In most industries, a sales representative is a sales representative is a sales representative. If you understand the basic principles of what a successful sales professional does in auto sales, for example, you understand what others will be doing in that industry the majority of the time. It may come as a surprise, then, that sales representatives in the medical and biotech fields have the capacity to become a completely different kind of strategic partner for the clients they work with. Set aside any mental image you might have of stereotypical door-to-door salesmen or Heather Locklear’s character on Scrubs!
The first thing to realize is there’s a great diversity of positions for sales representatives throughout the healthcare and biotech industries. The different areas of sales are distinct enough that they require their own strategies and a mature understanding of the market segment the sales professional works in.
Some representatives specialize in one area and can develop a rich and satisfying career that way. However, with increasing competition in the medical space comes a growing expectation that professionals will have knowledge in multiple areas.
Here are a few of the areas in the medical industry that require sales expertise:
Capital sales represent large investments that align with the long-term strategy of a given hospital or other medical facility. For example, a new MRI machine would fall under this heading.
Sales representatives focused on these “big ticket” items have a unique challenge. On one hand, organizations wish to demonstrate to patients and employees that they provide the latest technology. On the other, replacing existing capital equipment before the end of its useful life is a challenging proposition.
As a result, a sales professional will have to be aware not only of the product catalog that he or she services, but also of the existing equipment stock, long-term needs, and overall advertising strategy of every major client.
Disposable items are things like surgical gloves and scrubs that must be used on a daily basis and thrown out when their work is done. Although they fall into the least expensive class of purchase that an institution makes, they are a necessity that cannot be allowed to run low.
As a result, hospitals will tend to have an ongoing agreement with a supplier for these vital items. Sales representatives who focus on disposable items will often find themselves in competition with a more established supplier. Since the features of most disposable items are nearly identical, sellers will have to aggressively negotiate agreements that best satisfy the client’s desired price point.
Medical devices make up one of the broadest categories in medical sales. Everything from the stint that may be used in a patient’s heart to a completely artificial heart itself is considered a medical device.
Sales representatives in medical devices are often said to have the most challenging jobs. They must interact with the client on the deep level required in capital sales, but still do their best to negotiate on both features and price. Likewise, the competition among medical device manufacturers who have similar offerings is fierce, due to the extreme bottom line value and enduring nature of medical device contracts. In medical device sales, one must be aware of the complete regulatory landscape and use it to achieve advantage.
The differences in these three areas should provide some clues as to the related sales skill sets that one could cultivate to transition into a healthcare sales role. All healthcare sales representatives should expect to have certain traits in common: The most important may be the ability to keep track of medical developments and changing market conditions. This is complemented by an ability to do the necessary research, in cooperation with a client, in order to truly understand their needs.
Once these basic skills have been acquired and honed, the path diverges a bit depending on one’s area of expertise.
Sales representatives can transition easily into capital sales from any background where they were responsible for large contracts — especially contracts of a technical nature that required working with experts in a field. Winning respect from medical professionals by demonstrating knowledge of the problems they face is key, and provides the negotiating power needed to make major sales.
Sales professionals with a logistics background — those who are knowledgeable about the importance of “continuous improvement” in areas like material cost — are well suited to focus attention on disposables. Such professionals should also be prepared to evangelize their service record or other features in comparison to the competition.
Finally, sales representatives who have transitioned from a medical background are in the best position to explore medical device sales. These sales often hinge on the salesperson’s ability to perceive a client institution’s needs and discuss them in precise medical detail.