The Role of Salespeople in Surgery – To Have or To Have Not

Strategy, Sales | March 14, 2018 | 4 mins read

Most people don’t realize it, but medical device salespeople attend A LOT of surgeries. A regular day for a medical device salesperson might include starting the day with 3 surgeries, having a business meeting during lunch, making a few sales calls and then finishing the day in the operating room again. They often accompany surgeons in the operating room to observe the utilization of their product and in lots of cases provide technical expertise about their product and the specific application the physician is utilizing it for.

Most importantly, they can provide insight into the application of the product itself. What many outsiders don’t understand is this: Surgeons may be the person performing this specific surgery for the 100th time, but the salesperson (depending on their time in the field) may be seeing this surgery for the 10,000th time, and surgeons WANT that expertise in the room.
There is much debate about the future role of salespeople in the operating room.
On one side of the debate are those who advocate for the removal of salespeople from the OR entirely. They argue that a sales rep should only be responsible for selling the products to a physician, not for advising them on how to use it during the actual surgery, or providing technical assistance. Many hospitals administrators, surgeons and staff take this position citing ethical, safety, and cost issues.
On the other side of the debate are those who defend the role of a salesperson advisor in the surgical suite.
This argument is often taken up by some of the same people who argue against it: surgeons, clinical staff and no doubt the medical device manufacturers (well, today the device manufacturer’s make this argument, let’s see what tomorrow brings…) who argue that clinical salespeople are the most qualified to offer assistance in the OR. And in many cases (I’ve literally been here to see this), physicians will challenge Hospital Administration and tell them (and I quote), “My sales rep IS coming into my case. Your staff simply doesn’t have the expertise required for this case. You (the Administrators) are literally putting the patient in harms way by NOT allowing the sales rep in the case.” Obviously… a hot topic.
Since it is unclear which direction the industry will go, we are presented with a great opportunity to look critically at the merits of each argument.

The Case for Sales Reps in the Surgical Suite

There is no question attending surgeries is an integral part of the salesperson experience. Every operation is different, and every surgeon has a different approach to performing surgery. As such, the only way for a salesperson to understand the skill-set of the customer and provide support is by the first-hand experience.
Some of the benefits include:
● A Safer Surgical Experience. The surgeon does benefit from the insight of the sales person. Often the surgical device is complex, technical and isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. A surgeon without prior experience with the device will almost always conduct a safer surgery with skilled-based advice from the sales person. After all, it’s not like salespeople are in there to only talk about how awesome their product is! (That’s usually the thing they talk about least IN the actual surgical suite.) ● Improved Customer Relations. The salesperson can track pain points with the product and also note individual differences in approach unique to each surgeon. (this is commonly referred to as their preference sheet) Attending surgeries is an incredibly valuable opportunity to build trust with a physician and develop a stronger, more insightful, customer relationships.

The Case Against Sales Reps in the Surgical Suite

Despite the apparent benefits of having the salesperson present in the surgical room, there are some drawbacks:
● Sales Reps are Under-Qualified. Some doctors, administrators and staff question whether sales reps are qualified enough to be advising how to perform surgery. This reluctance has been backed up by some initial research, but the findings are far from conclusive. Again, the fact is that salespeople are more than qualified when it comes to the functionality of the product. (This is where being a commoditized product really hurts the salesperson’s argument of being in the OR) ● Cheaper Prices for Surgery. The cost of surgical implants/disposables/products/etc includes the cost of providing a salesperson. (Literally, if the company didn’t have to pay the salesperson the products could be sold cheaper.) For hospitals looking to cut expenses, this is one of the most accessible expenses to eliminate. The hospital may believe attempting to go “RepLess” may provide that cost-savings they’re looking for. Training one in-house specialist is cheaper than paying a higher rate for products because the salesperson is included.

Sales Reps Need to Expand their Repertoire to Thrive

No matter which direction the industry goes on this question, the message for salespeople is the same and is clear. To survive and thrive in this industry, you need to expand your repertoire.
If you are a salesperson and only do clinical cases today and are reluctant to get out of the OR, be aware: your days are more than likely numbered. The Alpha’s of the industry are getting themselves out of the OR and providing significant value to the customer. They saw this trend several years ago and changed their game. You may want to consider that as well.
Many have come to ProSellus to change their game.
They needed to explore non-traditional selling strategies and value production for customers. They needed to get out-of-the-box to ensure their chair wasn’t filled during the duck-duck-goose of contract negotiations…
Do whatever it takes to ensure that your livelihood is not in jeopardy if hospitals begin changing their strategy. Trust us, we’ve had numerous companies who provide RepLess support to hospitals wanting to make the change. The #1 reason they tell us hospitals are willing to dump the reps: They simply don’t bring enough value outside of the OR.
To learn more about ProSellus and how we help reps excel check out our website at

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