A Day in the Life of a Surgical Sales Rep – Part 1

Part One…

Before I took my first job in the surgical device sales arena I spent a day with a surgical device rep. This is what happened. I met up with the local surgical sales rep for ConMed Endoscopic Technologies before 8:00 am. Like the rep, I was decked out in a pair of scrubs and a comfortable pair of running shoes.

It happened to be GI Nurses and Associates Day. Who knew there was such a holiday? Apparently, I had a lot to learn.

Our first stop was a nearby endoscopy center, where due to the festive occasion, we dropped off some bagels. One of the nurses invited us back to a large storage room. The walls were lined with products from different companies.

The surgical sales rep asked for the nurse who was responsible for ordering a certain product. Over the course of the day, we talked to nurses in several facilities who ordered product and seemed to have a lot of discretion over the purchases. In this case, the surgical rep let the ordering nurse and several others know about other products he offered. He also got the name of a rep for one of the large national distributors.

When we were back in the car, he explained that he found it beneficial to partner with distributor reps in areas of his large territory, especially those who were tenured and have long-term relationships with customers. In such instances, as a manufacturer’s rep, he goes into the accounts with the distributor reps, closes new business for his products, and handles all the in-servicing of the account. Both he and the distributor rep increase their sales as a result.

Group of Surgeons doing surgery

We arrived at another endoscopy center on the other side of town. The waiting room was full of eager patients looking forward to a colonoscopy. This routine diagnostic procedure, recommended for most people at 50 years of age, is the most common GI procedure performed.

Here, we had an interesting conversation with the nurse manager. She had primary responsibility for sourcing many of the surgical products used in the facility. One of her first questions was if the surgical sales rep knew where to find collapsible waste canisters due to space constraints. The thought of all the surgical waste generated by the facility sitting in a dump somewhere bothered her.

The nurse manager complimented the CET rep on his strong customer service, and grumbled about another company who had recently switched to a 1-800 number for all product issues. “When I have a patient on the table, I don’t want to call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who doesn’t know me or my situation.” She finds it harder to get things resolved quickly, compared to speaking directly with a surgical sales rep for an immediate answer.

She also shared her experience about working with a rep who became “livid” when she had decided to buy from another company. The rep tried to low-ball on price. She told him flatly that was not how she did business. The surgical rep then said he would go to another person in the facility about the purchase.

Not a smart move.

It was the nurse manager’s turn to be livid. “Excuse me,” she said to the low-ball surgical sales rep, “I think you are misinformed about who is buying the product.” To us she explained that she wants to do business with someone who shares her ethics and values, and is honest and fair. This particular rep was someone she would never buy from as a result of this incident.

Back in the car, I asked the surgical sales rep how he handled situations like the one she described. After all, it is a surgical sales rep’s responsibility to figure out how to get the business. While making people angry is not a good way to grow one’s business, sometimes surgical sales reps need to find alternative avenues for making a sale. The CET rep said he would consider approaching someone else in a facility for support in a similar situation, but he wouldn’t confront the other decision maker blatantly. Rather, he would ask someone else for support, and then fess up that he’d hit a wall elsewhere.

To be continued…