This may be the most important career decision you ever make. Seriously.
Getting the right kind of sales experience as a foundation for your sales career is critically important. Every year Selling Power publishes a list of the best 50 companies to sell for. I have written previously about some of the top companies I recommend for getting initial sales experience, and many of these appear on this list. The question is: what do these companies have in common and why does it matter so much for your career development?
Here are the essentials you should be looking for in your first sales job: 1) a solid, formal training program 2) high activity level to give you many opportunities for learning 3) a strong manager or mentor who will offer you feedback and coaching and 4) accountability for results. Note: compensation doesn’t make the list. It is an important consideration, but getting the right kind of training and sales experience is even more important. The main purpose of your first sales position is to turn you into a sales animal.
A great first job in sales goes beyond great training, though a structured training program is invaluable. The key to getting great sales experience is having opportunities to apply the training in real life situations. The higher the level of sales activity, the more opportunities you will have to practice, learn and improve.
If you join a company where a sales rep is expected to make 50 cold calls a day, versus one where the sales rep is making only 20, at the end of the week – the first rep has make 250 cold calls, and the second rep has made only 100. Who has more opportunities to apply what they’ve learned? Or learn from their mistakes? The answers to these questions are pretty obvious.
And yes, there is a telecomm company that expect reps to hit 50 “doors” a day. The pace of work is intense, and reps generally only last in that environment a year or two, but in a short period of time these reps gain a ton of knowledge.
If you are able to get great training and have many opportunities to apply it, having a knowledgeable mentor or manager who can help you correct your errors and become more effective will maximize your learning even more. In order for this to be true, you need to be open to feedback on your performance. Better yet, you need to invite it. One successful strategy many top performing reps seem to have in common is seeking out others who are successful in their office or company, and asking them what the secrets to their success are.
The final essential element you should look for in your first sales job is accountability for results. Some companies do an excellent job of establishing a “no-excuses” performance culture. These companies often frequently publish rankings, offer various awards and incentives, and regular reviews of quota performance and pipeline activity on a weekly or sometimes daily basis. You should welcome this and use these tools to hold yourself accountable. You want to stay away from environments where complaining and excuses are the norm - it can be contagious.
Working for well-known companies that offer great sales experience will make breaking into medical device sales much, much easier. Even if a company isn’t well-known, but offers most or all of these attributes, then it could offer an equally good career move.
There are no shortcuts to great sales experience. Choose a company that will train and challenge you to grow as a sales person. Paying your dues will lead to big payoffs in your career.
In the November issue of Discover, the article “Reckless Medicine” opens with a dramatic story about Lara Keeton, who suffered debilitating complications from synthetic mesh that had been implanted to correct minor urinary incontinence. She experienced raging infections and 16 subsequent surgeries to remove the mesh and repair the damage it had caused. Keeton later learned that the problems she experienced were widespread among patients who’d had surgical mesh implants like her.
The article suggests that poor treatment decisions like Keeton’s can result from lack of adequate research, “misleading marketing” by drug and device companies, and flawed decision making on the part of doctors. It states that the Institute of Medicine determined in 2007 that “‘well below half’ of the procedures doctors perform and the decisions they make about surgeries, drugs, and tests have been adequately investigated and show to be effective.”
Without question, it is extremely important that medical device companies and representatives maintain an ethical commitment to the well-being of patients. There are instances unfortunately when this does not happen, but there are also many instances when sales representatives are providing valuable information to surgeons about products and treatments that result in enhanced outcomes for patients.
Moreover, I’ve interviewed a number of sales representatives who have been willing to risk their relationship and business with a surgeon to prevent a product from being used incorrectly.
Case in point, a representative I interviewed this past summer described a conflict with a surgeon in the operating room. The surgeon was insistent about using a particular product off-label in a case. As all of the other staff in the operating room looked on, the rep showed the surgeon the warning label and told the surgeon in no uncertain terms not to use the product. For a rep to challenge a surgeon like this is difficult, but if it is essential, the confrontation should not be avoided.
The rep said, “It caused some turmoil between us. When I saw him a week later, he had settled down and admitted it wasn’t the right thing.”
The best sales representatives are knowledgeable about clinical studies. They engage in an open and honest dialogue with surgeons about the the strengths and limitations of their products. When reps and surgeons work together in this way, they work together to support the best outcome for patients.
In the end, the Discover article offers a important reminder that surgeons, sales reps and medical device companies need to “first, do no harm.”
“Every day, surgeons are faced with uncertainties. Information is inadequate; the science is ambiguous; one’s knowledge and abilities are never perfect. Even with the simplest operation, it cannot be taken for granted that a patient will come through better off- or even alive.” ~ from Complications, A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
I’ve been reading “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” by Geoff Colvin. It’s a terrific read, engaging and chock full of great ideas for sales people.
One of the central ideas of the book is that people who are great at what they do are not born with innate talent. Colvin suggests that great performers work very hard to develop their skills and abilities in a particular way, through “deliberate practice.” This type of improvement effort is specific, uncomfortable, tiring and requires a lot of repetition. In order to improve, an expert teacher is often required to design learning exercises to work on discrete skills and provide immediate feedback.
Colvin uses examples from the worlds of music and sports to illustrate his point: namely, Mozart and Tiger Woods. His examples are hopeful and daunting at the same time.
What I like most about the book is how Colvin translates the research on performance into practical strategies for achieving great performance in any field. Here are a few ideas that might apply to sales.
1. Find a great sales coach, mentor or manager. Both Mozart’s and Tiger Wood’s fathers were expert pedagogues who knew how to focus their sons’ efforts for maximum learning. Sales people would also benefit from seeking input from the best in their field, rather than trying to figure out everything on their own.
Many top performing reps I’ve spoken to often make identifying the best reps one of their first steps at a new job. They find out what works for the best reps and try to replicate it.
2. Focus on one area for improvement at a time. Rather than setting broad goals, focusing on one area for improvement leads to greater results. For example, instead of trying to get more referrals, sales people could work on refining the way they phrase their referral requests and tracking the results of different ways of asking. Tracking the results is a form of feedback, which Colvin indicates is crucial to the learning process.
3. Pre-call planning and post-call analysis. Top performers continually measure their own performance against specific criteria. They see their performance as something within their control and continuously try to improve it. One of the best ways sales reps can do this is to evaluate each and every sales call, either by themselves or with the help of a manager. Most reps know that pre-call planning and post-call analysis are a good idea, but few seem to implement it regularly. Reps should ask themselves if they achieved the goals they set forth in their pre-call planning- why or why not?
4. Continual reading and learning in your field. Spin Selling, Strategic Selling, Solution Selling- Colvin would probably say it’s all good. What really matters is learning continuously to fill one’s mental repository with a wealth of knowledge. Let’s face it, selling in the real world is rarely textbook, but having many different strategies and tactics to draw upon from a variety of methodologies provides a sales rep with many options to drawn upon in different circumstances.
5. Plan well your work and work your plan. Colvin points out that top performers work strategically with a desired outcome in mind. Although sales reps probably do not need to plan for the next century in their territory, there should be some key annual goals that are reflected in their daily activities. Essentially, is hard to be a top performer by simply working hard; you must work smart.
These are only a few ideas that could be applied to improving sales performance. There are many deeper lessons to be had in this excellent book. Because sales performance is measured in quantifiable terms, it is a field well-suited to the application of Colvin’s ideas. What more concrete proof of measurable improvement is there than exceeding quota and increased revenue?
“Hard work outperforms talent when talent doesn’t work.” ~ author unknown, as seen on a t-shirt
At a national sales meeting a few years ago, one very successful rep described how he’d grown his territory. He talked a lot about the importance of listening to his customers’ needs, rather that pushing products on them.
“Let your competitors be the ones to ‘Show up and throw up’,” he said. The room erupted in laughter. I’m sure it struck everyone as funny not only because of the image, but also because it’s something everyone in the room had been guilty of at one time or another.
Most sales reps grasp the idea of asking probing, open-ended questions pretty readily. It’s not too hard to figure out a good list of stock questions that will help to uncover a prospect’s needs and pain. Becoming a good listener- now there’s the real challenge.
Active listening is about more than paying attention to the words coming out of someone else’s mouth or waiting your turn to speak. It is about fully acknowledging the speaker’s point of view and demonstrating understanding. It’s a great skill that can surpass small talk for building trust in a relationship because listening is a vital way to communicate respect.
William Glasser, author of books on the psychology of relationships, sees listening as a way of satisfying people’s inherent desire for power.
He writes in Choice Theory, “…at a minimum, we want someone to listen to what we have to say. If no one listens to us, we feel the pain of the powerless, the kind of pain you feel in a foreign country when you are trying to get information and no one speaks your language.”
If a sales rep’s goal is to provide a solution to a customer’s problems, what better way to begin the process than empowering the customer through truly listening? An empowered customer is one who is motivated to take action because they feel a positive outcome is possible. These are the kinds of customers who champion the product, find the money when there is none in the budget, and coach the sales rep to success.
Are you a good listener? Take this quiz and find out.
“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” ~ A Chinese Proverb.
Salespeople rely on conversation in many forms to advance their objectives: to build rapport with prospects, to discover information, and to move the sales process forward. Although the gift of gab comes naturally to many of those who are drawn to sales, there are always areas for improvement.
Having a great conversation is really about listening. When you demonstrate that you are interested and engaged, rather than just waiting your turn to speak, the other person in the conversation opens up.
Here are thirteen ideas for making your next conversation a great one:
1. The basics: greet the person warmly, by name. Good eye contact is key. Smile.
Even if you are on the phone, the person will “hear” the smile in your voice.
2. Get permission to talk.
Ask if it is a good time to talk. This is especially important on the phone when you don’t have visual cues for what the person is doing. If not, find a mutually agreeable time, rather than forcing a conversation when the other person will be rushed and distracted.
If you do find a good time to talk, be respectful of the person’s time, and be sure to thank them for it when you are concluding the conversation.
3. Repeat back what you’ve heard.
By paraphrasing what the other person has said, you prove you are really listening, interested and considering what they’ve said.
Just the other day, I asked someone what he was looking for in his next career move. He shared several things that were important to him. When I recapped his career goals, boy, did he get excited. It was evident to him that I was listening and I “got” him.
4. Ask their opinion on a subject that they have some expertise in, and everyone does.
Listen and consider their input carefully to show you really need and value their opinion. Try simple questions like: Have you heard…? What do you think about…? Can I ask your advice?
5. Make an observation.
This could be a compliment or simply stating something you’ve observed. Statements allow some white space in a conversation and give the other person in the conversation an opportunity to respond. Sometimes too many questions can lead to the other person feeling as though they are being interrogated.
6. Bring up something unexpected.
Such topics can arise from your due diligence and research on a company, person or product. Google and LinkedIn are great ways to get a snapshot of someone’s backgrounds and interests, though delving into more personal social networks like Facebook is not advisable.
7. Repeat something they said the you last time you spoke with them.
This is another great way to show you are listening. Post-call analysis allows you to capture useful information for subsequent conversations. CRM tools are great ways to retain this information.
8. Share something unexpected and interesting about yourself.
Toss it in, don’t drone about it. If this connects to something that you may have in common- people, places, experiences- all the better. Give them a chance to get to know you too.
9. Gentle joking or teasing.
A good sense of humor is welcome in any conversation. Gossiping or mean-spirited humor are not. Learn a few clean jokes to keep in your back pocket for opportune moments. Make fun of yourself rather than others.
10. Be upfront and honest.
Respectful disagreement may increase the other person’s trust in you. If they know you aren’t going to “yes” them, they will see you as authentic and forthright. This important to setting appropriate expectations. It is always advisable to “under-promise and over-deliver”
11. Ask provocative, insightful questions that make the other person think.
Thoughtful, open-ended questions fuel conversation. Many sales people have told me that creating a list of great questions is what super-charged their effectiveness.
12. Mirror the other persons body language, volume and rate of speech.
Perhaps you’ve heard that body language accounts for more than half of what is communicated in a conversation. It sends subtle cues to the other person that we are like them, which puts them at ease and leads to acceptance.
What list about having great conversations in sales would be complete without this? Closing is what brings energy and spark to the end of a conversation, and sets the stage for the next great conversation.
Having a great, one-on-one conversation is more about being responsive to the other person, through listening and body language, than being witty and dynamic. By being attentive, you are communicating to the other person that they are important and you value their insights. In turn, a great conversation can set the stage for a great relationship.
This baker’s dozen is only a beginning list of ideas for great conversations. What else contributes to a great conversation?
“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.” ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton
The dynamics of closing a customer or closing an interviewer are very similar. If you are interviewing for a sales position, your ability to close well at the end of the interview is considered a strong indication of your sales ability.
I’ve seen many ways and reasons that people fail to close. It happens to both early career sales people and veteran sales managers.
One reason people fail to close is that they don’t think the timing is right. The interview or meeting may be rushed, or take an unexpected turn. Understand this: the time is always right to close. If you are short on time, it takes less than two seconds to say “Can I have your support?” and “What is the next step?”
Another common misstep results from the fact that many sales people take pride in their ability to read their customer and build rapport. If they feel that the customer (or interviewer) likes them, they begin to relax. Sometimes, too much. They forget that their fundamental responsibility as a salesperson is to move the sales process forward and to turn the prospect into a customer through getting a commitment.
The same holds true of interviewing. Yes, it’s great if you get a warm-and-fuzzy from the person you are interviewing with. However, your fundamental goal is to get that person to hire you: to take some action on your behalf.
In the Sandler Selling System, this is referred to as “need for approval” when having someone like you becomes more important than closing. Even if you think the prospect or interviewer is disinterested or maybe even dislikes you, you should still close. Closing is engaging someone in a direct way, and closing alone may awaken greater interest in them.
One of the biggest mistakes is not closing someone because you don’t think that person is the decision maker. Yes, you need to identify who the key decision makers are and expend your greatest energy on convincing them to support your cause. Along the way, you will encounter many influencers. Though they may not be the ultimate decision makers, you can bet they will share their opinion behind the scenes. When it comes to interviewing, you would not be meeting with that person if the decision maker did not value their input. In today’s world of collaborative decision making, you need everyone’s support.
If you’ve been in sales for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the acronym “A.B.C.”- or Always Be Closing. It applies every bit as much today as it ever has.
I don’t know if your mother ever said anything like this to you, but it is good advice for us all.
The words that come out of our mouths reflect our worldview: past, present and future. We should choose them carefully.
When I listen to salespeople tell me about what they would like to accomplish, I hear a many different ways that people express their hopes and desires for the future.
Some people are “kinda”, “sorta” “thinking about” one possibility or another. Their language reflects ambiguity and lack of commitment. How likely is their desired outcome? Not very. They don’t even seem sure that they really want it anyway.
Others speak with certainty. I hear them say “I will” a lot. They may not know exactly how or when they will arrive at their destination, but they are certain they will get there. Their choice of words reflects the commitment they’ve already made in their minds to achieving a goal, which is often half the battle.
Cheryl Richardson writes about this topic in her book, Stand Up For Your Life. “Do the words and phrases you use command respect and attention, or do they minimize your power and sense of self-worth?” she asks.
She points out the phrase “I’ll try” as one people use to keep expectations low or buy time. Rather than “trying”, why not commit outright? The next time you find yourself wavering or hoping, make a decision or commitment instead. Instead of putting your energy into making up your mind, put your energy into achieving your goal.
Consider the difference between…
“I try close to close them.” Say this aloud to your sales manager and you are already letting yourself off the hook in case it doesn’t happen.
“I will close that sale.” Who is accountable and committed now?
This principle applies as well to the way we ask questions of others. Do ask your prospects “if possible” when they “might” “perhaps” do something? Or do you ask simply, plainly if they will? When you ask for a definitive answer or commitment, there is a greater likelihood you’ll hear the dreaded “No.”
Salespeople practice the art of listening with their customers. If however you listened to yourself for a day, what would you learn?
Someone I spoke with recently told me that she’s heard that 90% of sales come after the 6th sales call, but most people stop long before that. There are many variations on this theme, but essentially in order to get what you want, be it a sale or a job, you have to be tenacious, focused, and persistent.
A lot of people seem confused about what constitutes great follow-up. Some people are worried they are going to annoy others if they are overly persistent. Others don’t seem to understand that they are rubbing people the wrong way. Striking the right balance can bring so many rewards that it is worth figuring out the right way to go about it.
We all know this. I am not telling you anything new. So why it is so difficult for many people?
I think much of the confusion could be cleared up by focusing on follow-up as a way of building a relationship. Good follow-up is about good communication. If you show a consistent level of respectful interest, you will send the message that your interest in the job, sale or business relationship is sincere.
Here are a few good reasons to follow-up that will help build a strong relationship:
1. Keep the other person informed. If you’ve interviewed with someone else in the organization, drop your main contact a quick note to inform them how it went. Set a date for a meeting? Keep your contact in the loop note to let them know.
2. Respect personal boundaries. Call during business hours only. If your contact has told you when to expect an answer or next step, make note of it and make sure you do not pester them in the mean time.
3. Be courteous and considerate. “Please” and “thank you” – so simple and they still go such a long way!
4. Offering genuine compliments. Is there something you appreciate or have noticed that your contact does particularly well? Let them know. This should be simple and spontaneous, not schmoozy.
5. Clarify needs and expectations. A good tactic is to repeat back to the person what they’ve asked of you to confirm what is expected. Good clarifying questions to ask are, “Is this what you mean?” or “Did I answer your question?” or “Is there anything else?”
6. Be responsive. Answer your phone (simple, but there are some people who never seem to) or return your calls as soon as possible. This means preferably within 1-4 hours or the same business day.
7. Figuring out the times and contact methods the other person prefers. Some people are more responsive via email, some to phone calls. Is texting okay? Some people love it, others reserve it for those they know well. One manager I work with thinks that follow-up via email is not appropriate for sales candidates because sales are made in person, not via email. (See #5)
8. Giving the other person an opportunity to respond. As anxious as you might be, sometimes you need to sit back and wait.
9. Don’t overreact. Ans don’t make to many assumptions. Some times it takes longer than any of us would like to reach a conclusion, so don’t pack it in too soon. Stick with it until you have a clear answer. Continuing to show your interest is the best way to keep your contact interested in you.
10. Add value. Share a new piece of information about what you have to offer, or something that you think may benefit or interest your contact.
There is no single approach that works for every contact. It takes time and attention to figure out what works best… that is where the relationship building comes in. Taking the time in the early stages to understand this upfront will payoff in the end.
I interviewed 2 great candidates who are currently in medical device sales. It made me think about some of the differences between medical device sales and a typical B2B sales position. When you move into medical device sales, it is definitely a step up in many ways- in responsibility, complexity and commitment
Both candidates talked about their efforts to convert surgeons from competitive products. Their success resulted from ferocious determination, research and a sophisticated level of clinical knowledge about their own and competitors’ products. In one case, there were 8-10 competitive plating systems on the market, and yet the rep was able to identify 5 competitive differentiators in his product.
A good product? Sounds like it. A rep who does his homework? Definitely. When you are a medical device rep you need to be as fluent as a surgeon on surgical techniques, clinical data and anatomy, and even more so on the options available on the market.
The other candidate talked about how there is zero room for error in medical device sales. Have to fidget with a copier or mailing machine that doesn’t work quite as expected during a demo? You can probably recover from that. Don’t have option C or D if needed in the OR? It might be the last time you’ll ever work with that customer.
“You can’t make mistakes. #1 there is a patient on the table. #2 there are too many competitors,” the rep said. To avoid any errors, he double, triple and quadruple checks his instruments and implants the day before the strategy. If he has to drive 8 hours from his rural territory to retrieve a missing instrument in the middle of the night before a case, oh well, he does it. Without question. “If there is a mistake, you better catch it far in advance, long before the customer ever knows.”
Although medical device sales is sexy and exciting, you need to seriously consider if you are prepared to make this level of commitment. Many successful sales representatives consider medical device sales not simply a job, not only a profession- but a lifestyle. That is how complete and total the commitment must be in order for you to maximize your success in this field.
Are you ready for it?
The other day I spoke to a sales trainer, who was a reference for a candidate. He talked about the difference between being a “pleaser” and an “adviser” to customers. The ultimate goal is for sales people to develop into advisers, someone whom customers look to for expert advice. It is an interesting and important distinction.
It lead me to consider the ways salespeople in medical device sales can achieve the role of an adviser in medical device sales. It is a combination of knowledge, commitment, work ethic and “paying it forward”.
1. Staying up on the newest clinical studies in your field. It is a great way to demonstrate your genuine interest and commitment to being a professional.
2. Preventative maintenance of customers’ equipment. Why wait until something breaks down? Doing preventative checks give you a good reason to show your customer that you are looking out for their best interests.
3. Recommending other companies’ products. If you are a knowledgeable resource, you will be the one to get the first call when they need something.
4. Help doctors connect with referral sources. The more referrals you give, the more you’ll get to grow your own business
5. Treat everyone with respect and interest, even the janitor. The scrub tech, nurses, OR coordinator all can influence the surgeon’s perception of you. Besides, they deserve it. It’s not a bad idea to take out the garbage every once in while either.
6. Be a resource to the surgical staff. If they need or forgot something, go out of your way to help them out. If you try to make their lives easier, they will more than likely return the favor.
7. Understand issues that the doctor may face in his or her practice, outside of the operating room.
8. Longevity. It takes time to prove yourself in medical device sales. At two years, your customers are finally beginning to take you seriously. The longer you stay with the same company, the better your knowledge, reputation and relationships will be.
9. Own up, when the case does not go well. Don’t tuck your tail, but face up to the surgeon and have a professional exchange about what went wrong and how to correct things the next time. Likewise, after a really great case, don’t always bolt off to your next task. Take the opportunity to talk to the surgeon then to cement your relationship.
10. Improve the process. O.R. time is expensive. Find ways to save time or create other efficiencies. The surgeons and everyone up to the C-Level will appreciate your assistance in improving their business.
Thanks to Tim Tyrell-Smith, whose post called “10 Ways to Become a Person Of Influence” inspired this post. You can read more on his blog called Tim’s Strategy: Ideas for Job Search, Career & Life.
“So, in a competitive [sales] environment, how do you stand out and become someone others want to know?” Tim Tyrell-Smith