That’s a great question! Most people would be aware that the role exists, and that it involves ‘selling stuff’ to doctors but beyond that, and unless you’ve had an in-depth discussion with numerous medical sales reps, then you’re probably unsure.
Medical sales is a highly sought after, prestigious and professional sales role. It may surprise you to learn that the industry is growing at a rate of around 5.6% per year1,2 mainly because of our growing population (thank goodness for those ageing baby-boomers!) and hence the need for increased medical services, which in turn requires more medical reps – it’s a ‘knock-on’ effect. The industry covers quite a range of roles and opportunities including (but not limited to), these key areas:
Life sciences & Biotechnology
Let’s take a quick look at each of them so that you better understand what they’re about because, like anything in life, not all people are suited to all roles! Each role is quite unique in its own way and requires a particular skill set, although it’s fair to say that many of the core competencies are transferable across the range, so most reps tend to start with one area and eventually branch out into others.
Probably the largest and most profitable player in the market, this tends to be where most medical sales reps begin their sales journey; trying to influence the prescribing habits of doctors. It doesn’t require that you take a bunch of prescription drugs into a doctors surgery and try to sell them for a fee, but rather your focus is on building a strong argument, over and over again, as to why your prescription drug is better, or perhaps more suitable for patients, than the competitors in the market. Meanwhile, your competitors are doing exactly the same thing, and trying to switch doctors away from your product to start favoring theirs! Your sales calls will typically involve the use of highly detailed clinical research papers, so in this role you need to know how to use them properly, what to look for, and then what to say.
Usually working with a large pharmaceutical company once again, but in a very different role to the pharmaceutical reps, because here you’d be responsible for selling non-prescription drugs, and perhaps other products, directly into store. As you might imagine, it takes strong negotiating skills because you’re quite often dealing with the owner of the business (pharmacist), and also competing heavily with lots of other companies to win a share of their shelf-space or recommendation to customers. There’s also a large component of this job that revolves around in-store merchandising too, i.e. creating successful product displays and ensuring that they’re well stocked for the duration of any campaign.
Put yourself in the shoes of a patient who visits the local hospital or day procedure surgery and it’s not hard to start running through your mind the ever growing, and sometimes endless list, of things that get used and then thrown away – either single-patient use, or quite often, single-procedure use. These could be items as simple as facemasks or syringes; disposable suction tubing or plastic-ware, but it also extends into a highly profitable and specialized market of surgical instruments and procedural devices. That’s where the role of the medical consumable rep comes in – totally focused on selling these technical instruments into surgical practice and then supporting their use through continuous staff education (in-services), and case support (where you attend the procedure in which the items get used on a real patient). Naturally this is not a role for the squeamish or for those who can’t handle the sight of blood! It’s a demanding role that requires a high level of clinical knowledge and the confidence to direct doctors and nurses on their correct use during procedures. And, because you’re dealing with consumables, the sales turnover is rapid.
Most pharmaceutical reps eventually move into this area because this is where the real money is to be made from a remuneration perspective – you work damned hard in this role, with lots of very early mornings and long, tiring days, but you make excellent money and gain the rewards of a top-tier sales role and the recognition that comes with it! Medical devices are a huge player in the healthcare market because, once again, almost every machine; piece of equipment, or software program that is used during a procedure, has been sold into the hospital by a medical device rep. Once again, your level of clinical knowledge and confidence to direct others has to be super-high, but in addition, you’ll need very strong technical skills too. Pressure is when you’re attending an operating list in your capacity as the ‘expert’ and then something goes wrong – perhaps a communication error, or the loss of vision with an endoscope for example, and in that moment it’s ‘all eye’s on you’ because you are, after all, the expert! This area certainly keeps you on your toes and, all jokes aside, it can be quite stressful but at the same time very rewarding, because each and every day (pretty much), you have a direct, personal impact, on patient welfare – and that’s nice! Devices can range in price from a few hundred dollars to literally tens of thousands or even millions, depending what you sell and in which therapeutic area. It’s an exciting and incredibly busy role, where organizational skills are a must, but once again it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Life sciences & Biotechnology:
Falling under medical sales but focused more on the research side of life, these roles are geared towards selling equipment and/or consumables directly into research facilities, laboratories and the like. You’d appreciate therefore, that this is really suited to those who have experience as a researcher in some capacity and feel comfortable holding high-level scientific discussions. It can be challenging because academics (please don’t tell them), are often not the easiest of people to have a conversation with, or indeed to ‘sell’ to, so it does take a certain skill set to be successful in this role. Products can range from equipment used in the laboratory such as a microscope or PCR machine, through to DNA sequencing kits or radio-isotopes used as markers.
Well that gives you a brief snapshot across the major roles and what’s involved but we haven’t really addressed all the other stuff that is common across all parts of the industry, like the day-to-day running of your territory. This all falls under ‘Territory Management’ and I’ve written a whole book dedicated to this area alone: https://www.roylayfield.com/product-page/territory-management-in-a-nutshell so check it out.
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