Probing OPENS YOUR EYES and gives you the path to sales call success.

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  1. Probing

In the last blog, I highlighted How to Create Enthusiasm.  The next step to achieving spinal implant sales professionalism is PROBING…OPEN ENDED PROBING.

Probing is asking open-ended questions which require a thoughtful response beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”  A sales professional who does not ask questions before presenting an idea or product is potentially setting the sales call up for failure, losing control and risking a walk in the dark.  The salesperson who does not ask questions can unwillingly back themselves into a corner and quickly lose attention.  Try walking in the dark or even in a well-known area with your eyes closed.  You don’t know where to go.  You have no confidence or direction.

Contrary to that, Probing OPENS YOUR EYES and gives you the path to sales call success.  Probing creates the map to point at what the customer wants and needs and reveals problems the surgeon has with current suppliers or products.  Probing shows what motivates your customer when making decisions.  Probing shows respect to the customer vs. feature dumping.

Probing is not just asking a question, it is asking the right question the right way and at the right time.  The right probe is an OPEN-ENDED PROBE.  An open-ended probe is one that the customer cannot answer with a short YES or NO response.  The customer must explain the answer because it is open-ended and requires active thinking.  An example of a close-ended probe is “Do you like expandable cages?” vs. “What do you think about expandable cages?”  This second probe is the same question.  What do you think about the different response you might get?

Any spinal implant sales professional must have basic, open-ended probes which he/she has readied to ask, in any situation. Some suggestions are:

What implants do you use?

Why do you use those?

Why did you switch from your previous implant/supplier?

What is important to you?

Why is that important to you?

Others can be:

What is important to you with your medical device rep?

Why is that important?

Besides actually getting a fusion, what are your major objectives with interbody     fusion?

What do you do to achieve those objectives?

These open-ended probes alone will open a plethora of information you can use to convince your customer that the implant you have is better based upon your customer’s motivations, or not.  Sometimes the probing will vet and qualify your new potential customer as not a good target at all.  That is fine, but always leave the door open with a good open probe.  For the L-Varlock Expandable Cage, that can always be “When you see a big, hyper-lordotic L5-S1 fish-mouth disc space, what do you do?” This is as good as it gets as a niche within a niche.  L-Varlock—because of its ability to gain up to 24° of in situ angle—truly is one of the only…if not THE only…implants to solve this problem at this level and pathology.

As a side note, start your open probing with a close ended probe “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”  Your customer will appreciate it and you know you’re doing your job if he or she is talking MORE than you!

Next blog will be on Technique #3: Active Listening.

History of the Ten Techniques of Surgical Selling


Leon C. Hirsch is credited with the original Ten Techniques of Surgical Selling during the 1980’s.  The Company he founded was U.S. Surgical Corporation (a/k/a AutoSuture).   I worked at AutoSuture from 1989 through 1994 as a sales rep, or Certified Stapling Technician.   This company and its products forever changed and shaped how surgeons sutured.  Instead of a needle and “thread,” AutoSuture introduced surgical staplers that would apply staples one-by-one, or in automated rows through the use of disposable cartridges.

So how does this relate to the spinal implant sales professional or selling an expandable cage like L-Varlock®?  In every way possible.  Spinal implant sales professionals need to know their products better than anyone in the world, know their customers’ needs, know their roles in helping surgeons, hospitals and the O.R. staff solve problems, and most importantly: ALWAYS have the best interests of the patient in mind.  The patient is always the ultimate end user of a medical device.   Although these attributes of professional medical device selling have not been completely lost, they are not as prevalent as they once were.

At SpineSource, we have no choice but to try to resurrect the art of salesmanship.  The reason is because the L-Varlock Expandable Cage has unique features that result in benefits.  These features and benefits are intuitive:

  1. Easy design.
  2. Easy to use and implant.
  3. Up to 24° of angle
  4. Up to 7 mm of expansion.
  5. Large amount of bone graft in an open framework design that can be packed prior to an after implantation.

If these differences are not correctly presented, they will never be assigned a value in the mind of the customer.  But selling differences does not start with any selling at all.  It starts with creating enthusiasm.


Tom Mitchell


SpineSource, Inc.

SpineSource, Inc. was founded in 2004 and is based in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri, USA.  SpineSource has a consistent history of introducing disruptive innovation within the medical device industry: primarily expandable cages used for intervertebral spinal fusions and vertebral body replacement.  These expandable cages have benefited surgeons, hospitals and most importantly, patients with spinal disorders because they provide an atraumatic surgical technique, as well optimal sizing and positioning.  Please visit for more information.