My Medical Device Sales Career
Several years ago I was involved in starting a medical sales force within a large international organization. This organization was Marketing driven and spent enormous amounts of money and human energy to understand their market and provide the right messaging to their target audience. More often than not, they did an excellent job of connecting with consumers and consequently they were extremely successful.
Relative to our product focus, they invested heavily in understanding patient preferences. They had the sharpest minds managing the product portfolio. Often, they would bring in focus groups and study them intently. They did everything right… except ask the one crucial question that is essential to any sale. It was an easy mistake to make.
A few years into the startup a new management team took over our division. They wanted to validate all aspects of the business, which meant our strategies and tactics were under a lot of scrutiny. An outside consulting firm was brought in to help in the process.
After many weeks the consulting firm presented its conclusion. They determined that the organization had been focused on the wrong question. That resulted in some erroneous strategies and tactics. The question they had been asking? What leads patients to prefer product A vs. product B? The question they should have been asking? What leads patients to BUY product A vs. product B.
As a sales professional it is essential that we understand the difference between “prefer” versus “purchase.” We get excited about the attributes and advantages of our product, and we should. But the most important thing to get excited about is what will cause our customer to buy? Those reasons might be totally unrelated to product features and benefits or even the purchaser’s preferences.
I did an exercise with one of my teams to drive this point home. I asked them to list their hospital conversions that had taken place over the past year. Then I asked them to write the prevailing reason(s) behind each conversion. In the end, do you know how many of the conversions took place solely or primarily due to product features and benefits? Hint: it was a very low number. What did this mean? We had to understand that F & B’s don’t always drive the sale and that our probing strategy had to take this into account.
As you go out this week, consider the implications of “prefer” vs. “purchase” in your own business situations. What is the most important question to ask? In the end, what will cause your customer to buy one product versus the other? You may dress up the question or rephrase it as you see fit, but that is the one that you must have a clear answer to.
By Kevin Onarecker
Ask the right question, sell the right solution and reap the rewards. Good hunting!