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How Should Salespeople Sell to Doctors?

Two device salesmen recently came unannounced to our small private gastroenterology practice. They were hawking a product that could quickly and non-invasively determine how much scar tissue had formed in a patient’s liver, a useful tool for assessing patients with hepatitis and many other liver conditions.

We are physicians, not entrepreneurs. We do not regard the colonoscope as a capitalist tool. Yet, these two salesmen were barraging us with facts and figures on how much money we could make off their product. They knew the insurance reimbursement rates and could quickly calculate our practice’s return on investment depending upon our projected volume. They recognized that the cost of their device would be beyond our reach and offered to sell us a “refurbished” product at a huge discount.

For a host of reasons, we were not interested in acquiring the device, which we could not afford.

Here’s what was so striking. Not once did either of them mention, even by accident, that their product was a device that might help a human being. These guys were so clumsy and so transparent that they weren’t even adept enough to feign an interest in contributing to the health of liver patients. Of course, we would have seen right through this pretense anyway, but at least they would have gone through the motions with the hope that we might not have recognized their charade.

Afterward, our office manager was deluged with e-mails beseeching us to reconsider our refusal, offering “new and improved” calculations that promised us profitability. And, borrowing a technique from late-night infomercials, they now offered an even steeper discount on a newly discovered refurbished product that was a deal they advised that we should not pass on.

We have many sales folks who come to see us. Of course, we understand that they are selling products. But a true sales professional understands his customer, and these guys massively misfired. We are physicians, not hedge fund managers who regard income generation as our primary objective.

How should salespeople sell to doctors? When device or pharmaceutical representatives come to see us, they are best poised to sell us on how their wares can help our patients improve their lives. The product that can sell itself sells best.

Michael Kirsch, MD, is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower. This post originally appeared on KevinMD.


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