The first half of 2010 has been brutal for pharmaceutical sales representatives. There are hordes of former pharma sales representatives on the street, seeking new job opportunities. Many try to seek higher ground in the medical device industry, often with limited success.
There is a persistent stigma that pharmaceutical sales representatives cannot succeed as medical device reps. Some of the perceptions that contribute to this are:
- Pharmaceutical reps “don’t really sell”. They market, message, cater and get signatures, but don’t really close.
- Many work in pods, rather than having territories of their own. Although they say they want to be responsible for their own business, they are not prepared for the reality.
- Their numbers and awards are inflated. As a result, their sense of their own selling abilities is too.
- They are used to being pampered with high base salaries and generous coverage of business expenses. Although they say they want to be more entrepreneurial and accountable, they find it much harder than expected and lack long-term commitment.
Some of the sharpest, ambitious pharmaceutical reps can make the transition. These reps often have less than 4 years in pharma sales and have blown out their numbers.
It is important to understand that although device and pharma sales are both medical, when transitioning, a pharma rep may still have to pay their dues as an associate before rising into a full sales role. Sometimes this can be tough to swallow for tenured reps.
I have observed that more former pharma reps transition into the relationship-heavy specialties of total joints, trauma and spine. My guess is that there are more similarities in the call cycle, and reps more often use clinical data in order to persuade the surgeon to switch. In specialties or with products that require more hunting over a larger number of accounts or managing a more complex capital sales cycle, the resistance to pharmaceutical reps is even greater.
The best advice I can offer for any pharmaceutical rep trying to break into the device industry is not to assume your medical sales background has prepared you at all. Many pharma reps are very good with territory analysis and management, for example, but all that careful routing goes right out the window when a surgeon calls with an urgent need.
There may be a few things that will cross-over but it is best to assume nothing. To cross-over, you will have to go the extra mile: be better prepared, be more knowledgeable, do more homework, have better results and references than everyone you are interviewing against. Then again, that is just a good game plan for anyone who wants to break into medical device sales.
Lisa McCallister specializes in recruiting for medical device sales and marketing positions with an operating room focus, such as orthopedics, electrosurgery, endoscopy and a wide range of surgical specialties. She has recruited two Rookie of the Year award winners. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her blog, MyJobScope.com.