Won’t Back Down

Edition: April 2012 - Vol 20 Number 04
Article#: 3956
Author: Mace Horoff

Medical sales representatives all experience some level of intimidation at one time or another. This article will focus on why it occurs, the problems it can cause, and how to overcome it.

Why reps get intimidated

Medical sales reps sell to experts in their fields. Whether they are selling to a physician, nurse, or a certified technician in one specialty or another, we assume that these experts have far more knowledge about their chosen profession than we ever will. I’m going to focus on the physician for this article, since it is normally the physician who has the most education and training in his chosen field of practice.

Let’s say that you are a new sales rep for a medical products company, or you were just given a product line, which is far different from what you have been selling. Knowing that you possess only a fraction of the knowledge that a doctor has about a given subject can be intimidating when your job is to offer him a solution for a problem. You know consciously that you are not an “equal” in his area of expertise. This kind of thinking reduces your status down a notch from where you see yourself when compared to the doctor.

The doctor controls the environment in which you sell. You call on him in his office, or his clinic, or work with him in his operating room where he is King! Everyone you meet in that environment will treat him like the boss. You are selling to someone who is usually in control of his environment – and that can be intimidating.

Speaking of control, if you are not an experienced, competent presenter, the doctor will frequently take control of your sales presentation. When you lose control, that’s really intimidating ... and frustrating!

The doctor, just like any other customer, has the ability to reward you (give you business), ignore you (not give you business), or punish you (take away business that you already have). Many reps feel like they are at his mercy (and to some extent you are, but so what!) and this can be very intimidating.

The other intimidation element is that some doctors want to be intimidating. Many will treat sales representatives as second-class citizens by talking down to them in ways that suggest they are little more than glorified street vendors. Being treated like a peon does little for one’s self-esteem, and that can be intimidating.

There are two problems with intimidation in sales. The first is that you don’t feel very good about yourself. This also contributes to the second problem, which is you don’t sell very well because your lack of confidence is sensed by the customer and your intimidation short-circuits your sales abilities.

Three steps to overcoming intimidation

  1. Develop the right attitude

    You must consciously adopt an attitude that the customer, in this case the physician, is at least your equal as a human being. Treat him with the dignity and respect that he deserves, but see him as an equal, after all – you are both professionals!

    Attitude is not about “copping an attitude.” It’s about being confident. Too many medical sales representatives see the relationship with the physician as a one-way street where it is the doctor providing the rep with business. Aren’t you bringing something to the table as well? Do you offer products and services that help the physician improve the care he provides? Are you well versed in product knowledge that helps to educate the physician and his staff?

    Attitude is about seeing yourself as someone who can partner with the customer to help him get the job done. Sometimes he will act like he can get the job done without you, but realistically he can’t. Physicians require a vast team to take care of their patients and a big part of that team is the salespeople whose companies distribute or manufacture the products he needs.

    “Can’t he buy those products from one of my competitors” you ask? Of course he can! But you need to believe in your heart that his doing so would not provide for his patients as well as you and your products can. Why? Because if you don’t believe that your offering is in many ways superior to your competitors’, even if it is only because you come with it, then why are you selling this product or service in the first place?

    So that is rule No. 1 – when you walk into the doctor’s environment, you are a professional with equal standing as a human being. But you must make sure you are competent, which is rule No. 2.


  2. Develop competency

    Nothing reduces intimidation and improves your attitude like being competent. Competency in medical sales involves three areas:

    • Core knowledge about your market segment

    • Product knowledge

    • Professional selling skills

    Core knowledge includes everything you need to know regarding the market segment or specialty to which you sell. For example, if you are selling a line of products specific for cardiac surgery, then you need to learn cardiovascular anatomy and physiology and become knowledgeable regarding the different cardiac surgical procedures associated with your products. Learn the surgical protocol, potential problems and solutions, why one procedure is preferred to another, etc.

    Product knowledge is essential. No one that you sell to should know more about your product than you do. You must master all the aspects of your product lines including a familiarity with any competitors. Your products must be the area where “you are the expert.”

    Professional selling skills position you as a professional and place you in control when you are discussing your area of expertise – your products! When you have confidence in your ability to present your ideas, know how to prepare, and can handle any situation that gets thrown your way, little can intimidate you.


  3. Accept the worst that can happen

    Salespeople get intimidated because they feel that they have something to lose, namely the customer’s business or any business opportunities in the future. Professional, competent salespeople know how to leave the door open for future opportunities when they don’t get the sale or they lose some business to a competitor. Treat any failure to close new business or loss of business as a temporary situation. Let the customer know that you will be available when he needs what you offer, if not today, then tomorrow. Remember that you have other people to sell to in the mean time.

    Intimidation can result in sales when we diminish our opinions of ourselves when compared to others. Our job is to serve the customer by offering him products and services that enable him to do his job, or do his job better. When we work with professionals and see ourselves as competent professionals as well, intimidation will be a thing of the past.

    The best way to overcome intimidation is to not be intimidated. Learn to project a professional and courteous attitude, and confidence in your abilities at all times. After all, you are a medical sales professional!



Mace Horoff has spent the last 28 years working with the medical device industry. He is an award-winning speaker, trainer, author and consultant focused on sales force effectiveness for the medical device, pharmaceutical, dental, and other related healthcare industries. To learn how Mace can make your medical sales force more effective, please call (561) 333-8080 or mace@medicalsalestraining.com.