The professor in the back of the room is leaning back in her chair, arms crossed. She is tilting her head, eyes narrowing. I know I am in for a challenge, I can see it. The tension in the room is palpable.
At this point, I am 26 years old and have been in my job for a couple of months. I represent a medical device company, and my customers are doctors, highly educated, experts in their field. Decisions are made on facts, statistics and clinical data.
The professor asks me if I think the product I am talking about has better clinical trial results than the leading product on the market.
Six months prior, I had never read a clinical trial. Meanwhile, she is a lead author for more than 250 publications in major journals across the world. There is only one thing to do: openly say that I don’t know.
This scenario is still a frequent occurrence in my business today as it was back then, and rightly so. Medical device reps have high turnover. They are often young, inexperienced, polished and smart, but in it for the career opportunities.
The good ones are there to make a difference, but the bad ones are there to make a quick sale and move on.
Two things are imperative in order to do a good job in one of my companies; technical skills and recognition of our customers’ superior knowledge. There is no way we can catch up with eight years of medical school. But we can be experts on one thing: our product.
I tell my team two things: don’t ever try to diagnose and treat a patient. You will be asked to, and sometimes even encouraged to.
Stay away, and do not be flattered and dragged in, no matter how good your relationship with the doctor is. You are not trained and equipped to make such a judgement.
Know everything there is to know about the product. Features, benefits, technical specs, clinical data, user experience, manufacturing process, origin, improvement history.
Watch it being used. Listen and learn. Ask questions of the users. My favourite one is to ask the user why they are using it. They will tell you better reasons than your marketing department ever will, and with a lot more credibility. Know how it is used and in what applications.
For us, anatomy is key, and I send my team on the same anatomy training that doctors attend. They need to be extremely knowledgeable so they can add value to the customer.
In the end, it boils down to this: you need to earn the trust of your customer, and they will appreciate your dedication. Few things can replace passion and dedication, no matter what field you’re in. And trust me you can’t fake that.
And of my professor? I asked her to mentor me. We spent a couple of years with me tagging along every chance I got. Her patience and support are of benefit to me till today, and I thank her by paying it forward.
About the author
Angela Spang is the founder, owner and managing director of London Medical Education Academy, which was founded on the belief that life-long continued surgical hands-on training is crucial for improved patient outcomes. Angela has a broad and long background in international business with medical devices, having held internationally focused senior positions with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Allergan (AGN) and American Medical Systems with a strong focus on the importance of training.