EPISODE 667: Networking Internally and Externally for Sales Success with Stryker Sales Leader Tamara Sniffen

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Today’s show featured an interview with Tamara Sniffen, VP of Commercial Excellence – Trauma and Extremities at Stryker. IES Women in Sales Program Director Gina Stracuzzi conducted the interview.

Find Tamara on LinkedIn.

TAMARA’S ADVICE:  “You want to continue to learn and grow and keep that growth mindset. If there’s a role that you want to go into, find people that are doing the role you want to do, whether it’s the next role or two roles up, and talk to them and figure out what are your gaps to getting there. Have them help you focus on what can a development plan be so that you can continue to grow. You need to have that early, and at no point does it ever end.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome everyone. I am super excited to welcome my guest today, Tamara Sniffen, who is Vice President of Commercial Excellence, and she is with Stryker. I am excited for our conversation because I just hit it off with Tamara when we talked earlier and she has such a fascinating background. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are.

Tamara Sniffen: I have been with Stryker Corporation for 25 years. Prior to that I worked a little bit with a Japanese semiconductor company, and lived in Japan for two years. My sister had started at Stryker before me, and she was loving it. We were living together, both single at the time, in our 20s, had so many great things to say about the organization. I joined and have loved it as much as she has. We’ve both actually been here over 25 years now, which is living in the Silicon Valley. It’s pretty unusual to have one person at a company that long, but the two of us have been here. I think what I love most about it, it was $2 billion when I started. It’s now $20 billion. The number of roles that I’ve been able to do within the last 25 years, being a part of the scale and the transformation, has just been incredibly rewarding. It’s medical device. Of course, the purpose behind rebuilding lives and helping lives, saving lives is just fabulous.

Gina Stracuzzi: Even your background raises a really great point, and it’s something that in the Women in Sales Leadership Forum, that we talk about quite a bit, and that is sticking with a company and really riding the wave of their growth and all the opportunities it can afford you. We are in such a transient culture when it comes to work. It used to be if you moved around, it was looked on badly, but now everyone just expects it. It’s refreshing to hear both you and your sister have been there so long. That is awesome.

Tamara Sniffen: It really is. It says a lot about the culture at Stryker, the people at Stryker. I think as long as you’re challenged, you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re in new opportunities, it’s good to stay with one organization as long as you’re continuing to be able to expand and grow.

Gina Stracuzzi: You’ve seen the company grow, you’ve been part of that growth. What habits or processes have you seen that help people be really successful, the ones that you employ?

Tamara Sniffen: Those that are disciplined tend to do really well. Disciplined around their time management, disciplined around what are the rules and responsibilities? What are the expectations? Am I getting those things done? I find that that goes a long, long way. With our sales force, there’s a lot to do with, okay, a case happens, a surgery happens. Now I’ve got to put in what products were used in that case. Are they putting it in, in a timely manner? Typically, that same day, because there’s more cases the next day, and all that work piles up if you don’t stay on top of it. Back to the discipline and time management. Get that paperwork in. Then the whole value chain is able to work to close the order and get everything processed up the chain. I think discipline and time management are huge.

Gina Stracuzzi: You hear people will complain that the paperwork of things is in the reporting and all of that, it just weighs them down. But to your point, if you stay on top of it, if you are disciplined, then it doesn’t become this heavy burden. I think that’s great advice.

Tamara Sniffen: We have a VP and GM that runs our trauma business. He’s so quick to say, “It’s part of the job. That is doing the job.” He’s been in sales at Stryker almost as long as I’ve been there. I love it because he is very quick to say, “You know what? It’s part of the job. Just get it done. Don’t fight it. It’s not going away. It is what it is. Get good at it just like you are with closing the deal.”

Gina Stracuzzi: When we spoke earlier, you mentioned Stryker as a sales paradise. What did you mean by that?

Tamara Sniffen: We are very sales centric, very customer centric, and there’s 55,000 employees across Stryker. In the division that I’m in, we’ve got 3,500 people, 1,500-ish are part of the sales force. The other 2,000 we line up behind the sales force. The sales force is the closest to the customer. Therefore, let’s listen to the sales reps, let’s do everything we can to support what they need to make sure that the customer, and really ideally the patients, are getting what they want. I think we’re not supply chain centric. We’re not digital centric. Now, do we want to be really good at those things? Absolutely. But first and foremost, we consider ourselves a sales company, and everything starts with that sale, that order, that patient that’s on the table. Therefore, we just all are constantly thinking about and supporting the sales force.

Gina Stracuzzi: It dawns on me that it might be valuable for our listeners to explain a little bit about what Stryker does, how they operate.

Tamara Sniffen: I mentioned we were 20 billion last year, 2023. We have a huge arm in the orthopedics business. Joint replacement, upper extremities, shoulder replacement, foot and ankle products, trauma products, spine products. That would be our orthopedics arm. We also have med surge and neurotechnology, which would be neurovascular products, endoscopy products, beds and stretchers, powered instruments. You can tell there’s quite a few medical devices within our global portfolio.

Gina Stracuzzi: Talk to us a little about your philosophy on networking internally and externally, because this is something that comes up for women quite often. It’s hard sometimes if you’re juggling multiple hats as a person. This goes for men too. If you are a caretaker or a parent, sometimes networking is a thing that gets pushed to the side because you’re not demanded to be there. Tell us a little bit about your philosophy and how it has helped you with your customers.

Tamara Sniffen: You mentioned networking internally and externally. Maybe I’ll start with the internal first, because I think that was more natural for myself and a lot of leaders at Stryker. The external piece I’ve grown into over the years. If we start internally, and I get this question a lot, like, “Have you grown in your career? What made you successful?” It always came down to a couple things. One, results, it was performance. The other one was relationships. Really those relationships within Stryker, with sales force and the internal functions. It’s all about, are you collaborating? Are you really listening on all levels? Are you thinking about, “Okay, I’m not going to fight this one because it’s going to put strain on the relationship for something we have to work through next week or two years from now”? But it’s really how are we listening to each other and trying to figure out how it can be a win-win and really what is best for the business. I think really focusing on those relationships internally is key.

Stryker did an excellent job early in my career. A lot of happy hours, a lot of softball teams, that networking piece was really important. Like let’s have a lot of fun while we’re doing the hard work all day, but let’s spend time outside of work really getting to know each other on a deeper level. We have a yearly engagement survey that every employee does. One of the 12 questions on that survey is, do you have a best friend at work? That’s important for us. We want everybody to have a best friend at work.

Any career, there’s going be ups and downs. There’s going to be highs, there’s going to be lows. If you have a friend that you can talk it through with, that understands, because they’re in that organization with you, that makes a huge difference. I think a lot of the Stryker people really get that and they do have many very close, very dear best friends at work. It all comes down to that spending time and caring about one another and really valuing and growing those relationships.

Then on the external piece, I found early in my career, because I had so many friends within Stryker that I wasn’t doing the networking externally. I was really fulfilled personally with the relationships within Stryker. It wasn’t until I realized, “Wow, I may stay at this organization forever,” that I realized, “Okay, I need to get out there more and network just so I’m hearing other ideas so I’m learning about other industries, so I am hearing what other supply chain and sales leaders are doing to drive success within their organizations.” It was a little bit like, okay, where do you start when you’re trying to network externally?

I spent a lot of time just talking to friends about what they did. Now there’s a ton of organizations, there’s KIF, Athena Alliance. There’s women business leaders in healthcare. There’s organizations you can join. I don’t remember 10 years ago, 20 years ago, all of these organizations. Today it’s so rich. My advice for the listeners would be, don’t wait as long as I did to do that external networking, because it really helps you to see so much that you can then apply to your own role and to your organization. Find a group to join. There’s really some fabulous ones out there.

The other thing, you mentioned the time. I’ve raised two kids while working full-time, traveling the globe, global teams. They’re now 15 and 17, and the 15-year-old will get his driver’s license next month. It’s a different ball game. They’re very independent. They need not a lot of time, but those early years as a working mom with a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, or even a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, it was crazy. Again, I was traveling international once a month in some of those years, there was no time to network. But my advice would be, you’ve got to figure out that time for yourself. Build it back to the time management and the discipline. Like today, I have so much time to join clubs and do all these things. My boys don’t want to hang out with me at night. But how do you find just something small, something bite size to grow that external network? I think that’s really important. There’s certainly several ways to do that this day and age.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s something that we discuss in the two Women in Sales Forums that I run. It comes up a lot, making it all work. Something you said earlier made me wonder too. We just had a really in-depth conversation with some of our partners about the hybrid workspace and how many people are back in the office versus selling from a hybrid standpoint. I would like to ask you a two-part question. Is most of your sales force back in the office, and then if they’re not, how do you help women especially, primarily, make sure that they’re getting these networking opportunities and that they’re, well, they’re grown adults, taking advantage of them and going to customer events and getting to know other people in the company?

Tamara Sniffen: Our model for the sales force has actually not changed pre-pandemic, post-pandemic because our sales reps are spending so much time at the hospitals in ORs. They continued to do that straight through COVID. They’re still out there every day networking with our customers. Now, the big question is, with them being out there in the hospitals, how do we help them build relationships internally? We have several ways that we do that.

Our ERGs are incredibly strong. We have a Stryker Women’s Network, and even within those Stryker Women’s Network, we would do podcasts like we’re doing today. They’re hearing from female leaders both internally and externally, but we also break it down by regions around the country where they can go to a Stryker Women’s Network Happy Hour in Houston for everybody that’s in that area. I’m actually flying on Sunday to Minneapolis. On Tuesday I’m going to speak to the Midwest Stryker Women’s Network chapter for an hour. I think there’s 70 women, both sales reps and internal coming together to hear that talk, to do a happy hour afterwards and network. We provide those types of opportunities through our ERGs.

We also do a national sales meeting where we bring an entire business’s sales force together over multiple days. That’s a great opportunity for them to get to know each other better. I know SWN is sponsoring, I think it’s next month in April, they’re sponsoring a get together of all the women sales reps. They’re bringing them all in together over a day or two to actually network and learn and listen to other speakers. We do a ton to try to help them build those relationships.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about collaboration between sales reps and operations and the whole sales enablement piece of it, if you will. Because that’s something that comes up quite often when we talk to people, that it can be a frustrating experience for some.

Tamara Sniffen: Absolutely. At least in the orthopedics world where I sit today, our sales reps would have what we call a local branch or a local office, where their customer service reps, for the most part, their operation folks sit. The strong sales reps are really working on that relationship. They’re coming into their branch. I was down in our San Diego branch a couple weeks ago and we had a sales rep in there teaching the operation about the products. The operation is physically moving the products all day long in and out of hospitals, but they don’t know a lot about what the products do. The sales rep was there walking the operation around, “Hey, this is what this product’s used for. This is why we use this screw in a body versus this screw.” That type of partnership, “Hey, we’re going to teach you, you teach us. We’re in this together,” creating that team, that culture really goes a long way.

I know that a lot of times the regional sales manager and the operations manager will do potlucks together or barbecues in the house and invite both teams. You really see them working together as a family where it’s done well.

Gina Stracuzzi: It sounds as if your sales team must be very well trained. They must have to go through a pretty rigorous training protocol, I would think, to understand so much about these devices and how they work in the body and all of that.

Tamara Sniffen: They do. We do have pretty robust sales training where they’ll come on site usually about, depending on the division, maybe for two straight weeks. There’s a lot of tests, there’s a lot of reading. Then the marketing teams are constantly doing calls where they’re training the sales force. The national sales meetings, and we have midyear meetings, are all about talking about the products and the applications. It’s pretty robust, to your point. We have full med ed teams that are helping run a lot of that sales training.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about what your number one piece of advice would be for someone new into the career of selling, and then how they can keep moving forward or jumpstart their success as they continue.

Tamara Sniffen: It’s hard to pick one thing, so I’m just going to throw out a couple. The first one is that whole idea of a growth mindset and not ever getting stuck. We do a lot of culture work at Stryker, and one of the things we think about is don’t ever freeze, but more think of you and your life as a flowing river. You’re always going to be going down a new path and different boulders as you’re flowing with that river, and don’t ever freeze. You want to continue to learn and grow and keep that mindset. Then one of the ways that I suggest doing that, if there’s a role that you want to go into, and back to the networking piece, people love to, “Hey, can I pick your brain on this particular role?” I do suggest, find people that are doing the role you want to do, whether it’s the next role or two roles up, and talk to them and figure out what are your gaps to getting there. Have them help you focus on what can a development plan be so that you can continue to grow. But I think just being curious, open mindset, you just need to have that early, and at no point does it ever end.

Gina Stracuzzi: Continuous learning and keeping yourself open to opportunities is so critical. Which leads to another question. It’s easy to get frustrated. Sales can be a lonely job at times. It can be very frustrating because your company might want you to put a deal on the table that you know is not going to be acceptable to the customer. It just can be frustrating. What advice would you give to people who have to deal with their frustration or other functions or processes even within their company that they find frustrating?

Tamara Sniffen: The first thing that comes to mind is a tool that we call the Mood Elevator that we use within Stryker, where at the bottom of the Mood Elevator, you’d be depressed, a sort of worst state. At the top of the Mood Elevator, you would be grateful. You’d just be full of gratitude. Then in between there, let’s say in the middle of it, right below middle of it, you might start feeling a little irritated. Then that little bit of irritation turns to frustration and you move down the Mood Elevator. What we suggest is the best way to start moving up that Mood Elevator is to get curious. Like, “What am I feeling? I’m starting to feel a little irritated. Why am I feeling it? Is there anything I can do about it?” Start taking a little accountability. Or if someone is frustrating you, start talking to them, ask questions. Get curious about it to start moving up versus spiraling down. We really use that tool.

I talked about the best friend at work, some of my best friends on the leadership team, they’ll call me and they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m down the Mood Elevator.” I’m like, “Okay, let’s talk it out. Let’s get curious. What questions can we ask? Let’s start moving our way back up.” It’s a really helpful tool.

I also think too, you’ve got to take time to rest and recharge, and life gets a lot more complex. If you’re early in your career, you still have no idea just how complex it’s all going to get. Life just does. I do this often when I’m presenting in front of a crowd where I ask people, “How long have you been in the workforce? If 0 to 5 years, raise your hand, 5 to 10 years, raise your hand, 10 to 20.” Then I say, “Okay, all of you that are in the 20 plus years, how much more complex is your life today than it was in your early 20s when you were starting out?” They just go, “10x.” It’s enormously more complex because of all the things that come with mortgage and family, and just a bigger job and all the things, sick parents, you name it.

It’s going to get more complex. If you don’t figure out now what helps you to relax and rejuvenate and get yourself in the better mind frame, then sun’s going to come up tomorrow, and you want to be in a different state. You’ve got to figure that out. I love to exercise. That does a lot for me. I’ve got friends that meditate. I have some that go to the beach. If I go to the beach and I sit on the sand or I walk around, I’m a different person when I’m done with that. I think you’ve really got to figure out who you are and what works for you, and make sure that you have the discipline to unwind and make sure you’re taking care of yourself when you’re getting frustrated.

I talked about the river and getting frozen. As part of our culture work at Stryker, we unfreeze people and we teach them some of the tools that I’m talking about. One of the facilitators of these unfreezing sessions mentioned that he was listening to a video on the gratitude, and he realized that when he’s not up the Mood Elevator and he gets down and irritated and frustrated, that he shares it all with his wife. He was listening to this speaker talk about journaling. When I’m feeling frustrated, I just write it all down in my journal. It was an aha moment for him that, “Oh my gosh, my poor wife has to listen to that. Instead, I can just write it all down in my journal and she doesn’t have to be the recipient of this frustrated, grumpy me.” He said it’s really worked and the wife’s seen a difference and things are better at home. I just thought that was a great example. Who wants to have a grumpy person at home that’s irritated and frustrated? Finding those tools that work for you, I think it’s really important.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, we’ve come to the part of the show where before we close up, we like to ask our guests for one final piece of advice that people can put into place in their careers to take them to the next level.

Tamara Sniffen: I think everybody probably heard a nugget today, whether it’s the thing we just talked about, what is it that’s going to recharge me so I’m not that stressed-out person at home that’s down the Mood Elevator? Like, “I’m going to take that away.” Or, “I’m going to journal. I’m going to be more disciplined. I’m going to think about my time management.” My ask of the crowd would be, whatever nugget that is, put that in play. You want to be 1% better tomorrow than you were today. The day after tomorrow, you want to be 1% better than you were the day before. Just take one nugget from today and say, “You know what? That resonated with me. I’m going to put that in play,” and continue to do that. Just every day, continue to grow and you’re really going to see some fabulous results pile up day after day and year after year.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love the Mood Elevator. That’s priceless. Well, thank you, Tamara. Thank you everyone for listening, and we will see you again next time.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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