I was in the trenches as a trauma device rep for 15 years. I have nothing but respect for the job. It's hard and unrelenting, and getting harder. The market has changed, and will continue to change, in ways that are not necessarily beneficial for field sales. Cost pressures, centralization of purchasing decisions, and contract driven sales models are affecting not only how device reps do their jobs, but incomes as well. And now all the uncertainty relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and how that affects access to not only the O.R. but also SPD. These factors are completely outside of the sales rep's control - they are driven by the market and outside forces.
I’ve made numerous posts about the Summate solution, which automates implant tracking through scanning usage directly from the surgical field and supports orthopedic set re-assembly and re-stocking down in SPD. The reactions from some of my former colleagues has ranged from overt indignation to support. I understand both sides of the coin. I would like to explain, however, how digital management of orthopedic trays represents not only an opportunity for device reps to better manage their time, but also a very real chance to make more money.
The hardest part of the device rep’s job is wrestling with how to scale your territory. Let’s face it: you’re not getting measured by sitting on current business. You have to grow, and with cost pressure, this is a hard task. It's a tough situation, but as Hyman Roth says in The Godfather 2, “this is the business we’ve chosen”.
In labor intensive jobs, there are only so many hours in the day, days in the week, and weeks in a year. Under the current implant supply chain management process, success means more work, in some cases much more work. Eventually, it becomes an unsustainable drain, and the income return yield on time invested flattens out: with a busy and growing territory, you simply can’t be two places at once, and service levels decline. This is NOT good for you and your territory that you have worked so hard to build. Its also hard to find time to acquire new business when you spend all your time maintaining your current business.
The root of the problem is that the current device rep’s business is incredibly labor intensive. Maintaining and managing the supply chain of a large territory is a ton of work. And cruel as it may be, the better you are, the more the hospital demands of you. The problem is that if you are not there, then things get screwed up, and you get the blame regardless of who is at fault. And there is always a hungry young competitor waiting to take advantage of this. We all know the drill. It's a ton of pressure.
It comes down to one thing for a rep who is successful and growing their territory: How do I continue to grow, and scale my business? Under the current model, this usually means hiring territory assistants. This may be a non-optimal situation for a number of reasons. The commission pie is a zero sum game: there are only so many commission dollars to be spent. Quite often, the seasoned rep has to sacrifice some of his/her own commission to help pay for the hiring of a junior or assistant rep. This of course means a smaller check for the senior rep, every month. The risk is mostly coming out of your hide. Also, junior reps need extensive training and support, and this takes a large time investment. With time being your most precious and scarce commodity, you have less time to manage your own customer facing service and support. It also means less time for what, as a successful rep, you do best: build your relationships with your most important customers - your key surgeons. And, all this assumes the junior rep you hired is any good. It’s very hard to find them. (That is a topic for a whole other conversation.)
This is why automating the “nuts and bolts” service end of your territory supply chain could be a very helpful territory management tool. If you are a successful device sales rep, counting screws is not the best use of your time, and paying someone out of your income to count screws may not be the best use of your hard earned income. The Summate solution, strategically placed in your territory, costs a fraction of a junior rep, and won’t eat into your commissions. For large geographical territories, there would be much less worry about implant documentation for situations where distance and time make it impossible to cover all cases. For reps with covering large facilities with frequent concurrent cases, having case implant documentation taken care of would help provide a higher level of service to your accounts. With this tool, you can pick and choose which cases to attend. Smoother running accounts mean happy customers, and happy customers are good for you and your business.
Additionally, an automated implant supply chain would mean reduction, or even elimination, of the dreaded “bill only” business cycle monster. That, too, is a topic for another article.
In closing, I would say this: seminal events like the COVID-19 pandemic are the change agents of history. OR supply chain automation is good for the hospital, it will be good for patients (more accurate patient records), and it will be good for the efficiency of the device industry as a whole. History also shows us that those that get out in front and embrace technology and tools of change have the best chance of profiting from them.