Creating Clinically Competent Medical Device Salespeople

Medical device sales people who can demonstrate a high degree of clinical competence are more confident. Confidence translates into credibility with physicians and clinicians.  We refer to these principles as the three “Cs”: Competence, Confidence and Credibility. Sales people who have all three Cs sell more.

Medical device sales training programs typically contain important topics such as product, procedure, branding, messaging, market data and competition. This article focuses on best training practices that we have found to be effective in creating clinically competent medical device sales people.

Design with Competence in Mind

A majority of medical device sales people are kinesthetic learners. As such, developing a training curriculum that emphasizes a hands-on approach should be the rule of thumb. A 2:1 learning ratio of hands-on training to didactic instruction should be a minimum goal. Also, include in the training multiple numbers of “touches” on information viewed as most critical to a salesperson’s success. This is based on adult learning principles. The number of touches as well as the variety of how the touches are delivered will help commit the information to long-term memory and influence desired behaviors. Examples of touches include pre-training reading assignments, training exercises that incorporate role-play or competitive games, interactive breakouts or lab hands-on.

It is important that training objectives and expected competencies are clearly defined, for example, “At the end of the training program you should be able to cover a case with a first-time user of Product X.” In addition, prerequisite readings should be assigned as a way of conserving training time. Prerequisites can also have the secondary effect of underscoring expectations and reinforcing standards of accountability.

Consider testing the attendees’ comprehension of their prerequisite assignments using a Web-based application or during the first part of training. The results will establish baseline measurements which help improve the training curriculum. Additionally, results can indicate any knowledge gaps that may exist with the training class or individuals.

It is important that all instructors meet prior to training in order to ensure alignment on roles, learning objectives, expectations, company messaging, branding and accepted standards for procedures and product demos. Instructors communicating inaccurate, non-compliant or conflicting information will undermine training effectiveness. To help instructors, a Leaders Guide on the “what and how” training is delivered should be developed to ensure compliance and consistency with corporate training standards.

Bringing Competence to Life: “See One, Do One, Teach One”

See One: Sales reps should be shown how to competently perform clinical and technical activities correctly, for example, they should be shown how to perform the procedure, how to set up a back table and how to effectively in-service. Demonstrating how things are performed with excellence clearly establishes the company’s accepted baseline and ensures that the sales reps understand that level of competency expected of him/her. In addition, make sure sales reps are able to troubleshoot when difficulties occur with the device or procedure because that too is reality. Problem solving skills are essential and practicing responses to the most common situations that arise in the field should be well covered in training.

Do One: Salespeople are kinesthetic learners. The more hands-on time that they have, the more repetitions they experience, the more effective the training. To get the most hands-on training, student to instructor ratio is important. The ideal ratio is 2:1 but 4:1 is acceptable if there are budget restraints. To accommodate larger classes and still maintain an effective learning ratio, rotate small groups of sales reps simultaneously through multiple learning stations.

Teach One: Once sales reps are fully trained, learning and competency can be reinforced by having them verbally teach another person on product use and procedures. Verbalizing instructions helps them to retain knowledge better than just repetitively performing hands-on demonstrations.

Side Note: For med device companies using minimally invasive or percutaneous procedures where there is a reliance on procedural imaging, sales reps need to be competent in reading anatomical landmarks and fully understand how the procedure looks under fluoroscopy. They might find themselves in the OR with an inexperienced radiologic technician or one who is unfamiliar with the procedure, or they may be covering an evaluation case with a physician who went through training sometime ago. These scenarios can be challenges to a good patient outcome, but they can also provide a sales rep, confident in their knowledge of fluoroscopy, an opportunity to elevate themselves from salesperson to valuable resource.

Test for Competence

Practical exam(s) on the final day of training are optimal. A practical exam provides the sales reps an opportunity to demonstrate competency and allows for an objective evaluation. The exam should reflect conditions and situations the sales reps will encounter when they return to their territories. Examples of practical exams include physician product demonstration, in-servicing or replicating case coverage using a simulated clinical or operating room environment.

A formal evaluation checklist with a scoring system should accompany the practical exam. The checklist should consist of items wherein the sales reps need to demonstrate competence. This ensures that everyone is being evaluated on the same items, which is important when using multiple evaluators.

Incorporating these best practices will increase the effectiveness of your training, resulting in greater Competence, Confidence and Credibility for your sales reps…and more sales.

Don Wright is a Managing Partner with the Perceptum Group LLC, San Francisco, CA. Perceptum Group develops and delivers sales training, physician education, and leadership development programs exclusively for medical device, biotechnology, and specialty pharmaceutical companies.www.perceptumgroup.com


Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President of Ortho Spine Partners and Partner for The De Angelis Group. He also serves as Co-Founder and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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