Win, But Not At Any Price

This article titled Salesman in the Surgical Suite is in the Health section of the March 25th New York Times. But it isn’t going to filed under Health here. Instead, it’s going to be filed under ethics.

Most of the bad behaviors that salespeople were once guilty of are, thankfully, no longer true. We are no longer the stereotype. And no sooner do I point this out that I am reminded that, like all professions, there are still bad actors in our chosen profession. But the article above isn’t about being pushy, being self-oriented, or having commission breath. It’s about something much bigger, and much more important. It’s about who we are. It’s about who we serve.

Here’s the short version of the article: A patient was injured by a robotic surgical device. He suffered tremendously. After he died (not from the surgery itself), his wife sued the manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, Inc.. It was the surgeon’s first time using the equipment unsupervised. Some of the evidence being used by the Plaintiff indicts the company’s salespeople, their sales managers, and their practices. It suggest that as they pushed to make their number they lowered the standards for surgeon training and certification.

A number of the emails produced as evidence in the legal case indicate that a sales manager responsible for producing 36 operations using the equipment each quarter was producing only 5. If the evidence is real, the sales manager suggested that the salespeople not “let proctoring or credentialing get in our way.” I don’t know whether this can be tied to the patient’s injuries, but I know for certain it’s bad salesmanship—and a terribly stupid business practice, if true.

I don’t know how Intuitive Surgical’s sales force operates. Maybe there is evidence that most of the sales force spent their time trying to help the surgeons they work with identify patients that would actually benefit from robotic surgery over the other available choices. Charlie Green wrote an excellent piece on the relationship of business to society today. Go read it. He’s right about the problem with short-term goals and even shorter-term thinking. I believe that Charlie’s right.

But you are a salesperson. This is about you.

You are supposed to be competitive. You are charged with winning new business. It is a zero sum game, and there is only one winner. But this doesn’t mean you have to win at any cost.

Don’t Win

Don’t win if winning hurts your clients. The cost is too high. Winning the deal and hurting your client isn’t winning. It’s stupid and short-sighted.

Don’t win if it hurts your client’s customers. Your part in the value chain is to help your clients better serve their customers. If making the sales destroys that value, you don’t want to win. The cost of winning is too high.

Don’t win at the price of your honor. Selling is deeply personal. The currency you trade in is trust. Your character is everything. Everything. If winning means damaging your honor, your character, or your trustworthiness, don’t win. The price is too high.

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