Have you ever wanted to shadow a surgical procedure, sell large pieces of medical equipment, or deal with a diagnostic center like a sleep laboratory? Becoming a Medical Device Sales Representative can be a rewarding and lucrative career choice. However, it’s a difficult field to break into. For 15 years I worked in the medical field as a Sales Representative, Sales Manager, and Product Manager in a variety of specialties and call points. Part of the reason I started the Slick Sleep website was because I was selling into the sleep field, and realized that there was a vast amount of new sleep technology available to the general public that nobody knew about.
Over the years I’ve consulted many sales people on how they can break into the field. Whether on LinkedIn, r/Sales of Reddit, or Facebook, there are young and motivated people looking for guidance and I love helping them. My hope is that this article will give you enough information to not only secure your first medical device sales job but decide what type of product or call point may be best suited for you.
Obtain a Business To Business Sales Position
This is literally step number one, and there are very few ways to move on to the next step without having completed this. Your first interview for a medical device sales position is showing that you can succeed in a highly competitive B2B sales job. I have seen successful realtors, retail professionals, and automotive sales people with years of experience strike out when trying to make a career change into the medical field. As amazing of sales people, as they may be, they are missing that B2B experience. Here is why it’s so important
- Training: Any Fortune 500 B2B company has an outstanding sales training program for their reps. My first B2B job was with Cintas Corporation, and the sales training was always ongoing. Twice a week we would meet as a team at 7 am and work through a different training regiment. Role Playing, Cold Calling Techniques, Phone Etiquette, Quoting, Competition, Forecasting, Territory Management: we would cover it all and fine tune our skills. A hiring manager in the medical field wants these skills to already be ingrained in you so that you can focus on learning a more technical product.
- Job Cross Over: Even though the call points are different, the way you operate your business on a week to week basis is very similar to the medical device field. At the beginning of the year, you are given a sales number you are responsible for in a specific geography. It’s your job to put a business plan together to be sure you are hitting your monthly requirements. You’re going to be meeting with your existing customers to educate them on new products, or how to expand their current usage all while insulating them from numerous competitors knocking on their door with amazing offers. You’re going to secure demos with customers who either use a competitor or have never used your products to gain new business. You’re going to create your own opportunities out in the field by knocking on doors, making phone calls, and networking. Every day you’re going to ask somebody for their business.
- It Weeds Out The Talent: These positions are not easy, and it takes a certain kind of mentality and work ethic to succeed in them. You have to be able to grind every single day. You’re going to get told “No” in colorful terms all the time, and you have to brush it off. You need to build value for your clients and feel comfortable asking them to hand over their own money. Things go wrong, people yell, fires need to get put out, yet you continue every day. On top of that, you’re competing with your peers. Let’s say you’re one of 200 sales people across the country for your company. A medical device sales manager wants to see that you were given that big quota, beat out 95% of the other reps, and did it again the following year. That’s the person they are going to hire.
If you do not have any of the above qualifications, you now know where to start. Go to the Career Boards of Fortune 500 companies and see if they are hiring in your region for Outside Sales Representative positions. If you are able to obtain one of these jobs, dedicate 100% of your effort. While you may have aspirations of a medical sales job, these companies are where they are at for a reason. They do amazing work, and you may find a long-term career path. A few of my favorites that look great on a resume are:
Whether you’re searching for that first B2B job or are now ready to go after that first medical device sales representative position, its time to get your name out there. These jobs are not going to find you (most of the time).
There are job boards online that are specific to medical device and pharma jobs. MedReps.com and GorillaMedicalSales.com are probably the 2 most prominent sites dedicated specifically to the field. They each cost a small monthly fee, but you can end your subscription as soon as you have secured your job. Look for the job postings that state they are entry level or at least seem like they would be willing to take on people new to the field. You’re not going to jump right into one of the higher paying roles right off the bat and recruiters hate when you apply to something you are blatantly unqualified for.
Whenever I was going through a hiring process for new reps, I always checked out their LinkedIn profile. You’d be shocked at how many people either don’t use LinkedIn or have a profile that is just a disaster. It makes my eye twitch.
LinkedIn is your online resume that everyone can see. Get your old fraternity photo off there, get a profile picture professionally done, and take some time building your headline, qualifications, and experience timeline. Ask some of your references and colleagues to write recommendations that you can share on your profile page.
LinkedIn has its own job board which is great because you can see if you have any connections who work for the company posting the job. Old childhood acquaintances, neighbors or family friends can turn into valuable resources in getting past the initial job screener. Apply for the position, and reach out to them to see if they can get you a warm intro to the hiring manager. This can jump you to the top of the list.
LinkedIn is also swarming with recruiters, and there are tons that deal specifically in medical device. Start connecting with all of them and stating your case. “I’m a top performing B2B rep looking for my first opportunity in the medical field!” Even if they are not currently working on a job in your region, they may have a colleague or relationship with another recruiter who is.
Facebook and Twitter
You may not find a job on Facebook or Twitter, but you can definitely lose out on an opportunity because of them. If your social media pages are filled with lewd comments, partying pictures, or any other red flag, it could cost you the opportunity. If you’re going to be a professional, be one everywhere. Also, remember that your strong political views may not be the same as the person hiring for the job.
Medical Device Sales College
I was very hesitant to add this to the article, but the fact of the matter is that it exists and I get asked about it. Right now there are medical device sales courses or schools that give out “diplomas” after the completion of a multiple week course suggesting that it will give you the tools needed to obtain your 1st medical device sales job. While I have no doubt that people have successfully obtained jobs after attending these, it is my opinion that they over-promise their effectiveness.
First, any medical company that hires you is going to give you the training you need. In fact, they’d probably prefer doing it themselves. Second, these “colleges” have substantial price tags. The way I see it is you either got sold on the promise of your dream job, or you’re out selling and climbing the rankings with your current B2B job. If two candidates hand me their resume, and one has B2B experience with a solid company and the other has this “diploma”, it’s not even a question of who I am going to be interviewing.
The one area I can see where this MAY be beneficial is if you’ve already obtained at least 2 years of B2B experience, and want this as a competitive advantage over the people you’re competing against in the interview process. This may have merit, but I still am very skeptical that the cost is worth it.
Interviewing For A Medical Device Sales Job
So you’ve got the experience, and your starting to gain interest from companies. It’s time to start prepping for the interview process. Unfortunately, the medical field is still very conservative in how it hires, and it can span over months. This is in drastic need of a change, but it’s just the reality of the industry at the moment. I’ve heard of a 10 step interview process!! 10 STEPS!!
Work Closely With Your Recruiter
If you’re working with a recruiter, use them!! There seems to be some confusion with the recruiter/candidate relationship so let’s be clear right off the bat. A recruiter is working for the company making the hire, NOT YOU! However, they are looking to get the position filled ASAP. That’s how they get paid. If they think you’re a top candidate, they will sell you to the hiring manager. However, if for any second the recruiter thinks you’re slacking, you’re going to lose your best cheerleader. They’re likely working with 10 other candidates, and may also be competing with another recruiter, so they are going to present who they see as the most prepared with the best background.
Get every piece of information you can from the recruiter. They know the hiring manager and can give you valuable information:
- Why is the position open?
- What does the Manager look for in a candidate?
- What type of questions will he/she ask?
- What personality traits do they covet?
- What is the average length of employment for current reps?
- Can I speak to any current reps for feedback?
Study the Company
My favorite first question to ask in an interview with a new candidate is “tell me what you know about our company”. The next 10 minutes are either going to be extremely impressive or a dumpster fire.
I have to admit that there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching someone just try to wing it. I know within 1 minute if a candidate has taken the time to do their homework or not. It’s literally the easiest thing you can do in the interview process, and many never bother. Know the company, study the product, find out what you can on the hiring manager, and study up on recent company news.
Learn The S.T.A.R. Technique
No one wants to hear you ramble. When you are asked a question, whether it be in a phone interview or face to face, a hiring manager wants to hear a professional, precise response. The best way to do this is to follow the S.T.A.R. method when responding to any question. When you find out from your recruiter what the hiring manager or phone screener likes to ask, practice the answers before hand.
Let’s use an example question you may get in the interview process for the S.T.A.R. response: “Tell Me About A Time You Overcame an Objection”:
- (S)ituation: “I had a potential customer who had a fantastic relationship with their current provider and was dead set on staying with them”
- (T)ask: “I understood that the relationship was strong, but knew that service and solutions the competitor was offering is far below what we could provide. I had to secure a meeting with the Executive Team to demonstrate results”
- (A)ction: “I held a company-wide education event culminating in an Executive Level demonstration of our solutions with tangible cost savings based on their current usage estimates”
- (R)esult: “The Client gave us 100% of their business for a complete competitive conversion.”
Close The Interview
Finish strong. You’re a sales person, and the hiring manager wants to see if you can close that next step in the interview process. When I realize the interview process is coming to an end, there’s one closing step I’ve always liked to use. Get whoever is conducting the interview to agree with you a few times and then ask for the next step. Example:
Me: “I really appreciate the time you’ve taken out of your day to speak with me, and I can say with certainty that I am the right candidate for this position. Based on our conversation, would you say that my prior sales accomplishments meet the criteria you look for?”
Interviewer: “Yes, your sales accomplishments are very impressive”
Me: “Fantastic! As you may remember, I had a very large competitive conversion in my current position where I gained the trust of the final decision maker and uncovered pain points that only we could fill. Would this type of skill set be something you want in the vacant territory?”
Interviewer: “Absolutely, we need someone who can come in and get their foot in the door with competitive accounts”
Me: “Mr/Mrs. Interviewer, from what it sounds like I check the box for many of the attributes you are looking for. I am extremely motivated to move forward and am ready to schedule our next meeting. What date and time work for you?”
At this point, you are either going to gain acceptance or get a rebuttal. The truth of the matter is that the interviewer may not be able to schedule anything as they have no idea when they will be back in the area, but they want to see you TRY to overcome the objection. Clarify any possible concerns, restate your value, and close again. After a few times, you’ll recognize that they are either playing the game and give you the next interview, or they are truly unable to schedule anything at that moment.
Create a Brag Book and 30/60/90 Day Plan
This is just really simple stuff that shows you made the extra effort that the other candidates did not. A Brag Book is a list of your accomplishments. When your current company releases its sales rankings, save it. Create a “Brag Book” file on a personal computer and start saving everything. If you closed a huge deal and got congratulatory emails from the Executive Team, save it. If you got awards for Presidents Club, take pictures and save them. Combine all of these accomplishments into a binder and separate them by category. i.e. Company, President’s Club Awards, Rankings, etc.
Creating a 30/60/90 Day plan is also a nice touch. You don’t need to go crazy here. Again, it’s just seeing if you made the effort. Google some examples of 30/60/90 day sales plans and build your own in a power point. Print it out, and have FedEx Office create a spiral binder for it. It’s a nice touch.
We can go down a lot of rabbit holes on different call points, but it can really be broken down into 2 categories. Hospitals and everyone else.
I have a lot of mixed emotions as it relates to selling to hospitals. It was a fantastic call point for a long time. Unfortunately, the industry has changed, and hospitals have faced major transformations. It used to be that you could bring your product into any hospital, present its value to the main Surgeon, Physician, or Department Head and gain acceptance. From there you could work a quote through purchasing and legal for a PO. This simply is not the case anymore.
Over the next 10 years, every hospital in the country is going to fall under the umbrella of a larger Hospital System. The days of the independent hospital are over. Tenet, Kaiser Permanente, Ascension, and others are gobbling up rural or community health systems to operate under their banner because they can’t survive under the current business model. Once purchased, the hospitals are bound by the contracts or GPO’s (Group Purchasing Organizations) of the parent health system.
“Standardization” is the key word for hospitals. They want the “best” product, at the best price, with the most favorable terms and conditions for them. If they think they have negotiated this, they will apply pressure to every single one of their locations to standardize. It makes sense. How much easier is it for Biomedical Engineering to service equipment if its the same at every hospital? How much easier is it to track usage (consignment) if everyone is ordering the same thing?
In the instance where a local hospital system does have more leverage to make buying decisions, you’re still working with an IDN (Integrated Delivery Network). Let’s use a local example for me. Henry Ford Medical Center has multiple locations. The main Hospital is in Detroit, but they have sister hospitals in Macomb, Brownstown, and Bloomfield Hills. If you’re the rep calling on the Macomb location, the decision on the product they use in Cardiology, Ortho, or Spine is likely coming from the main site in Detroit.
If the rural hospital in your territory is following the contract of the larger corporate health system, there’s almost nothing you can do if you aren’t on it. Your product isn’t getting in there unless someone from your executive team can change the contract to include your products. On the flip side, if you are one of the vendors of choice, you can lock down an entire health system with insulation from competition.
If it’s not a Hospital or an affiliated practice/facility of a Hospital, you’re pretty much calling on an independent business owner. You can be a general practitioner, Plastic Surgeon, Dentist, surgical center, or anything else. You own your own business or have a group ownership with partners. Most importantly, you can decide what you want to buy for your business.
For a sales representative, there’s nothing more valuable than dealing directly with the business owner. There are no corporate contracts driving their decision making. You’ll be able to present the value of your products, how it can impact their business, and get them to make a buying decision quickly. There will always be price battles and strong competition, but you can present your “Why”.
Who Should You Call On?
If you’re selling surgical products to the OR (Operating Room), then your call point has basically been decided for you. You’re calling on a Hospital. If you’re selling Dental Implants than you’re going to be selling to Oral Surgeons, Periodontists, and Dentists. Ultimately I like to try and find a portfolio of products that allow me to call on Hospitals and Independent Business Owners at the same time. This allows you to get the quick sales month to month while you navigate the larger deals through the Hospital system.
Medical Device Product Types
X-Rays, CT Scanners, EEG Systems, Beds, and Surgical Robots are all examples of Capital Equipment. This type of product can be the most challenging sale, but it can also be the most lucrative. Hospitals purchase Capital Equipment on what is called a “Capital Budgeting Cycle”. This means that if they need to buy a new piece of equipment, they budget for it the year prior. Any quote you turn in for budgeting purposes, you are likely not going to reap the rewards from for 6-12 months. So if you’re just starting out with a new company that sells capital equipment, it’s very realistic that you won’t get your first sale for a very long time. When going through an interview process for this type of sale, discuss a potential ‘Guarantee” that will give you something to live on over the first 6 months while you build a pipeline.
Capital Equipment can be a challenging sale as your opportunity to penetrate a competitive account has a lot to do with timing. If a site bought a new CT Scanner 2 years ago, there’s no way they’re going to replace it anytime soon. Every piece of equipment has a lifecycle of about 7 years of which the manufacturer guarantees technical support and repairs before it’s “End of Life’d” (Service no longer available). Even if the piece of equipment is “End of Life”, it likely won’t be replaced unless it’s experiencing issues. If you do get a Hospital System that is in need of a complete overhaul, you can make an absolute killing.
If 100% of your product portfolio is made up of equipment like a CT Scanner or Xray (Mostly Diagnostics), you’re going to have to get used to living off a single paycheck for an extended period of time. The sales are not constant, and once you sell a single piece, you’re not getting any residual income. It’s a one and done sale.
There are pieces of Capital equipment that do have disposable components (Mostly Surgical). Balloon Pumps, Endoscopic Vein Harvesters, Robotics, and others are sold as a piece of equipment, but then have a consumable that you can get sales credit for every time it’s used. This to me is a more ideal scenario. Your quota can be made up of about a 50/50 split between new capital and the disposables that are used. This allows for a monthly commission check from the consumables while you push the new equipment sales through the capital budgeting process.
For sake of ease, we’ll call a surgical device something that is not Capital Equipment but used in a surgical setting to perform the procedure. The procedure is going to have a product that is leaving with the patient (i.e. new knee, hip, implant, etc) and the surgical components used to place them. The item leaving with the patient is obviously never going to be used again, but the surgical components can be single use or given “X” number of uses before disposal. Either way, you as a sales person will be getting credit any time replacements are needed.
What you get with this type of sale is consistency. Every day someone needs a knee replacement, or a stent, or a dental implant, etc. The question is, what control do you really have over case load from one year to the next? None, really. If your top Surgeon, who accounts for 20% of your overall business decides to take a 2-month vacation, or breaks his hand, or moves to another hospital, how are you as a sales rep going to make up for that number? You’re not unless you get a sizable competitive conversion. If that’s what you need, we can again go back to the challenge as to whether or not you are on the contract of the competitive hospital to even have a shot.
The OR (Operating Room) can be an exciting, or nerve-wracking environment. The Surgeon knows what he/she is doing, and they want what they want when they want it. If they ask for a certain surgical component, the nurse supporting the case better be ready. Time matters. If there’s a delay, or something goes wrong, a life could be on the line. If something goes wrong while you’re product was being used, get ready for an intense phone call.
Your job as a sales representative is to make sure everything goes smoothly during the procedure when your product is used. The surgeon may have a question or two, so you better be sure you can answer them. However, you are important because you are there to support the nurses and PAs. A nurse could be new, filling in, or just having a bad day. If they need help with any of the products while the surgeon is demanding action, you are there to be the immediate expert.
Gauze, drapes, cannulas, and needles are all types of consumable products sold to hospitals. This is not a sexy sale, but the products are needed every day in mass. I’ll be honest, this was never a sale I performed, so I can’t give honest feedback on all of the intricacies. What I do know is that the hospital will buy these items in bulk at deep discounts, and will generally perform all of their purchasing on an as-needed basis through central ordering.
These are cost items without much differentiation, and a Department Manager will look for every opportunity to save money on them. If the Neuro Department uses 10,000 electrodes per year and you can save them $1 per unit, you’re darn right they’re going to listen.
The products available for purchase will be dictated by what’s on the approved contract or GPO, and there are some very large companies that own most of the business.
Software is the great “blue ocean” as it relates to Hospitals in my opinion. The health care industry is generally 5 years behind in technology from a business operational standpoint. Marketing is not aligned with sales, scheduling is not spread across the entire Hospital system, assets are not efficiently tracked, and analytics are not adequately drawn from their EMRs. Likewise, the lifeblood of a Hospital is the referral base in their geography, and communication with them is completely lacking.
The major CRM platforms are just starting to dip their toes into the industry. A single software solution that can run every aspect of the hospital and interface with the hospital EMR (Electronic Medical Record) in an HIPAA compliant manner is the future. Hospitals will be able to create APPs to allow patients to see test results. Patients can converse with their Physicians from home via video conference. Patient overflow from one Hospital can be easily transitioned into one of their sister Hospitals to improve efficiency and revenue. The technology is all there, the adoption is not.
Becoming a Medical Device Sales Representative is a fantastic career choice, but the changing landscape of the healthcare field has made navigating it extremely difficult. However, with an aging population that is living longer than ever, there will be no shortage of new opportunities for new players in the market, and talented individuals to help them grow.