I used to think that pilots were men and women of almost super-human skill, until I learned how to fly.  The truth is becoming a pilot just isn’t that difficult.  There is a lot to learn, but it certainly doesn’t require extraordinary intelligence or coordination.  It’s a learned skill, that’s all.

There is no question that professional pilots, that is, those who fly for a living, can perform at a higher level of competency.  While some of them are chest-puffers who would like us all to believe that they were gifted by the universe with rare abilities, they maintain a higher level of flying proficiency simply because they do it more often and the aviation world holds them to a higher professional standard.  The “right stuff”  is nothing more than the result of putting in the time to learn and practice the skills to meet this standard, whether it is done voluntarily or by mandate.

Before I deliver a keynote or workshop to a medical sales or pharmaceutical sales force, I spend time interviewing many of the salespeople at different levels of experience.  There is often a common reference to one of the exalted sales superstars in the organization.  When I ask sales reps what it is, in their opinions, that make the “great ones” great, the perceived answer is hard work, an abundance of knowledge, and innate sales ability.  When I ask them if they think they can achieve the same level of success, some have the confidence or cockiness to say yes, but many express a level of doubt.

Selling in the world of healthcare is no different than becoming a pilot.  It requires a specialized set of skills honed through disciplined learning and practice plus fastidious work habits.  Out of the thousands of sales people I have mentored over the years, I can’t think of a single case where superior intellect was responsible.  The best of the best put in the time to learn their craft and approach every sales situation strategically with a plan; much like a pilot trains, plans, and conducts a flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a term for pilots who don’t get the required training or take the time to thoroughly familiarize themselves with information that affects a  flight: GROUNDED.    Flying proficiency isn’t an option, it’s the law and it’s monitored through regular recurrent training and checkrides.  Preflight action is mandatory because unfamiliarity with enroute weather or  known hazards at a destination airport can be deadly.    Great pilots aren’t great because they were born with the right stuff, it’s because they do the right stuff.

Most medical device and pharmaceutical companies don’t have such stringent programs to create and measure sales ability.  They provide a level of training, a quota, a product and a territory.  The rest is usually up to the salesperson with some monitoring of activity and sales volume.  The result is a distribution curve of sales results that identify some as star performers, some as under-performers, and the majority as average performers.  How would you feel the next time you stepped onto an airliner if piloting ability was left to the same variables?  “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board.  We’re pleased to announce that our pilot today is Captain Redtail.  He’s an average performer who this year has completed more than 50% of his flights safely.”  How willing are you to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight” on that one?

No one is born knowing how to fly a plane any more than anyone is born knowing how to sell medical devices.  Yes, some people will learn faster or more easily, but almost anyone who puts in the time with effective training  will have the right skills set to succeed.

Remember, medical sales is a zero-sum game.  When you don’t win the sale, someone else does, and it’s probably because he or she worked harder than you did to get “The Right Stuff.”


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


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