Do Checklists have a Role in MedTech Sales?

A significant number of professional organizations have integrated the use of checklists to manage time-sensitive projects. Astronauts, IT professionals, and others in high risk industries use rigorous checklists to help them avoid potential hazards. As an example, every pilot goes through a pre-flight checklist before he pulls away from the gate; its standard operating procedure and a critical requirement for every flight. The use of checklists in a healthcare environment have also demonstrated the potential to reduce risks. A recent study from The Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital published in Pediatrics magazine found that “an automated checklist and a dashboard-style interface used to interact with it, made it fast and easy for caregivers to follow national guidelines for keeping patients central lines infection free.”¹

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and well known author, commented in his benchmark book entitled “The Checklist Manifesto” the improved patient safety record that resulted when surgeons used a checklist prior to performing surgery.”²

A surgical safety checklist is designed to reduce patient morbidity, mortality and sentinel events by such simple exercises as confirming the patient’s identity, site, procedure and consent, allergies, airway/aspiration risk, risk of blood loss, sponge counts, etc. Modern hospitals emphasize the use of a surgical checklist before each surgery.

So the question is simple. “Do checklists have a role in MedTech Sales?” To answer this question lets first define a checklist.

A checklist is a cognitive aid that functions both as mental notes and established standardized protocols.³ Checklists help to ensure the consistency and completeness of a critical task. When properly designed and used, they ensure that communication and confirmation amongst team members is consistent and therefore reduces errors. Checklists contribute to ensuring that relevant factors are coordinated for completeness to eliminate the potential limitations of human memory and attention to detail.

Two Kinds of Checklists

“There are basically two kinds of checklists, according to Daniel Boorman of Boeing, with whom Gawande consulted:

  • Read-Do: You read each step of the task, and then perform them in order, checking them off as you go, like following a recipe.
  • Do-Confirm: You perform steps of the task from memory until you reach a defined pause point, when you go through the checklist and confirm that each step has been completed.”4

Checklists Have No Role in MedTech Sales

Naysayers might say that checklists are unnecessary for sales professionals because they recognize their skill set and behavioral change is unnecessary so that it’s not required. The counter to that argument is that pilots are professionals and if they can embrace a checklist why can’t a sales professional? Other naysayers may say “sales cannot be mechanized or structured because it is too fluid and too diverse. Others may state that sales don’t involve risk prevention therefore its nonsensical to even consider them.

Checklists Have a Role in MedTech Sales

Proponents might argue that MedTech sales professionals should use a checklist to mitigate the risk of poor encounters in the following complex selling situations:

  • Sales call planning or meeting planning– Would a checklist help to ensure that you are properly prepared for an important upcoming sales call or client meeting?
  • Opportunity/Deal Review– Would a checklist be useful in helping a sales representative or sales manager be better prepared for an upcoming opportunity/deal review?
  • Account Review Would a checklist assist in the preparation for an account review?
  • Sales Funnel Review– Would a checklist be useful in helping a sales representative or sales manager be better prepared for an upcoming sales funnel review?
  • Working a trade show exhibit– Would a checklist be useful in helping a sales representative or sales manager be better prepared to work a trade show exhibit?

If checklists have value then why are they not in more wide-spread use in MedTech Sales? Is it laziness? Lack of interest? No perceived value? No time? An assumption that everyone knows what they are doing or is something else in play here?

Tips for an Effective Checklist

If you are going to use a checklist here are some suggestions:

    1. The list must be clear and concise. It is important that each item on a checklist be concise and easily understood by the person using the checklist. This must be verified repeatedly. Edit as required.
    2. Use categories to group items. This allows the user to quickly navigate to the portion of the checklist or the item that they need.
    3. Ensure each item is actionable and not vague. A checklist is not about checking off a box it’s about ensuring that specific actions have been completed.
    4. Be Thorough. For the checklist to be useful it must be thorough and complete for the suggested task.

Parting Thoughts

We would love to hear your thoughts on this blog. We realize this is a controversial topic. If checklists in MedTech Sales are a waste of time- tell us why. If you are using checklists in MedTech Sales tell us where you are using them and please explain their value.

  1. Pageler NM; Longhurst CA; Wood M; Cornfield DN; Suermondt J; Sharek PJ and Franzon D. Use of electronic medical record-enhanced checklist and electronic dashboard to decrease CLABSIs. Pediatrics 2014; 133:3 e738-e746
  2. Gawande A. The checklist manifesto: How to get things right. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books; 2009.
  3. Hales BM, Pronovost PJ. The checklist–a tool for error management and performance improvement. J Crit Care 2006; 21:231-5.
  4. Houston N. Why checklists work. The chronicle of higher education. August 16, 2011.