this product?)
  • Discover what’s in it for them personally/professionally (i.e., gaining respect for championing a product into the hospital)
  • Create a proposal customized to their specific needs
  • Coach them how to handle your competition after they’ve committed to you

About the Sandler Selling System®

David H. Sandler developed his proprietary methodology — an innovative, non-traditional selling system —in the late 1960s, and subsequently created the concept of “reinforcement training” to support it.  From that foundation, he then created a series of proven sales training programs for small- and mid-sized companies and Fortune 500 corporations. He went on to found the Sandler Sales Institute®. Sandler provides both basic and advanced selling methods, strategies and tactics that are marketplace proven across a wide variety of sales. It then provides ongoing support to reinforce its principles until they’re mastered. This powerful reinforcement training is Sandler’s key point of difference from all other training in the marketplace.

The firm changed its name to Sandler Training® in 2008, to more accurately reflect the diversity of its training offerings, which have expanded beyond sales training to include management, leadership, negotiating skills, customer service, as well as executive coaching and mentoring.  It has now grown into an organization that dominates the global training market, with more than 200 offices worldwide, providing instruction in 27 languages.

In this article, I discussed the importance of why and how successful medical device sales representatives should discover a prospect’s “pain” in order to provide meaningful solutions to alleviating it. I gave a personal example of how I effectively closed a major medical device sale using these techniques established and taught by Sandler Training. I also briefly provided some information about Sandler Training. If you found this article useful, please feel free to share and repost it. If you have any questions or comments, as always, I’m eager to read them.

Rick Fromme combines entrepreneurial enthusiasm with an insider's knowledge of the medical industry to co-found MedMasters.com. Both his drive and perspective helps provide health care professionals with a superior mechanism with which to communicate, network and market their strengths. Prior to founding MedMasters.com, Rick operated a highly successful medical device distributorship. Other milestones in his 12-year career in the medical industry include a key position at a medical device start-up company that was later sold to the Ethicon Endo division of Johnson & Johnson. You may also reach Rick by connecting with him on FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedIn and YouTube


  1. Good information; I especially liked your vignette.

  2. Whether you are talking about prospects or the public if you can make the pain go away then you are in like flint.