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My Medical Device Sales Career

Brad Pitt's Moneyball; A Lesson for Sales People?

I am not a big Brad Pitt fan for more reasons than I care to mention, but I did go with my husband to see Moneyball this past Tuesday; for those living under a rock, Brad is the movie.  Correction, the real star is Billy Beane, Brad Pitts real life character; the Oakland A's General Manager who made some career missteps early in his life that could only be known from times passing and the reflection that comes from when one advances into their 40's  (especially in sports, where one's career can be often done at any time and only a few continue on successfully into their 30's). 


Billy, if the story is true to his life's story, finds himself not able to compete or even close to winning against the A teams (and ironically the Oakland A's were not the A players!).  His earlier decisions in life have set him on this most unlikely (given his early promise and talent) career path and destination.  He finds himself at age 44 in a place that he had not planned for himself personally or professionally (yes, a failed marriage too).  He reflects often of that one decision made long ago that he feels was simply the wrong decision; even though the decision at the time seemed to be the best bet, the brass ring in front of his face, so enticing that he grabbed it! 


Over time, he just can't get a winning performance, he made what he thought was a sure bet, but it didn't work out.  He didn't live up to his promise or worse, the high expectations that his parents had placed upon him.  Billy Beane had arrived to that destination of self failure and it is compounded by the fact he is STILL in the business of performance (albiet in a different role and ironically in one that is a daily reminder of his past), and the measurement of performance to keep his job. To top it off, he is stuck with a ball club that was worse than second rate with limited resources.  Brad Pitt, as Billy, dramatically holds his hand high above his head and moves it lower as he verbally punches out each line to his management team, "There are rich teams, and there are poor teams, then there is 50 tons of crap", with a long hesitation and his hand now near his knees he finishes with, "Then there is us." 


As I munched my popcorn in the dark theater and let myself become drawn into the story and into the world of baseball that most of us do not understand, the money side, the performance side, the unlevel playing field and sometimes the unfairness of it all when one is trying to win and compete with less.  Midway through the movie, I knew there was some huge take away for those of us who have been in sales and especially those that have been in sales management.


Think of it, we live by the numbers.  We survive by hitting our numbers every year and when the year has been completed we find out if we won (worse, we find out AFTER the year is done, sometimes several months later at the national sales meeting, when we are into the next year!); we get a quick trophy on stage and perhaps a nice trip and it's over.  No resting on ones laurels, that year was DONE, can't even enjoy it because it is February or March of the next year now and you know it might not be so good.  So we start all over; What about this year?  Where are your numbers?  Your manager says, "I don't care about last year if you were a winner, it's about this year."  Always about this year.  Live by the numbers die by the numbers!  Sound familiar? 


How about the unlevel playing field?  How about when your company or product just isn't as good as your competitors and is higher priced to boot and maybe not even on contract?!  Have you ever been in a situation that even if you could sell the lousy product you can't because they are on backorder!   Try to get a sales quota reduction due to a severe back order or when you lose reimbursement (if a medical product).  You compete in a state with no reimbursement for your product?  Who cares, you are still held against the same quota as your fully reimbursed sales brother based out of another state, right?  So what if you only get gas reimbursed .50 cents per mile for your personal car and you cover two states, while your competitor has deep pockets and a local territory?  Still gotta beat them and hit your quota! Training?  Sorry you learn as you go with this company.  Sorry, we just lost a huge national contract, it was 40% of your entire sales volume; just go out and fill the bucket with more to make it up (of course that is ON TOP of your 20% quota based off before-the-loss numbers)!  We sometimes shout out loud to ourselves as we jump in our car to drive to the next account, "This is so unfair!  I have everything stacked against me, this sucks, there is no way I am hitting quota this year or next!"  It is at this point of his life that we are introduced to Billy Beane in the opening scene of the movie.  A place many of us usually visit once or perhaps several times in our life.  So what do you do?  What did you do?


This brings us to the real take away from Moneyball; if you are trying to play a game where you find yourself with less, then you need to stop and take a look from outside the game, even if it is for a few moments and ask yourself, "How can I play this game differently, how can I turn this around and change my internal rules of thinking that will change my decision making process to still stay in the game and maybe even outperform those that have more."  I have a few examples in my own career where I did just that, I changed the rules and I ticked people off (mostly my old customers that I replaced with new ones) but ultimately my team and I won. Sometimes we didn't win, but when we came darn close against all odds, we celebrated; we did it with less, which ultimately meant so much more!  Funny how that works.


As for Billy Beane, well I can't give the ending away, but let's just say that young Billy's decision was driven by the desire for money and perhaps fame.  What the older Billy initially did not understand is that his ultimate success in life was not determined by not fulfilling his childhood promise and dreams.  He did understand the game AT HAND was not over yet, and his desire to win at THIS game and at THIS stage of his life without many resources would be his ultimate challenge.  By God he was not going to keep doing the same thing and getting the same results; he decided to change it up even at the risk of losing it all at the age of 44.  He had a burning desire to not fail at THIS, he needed at least one win. 


At age 44 Billy paused, stepped back, opened himself to learning something new and most importantly had the courage to change and take the risk of embracing something new and approach the game differently.  At age 44 he wrote a new chapter to his life and perhaps even changed his definition of winning just a little, after all, as Billy says, "There's still nothing like winning just one!"  So how about you?  Are you still playing the sales or career game on a less than even playing field, yet thinking and doing the same thing every day?  Maybe you are seeing your name under 50 tons of crap at the bottom of the sales roster this year or worse, year after year.  Then maybe, just maybe it is time for you to play the game differently. 


If you would like to see the real Billly Beane with Brad Pitt discuss the movie a nice Moneyball Interview video here.


©Linda Hertz, All Rights Reserved

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Comment by Linda Hertz on October 3, 2011 at 12:37pm
I hope my last comment wasn't misinterpreted. My main point is that the factors affecting the business of healthcare can change dramatically but if you are committed to helping patients get better and assisting customers to achieve their objectives then there is always a way through through challenges. Challenges come from many areas so it's important to know your stuff but also to see if there's a new development that must be approached differently. In the end it's really up to the individual because support can be highly variable and I agree there are indeed some who focus entirely on short term numbers. I recall two situations long ago in a past company when two potentially outstanding rep's were having great difficulty achieving success and they were under the gun so to speak. Their manager was resigned to the inevitable. But I intervened to prove a point not just to their manager but to myself that support forms great teams and produces great results. I took them under my wing and trained them, worked in the field with them and I was delighted that they both became first in their divisions the following year. That was very rewarding and one of them went on to become very successful in our field through the years. It was a lesson that I have applied to myself. Keep learning, keep adapting, do your best for the patient and customer and your organization and no matter what challenges you may face internally or externally you will succeed. Rely on yourself first and be accountable for your own development and then share it with others who can benefit.
Posted by Doug
Comment by Linda Hertz on October 3, 2011 at 12:36pm
I'm under the rock and haven't seen Moneyball yet but I sure know what you're talking about after 30 years in the surgical sales and marketing business. I've been on top of the heap many times but there are cycles and factors that seem out of a person's control from time-to-time that challenge us. I've learned many things through the years and a few are:
Coaches, sales managers and other drivers often refer to the "hunter" in all of us. The prey is waiting. Track it and and capture it. They often forget that there's a time for farming too. Growing opportiunites; developing them to be harvested later. You need to do both. When Tiger Woods was asked why he was so successful at his game he replied because he "positioned himself for success." He made it look easy because he set himself up to succeed. In the medical/surgical industry it's important particularly in tough times to keep in mind that people need healthcare and procedures to be done. The pathway and factors that affect how your product reaches the hands of the practitioner may change but in the end it is still needed. It's up to you to adapt to the changes and make it happen. You have to ask yourself when you're in a slump, what do I need to do to make this happen? Is there another way? There usually is but you hadn't the need to consider it before. Don't expect support from managers. It's nice if you get it but many are more concerned about their own situation and sometimes look good when they cut someone in a slump. Besides, odds are that the next year will be better in a cycle and their new rep will benefit from it and make the manager's decision seem correct. Don't let that happen. Don't wait for the upturn. Be creative; be bold. To paraphrase Einstein, don't expect a different result if you continue to practice the same thing. In general older employees have the advantage of experience but only if they continue to be open-minded and learn, otherwise they just have "one's year's experience 20 times." But the advantage of applying experience to new approaches can be huge, not limiting as some would think. Every day is a new day and an opportunity to reinvent yourself and rethink your m.o. One thing I've learned for sure is that it is difficult to get "old" if you continue to learn something new. It affects you both psychologically and physically. It will also affect your results in everything you pursue.
Good luck to everyone.
Doug McDonald
Posted by Doug


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