Today’s Wall St. J. (subscription required) reports that several medical companies are adopting Apple’s iPad for use by their sales force when calling on doctors. This is a major coup for Apple since pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers each have thousands of sales people.

Presumably these sales people already have laptop computers that they can use when calling on doctors. So why add an iPad to the arsenal of sales gadgets? The following  anecdote told by Mike Hedges, chief information officer of Medtronic, a manufacturer of implantable heart devices, provides the key.

“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.”

It appears that there may be several factors that can make the iPad (or other slate device) an effective tool for sales. First is the slim form factor. It is easy to pull an iPad from a briefcase without stopping a conversation. It probably can be done with only one hand and avoid the disrupting need to pick up the briefcase, dig through it, and pull out a bulky laptop with a bunch of cords attached to it.

Second is the quick start-up time. Since the iPad is normally in standby mode rather than off, launching takes less than one second. So once it is visible to both the sales person and customer, they don’t just sit waiting for the device to do something useful before letting the conversation continue.

Third is ease of navigation. The sales person can navigate using fat fingers only. There is no need to use fine motor control and manipulate a pointing device, keyboard, or touch pad. Again, the conversation can naturally continue while this is happening.

Finally there is the visual appeal of watching someone use an iPad. The device itself is cool looking. But also appealing is the ability of the sales person to share the view of the desktop with the customer while navigating. This again helps keep the conversation flowing and engages both the sales person and customer when showing a video or other presentation. Compare that to the same scenario using a regular laptop. The screen faces the sales person until the presentation starts running. Then the sales person will rotate the laptop to show it to the customer. Again, the laptop faces one person at a time, and is not conducive to sharing. It supports show and tell, not a natural conversation.


Apple iPad, a sales weapon. Image from Apple