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My Medical Device Sales Career

Why Medical Device Sales Companies Want 'Business To Business' Sales Background: Pharma People Listen Up!

I am often asked when I post a Medical Device Sales Job that requires a background in aggressive BtoB (Business to Business) Sales, "Why?" from pharmaceutical, realestate, financial or mortagage type sales people who don't have it.  The pharmaceutical sales people notice that most medical device sales who will entertain them as a possible job candidate IF THEY HAVE a minimum of 3 to 4 years of BtoB Sales (not more than 8 to 10 years UNLESS promoted into BtoB Sales Management) with ONE company (no job hoppers here!).  So to people who don't have that background and keep asking me over and over, "Why, why and why?"  Here it is.

Business to Business sales people who sell widgets or in other words TANGIBLE PHYSICAL products you can roll in, hold in your hands and physically touch and demo to a customer are what medical device sales companies love.  On top of it, if the BtoB sales person has to make daily routine cold calls going door to door, doing the pitch, facing rejection and getting their head basically bashed in every day, AS WELL as growing and cultivating relationships with current customers, then Medical Device Companies begin to get real interested in you.  When do they begin to salivate over you?  When you can show that you have TOP National Sales Ranking performance with ONE company for at least 3 years and can prove it with a National Awards Trip or Presidents Type of Award.  They just can't wait to hire you!

I get so many questions from the folks who went right from college graduation into pharmaceutical sales or intangible sales (like financial or real-estate) and they get really upset when they are told their background is not desired by top medical device companies.  They always reply, "Those companies don't understand my industry, I do the same thing as a BtoB and what I do is harder than what a BtoB does, try selling something you can't demo and has to be sold from a brochure or from a mere concept."  Well, I often reply, "YOU don't understand, let me explain. Simply put, BtoB sales folks have more TRANSFERABLE 'like' skills into medical DEVICE sales."  Yes, it is a device, not JUST an intangible (in fact the sale involves selling both a tangible and intangible), it is something you can hold or at least stand next to and demonstrate to a customer ALONG with the intangible (like service, profit on resale, advertising and reimbursement).  Don't discount the experience of a hands on demonstration of a tangible product!  

So let me do a quick run-down of what a copier representative (let's use this as an example, because that is the TOP type of BtoB product background medical device sales companies love) has that most pure pharma or financial sales people don't have.

 

What BtoB Folks Bring To The Table

  1. Cold calling EVERY day, picking up the phone, booking the appointments and facing EXTREME rejection.  they know that it is a numbers game; the more cold calls they make, the more sales they will make.  Sometimes the percentages are daunting, for every 100 calls, they may get 5 to 10 interested potential customers and actual sales from that pool may be 2 to 3 clients at best.  HUGE cold calling pattern to boil down to a sale.  Bottom line, they are use to a daunting rate of rejection before they hit the sale.
  2. To make a sale, THEY MUST ASK for the order and get it!  Yes, they ask for an invoice or purchase order and and write it up or call it in!  No detailing a doctor and asking the doctor to write a prescription or handing out free samples hoping it will lead to a sale when you leave the office.  The BtoB guy has asked for and has received a purchase order that the customer has committed to paying for BEFORE they leave the office. It is a HARD close, you either have the order or you don't, PERIOD.  No hoping or wishing in this sale.
  3. Once a BtoB person has made the sale, they OFTEN are responsible for collections!  If a customer doesn't pay, they have to go back and ask for the check.  Think of the role change, they go from sales person to collection agent with a customer while trying to preserve the relationship for when they need to sell to them the next time.  A fine balancing act indeed.
  4. Mentioned earlier, demonstrating a product in conjunction with a needs based selling proposition is an art form.  It is a physical art form that is dependent upon dexterity and timing as prompted by understanding how to conduct open and closed verbal probes that lead to the required demonstration of a product.
  5. A keen awareness and presentation of the financials from a customers perspective (how the product will affect the financials of their business either to reduce costs or increase sales revenues or both).  We use to call this "paper and pencil selling".  Literally getting a piece of paper out with a calculator and personalizing the sale to the customer on how your product would increase their sales, profit margin, reduce overhead or any of the other factors that affect a customers profit and loss.
  6. Selling the value adds or pull through to THEIR customer (co-op advertising, retail product displays, coupons and etc.).
  7. On going service of the product and exact measurement of it's performance AFTER the sale.  It the product breaks or doesn't work, you are back trying to fix it.  If you stuck it on their shelves for resale and it didn't sell, they are not going to buy more.  A little different than selling life insurance or a mortgage service!

As you can see, if you don't have this background, then well, you don't have any idea how rough a BtoB sales can been when it is product that you have to demonstrate how easy it is to use, how the customer will reduce their overhead or increase their sales with the product, develop the advertising pull through for THEIR customer, actually get their money in a form of an order and, if they don't pay, go and collect it!  

On top of it, they have to go back and get that same customer to buy new products or improved products on a repeat sales basis sometimes monthly.  Rough stuff and medical companies know it.  As many medical device sales managers have told me through the years, "Give me one of those copier, office supplies, ADP, Paychex, Enterprise Rental or Gallo Wine Representatives ANY day, they will think my job is a piece of cake once I train them up on the medical side and do great."  

So next time a pharmaceutical, financial or mortgage sales person tells me that they have the same experience as a copier representative or a Gallo Wine Representative, well you don't and now you know why.  Hats off to those with BtoB top performing sales experience, it's a rough road and if you can nail that type of sell, then we have a job for you in Medical Device Sales!

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Tags: breaking into medical device sales, career strategy, medical device sales

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Comment by Linda Hertz on June 2, 2016 at 5:19pm

It would, but formula's that appear to work are hard to change in an organization; hard enough to get them to change when the formula's don't work!

Comment by Nathan Smith on June 1, 2016 at 6:12pm

Thank you for your response, Linda!  Although my current job search has begun to grow some legs, this is a hurdle that I've been facing with a number of recruiters.  While I understand that their obligation is to the employer and not the employee, I wish that these parameters weren't so black and white.  For what it's worth, I'm not ex-pharma but do have light medical sales.  I've been out of medical for 3 years now selling a highly technical product which involves a multi-faceted and consultative approach.  I know selling copiers is a tough gig (so no offence here), but when hearing that selling something more complicated and sophisticated is considered less desirable it leaves me a bit confused.  I do like how you related their mind set to gambling and I do understand their need to mitigate risk.  My thought is, though, that candidates that have shown consistent success in their respective field should be worth a shot.   Besides, wouldn't it be nice do diversify your work force a bit?

Comment by Linda Hertz on June 1, 2016 at 10:14am

Hello Nathan, that may be true; there are always people who could do a job well, but not given a chance given non-preferred background.  What has happened is that they go through their retention history of past and current hires for a specifc job matched with their Performance Management Assessments (Performance Reviews) and they find that people, in this case, with a Pharma Sales background do not do as well in their sales performance selling widgets where one has to wrestle down and order and get a PO, bill and sometimes collect the money too vs. detailing doctors to influence them to prescribe pharma products.  So in otherwords, yes they have some pharma people that do well, but statistically speaking it becomes a risk to hire, because numbers show that out of the pharma group pool of people they are less likely to do well.  So hence, they tell me, "We do not want pharma".  There is a trend now to hire ADP and Paychex people (not  a widget sell), but over time they found that statistically speaking they are doing well, actually VERY WELL in the medical device industry.   They feel that their aggressive nature, that comes from selling small businesses and involving pounding on doors and not giving up selling payroll services (very aggressive industry) having to get an order (a PO) combined with their excellent sales training focused on getting an order and keeping the customer happy is a good formula.  Those people statistically perform better and that is what companies want to invest their money in; a higher chance of success. Hiring is still one of the most expensive and costly (if it does not work out) activity an organization invests in and the stakes are high.  It's like gambling, they miss out on getting a great hire outside the profile, but why take the risk if the chances of winning are far greater at another table?

Comment by Nathan Smith on May 31, 2016 at 8:19pm
So are payroll services "widgets" that you can hold in your hand and demonstrate? I understand the grind of a what is considered to be a b2b sales person, but feel that MD companies could be missing out on talented sales candidates that are still winning awards in pharma and other sales environments.

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