Can the iPad make your sales force more effective?

    IPads Are Latest Weapon in Medical Sales (by Jon Kamp & Roger Cheng @ Wall Street Journal) 

Medical-sector companies are passing out thousands of iPad tablet computers to salespeople to spruce up their pitch to doctors, and at the same time giving Apple Inc. a crucial foot in the door to business customers.

Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic Inc. and Boston Scientific Corp. are among the drug and medical-device firms making the move, while others say they are testing out the devices.

The tablet computers offer new ways to display product information or surgical-implant techniques, and help eliminate time wasted on issues that don’t drive sales, according to companies. Their quick start-up times mean the salesmen can jump into their presentations before doctors lose interest.

“[The iPad] enables our sales employees to do a much better job of engaging in a really different way than we’ve done before,” Mike Hedges, chief information officer of Medtronic, said in an interview.

For Apple, the iPad—with its quirky position somewhere between a giant smartphone and small computer—is further opening the doors to new corporate accounts, a trend that began with the iPhone. While desktop computers running Microsoft Corp.’s software continue to dominate office cubicles, iPads are gaining traction as an alternative to laptop computers for traveling workers.

Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said during the company’s last quarterly conference call that 65% of the Fortune 100 companies are either deploying or testing the use of iPads.

Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based maker of implantable heart devices and other products, recently bought 4,500 iPads for its sales and marketing team, making it one of the iPad’s biggest corporate buyers. Mr. Hedges said the company could buy as many as 6,000 iPads.

Before making the purchases, Mr. Hedges said he had attended a dinner with several cardiologists when one asked about Medtronic’s drug-eluting stent. Normally, the conversation would have shifted to another topic, but one of his salesmen quickly pulled out his iPad with the product information, which kicked off several hours of discussion.

“Try pulling out a PowerPoint from your briefcase or from a piece of paper,” Mr. Hedges said.

There appears to be something of an iPad arms race in the $200 billion medical-devices sector. Heart-device maker Boston Scientific recently bought 2,000 for its sales team, and orthopedics company Zimmer Holdings Inc. is rolling out more than 1,000 of the tablets. Stryker Corp., a Zimmer rival, said it has deployed iPads “and a number of applications” in a pilot program.

Zimmer said it purchased 3G versions of the iPad that access on AT&T Inc.’s cellular network. The maker of replacement hips and knees bought them from equipment reseller CDW Corp.

Heart-device company St. Jude Medical Inc. has a pilot program to test iPads and other tablet computers with its sales force, and if they produce results—including improving sales–the company will distribute more, a spokeswoman said.

Abbott Labs, a maker of both drugs and medical devices, ran a pilot earlier this year and decided to roll out about 1,000 iPads—all 3G versions—to U.S. sales representatives on the drug side. Abbott could potentially expand usage from here, a spokeswoman said.

“If you look at technology adoption in general in health care, we see a huge ramp,” said Randall Porter, assistant vice president of health-care solutions for AT&T.

At a company conference last month, Boston Scientific Chief Executive Ray Elliott explained why the Natick, Mass., company, which is in a cost-cutting and restructuring mode, still sprang for iPads.

“We’re beginning the process for our sales force of downloading more than 20 specific product apps and opportunity to get into pricing, time efficiency, expense reports, filling out requests and all the other things that we manage to do to take time away from the sales force,” Mr. Elliott said.