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Medical Sales

Sales is a profession tailor-made for many vets. Why? – because the best salespeople need many of the qualities that make a good soldier – aggressiveness, drive, willingness to take calculated risks, and capacity to work as a team member, within an organization.

But sales as a profession has a checkered reputation. You can catch a sense of this from the classic stage play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. In the play traveling salesman Willy Loman lives a life of frustration and financial hardscrabble, finally giving up and taking his own life by crashing his car into a bridge abutment. Not your idea of a dream job?

But there’s another side to the sales story. Today, many companies offer terrific opportunities for salespeople – whom, by the way, they prefer to call Account Managers or Account Executives – and the job may be as much consulting and customer relations as it is direct sales. There are innumerable types of such positions out there, but in this posting I’d like to focus on medical sales.

At Washington Research Associates we often recruit medical sales reps. The position involves consultative direct selling of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, capital equipment, and “disposables” to hospitals and physicians in a given territory. (“Disposables” refers to single-use medical supplies, like syringes, medical gloves and gowns, etc.).

Selling such products to physicians and hospitals can be highly lucrative. Base salaries starting out are $35,000 to $50,000, and OTE, which means “on-target earnings” is usually around $100,000. That simply means the company expects you to earn that much, with commission added to base. That is great compensation for a young person in an entry-level job. And you do not have to have any particular technical skills – training is provided by the employer. However, there’s a catch (as always). You have to be a natural salesperson. Outgoing, professional, likeable, driven to succeed. Well-organized. For while landing a medical sales position may not be too difficult for most vets, keeping it is another matter. Your employer will expect you to meet or exceed quota, quarter after quarter. Just being good isn’t enough, you have to be very good. As time passes, you’re expected to develop a “brag book” of sales accomplishments – like “20% over quota last year, President’s Club two years…..” etc. So you see, this is not a job for slackers or people satisfied to vegetate in a cubicle.

On the plus side, you’ll probably discover very quickly if medical sales is for you. If it’s not, fine, just move on to something else – simple as that. If it is, you’ll ascend the sales ladder to more and more lucrative territories, perhaps later moving into sales management. I know from our recruiting efforts that many of these folks – none of them Einstein or Steve Jobs – earn in the mid-six-figures or higher, and of course there are also the Superstars. Typical successful medical Account Managers regularly earn in the low six figures after 3-5 years. Superstars can earn much more, and I won’t quote a figure because it will sound like hype. Think nice house in the suburbs, expensive cars (plural?), and ski condo in Colorado.  And a lot of very, very hard work, too, of course – there’s no way around it.

The area of biggest demand in the healthcare field today is pharmaceutical sales. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck are a few of the big-name employers. They are hiring in the sales field on an ongoing basis.

Medical sales can be an especially great career option for transitioning military, both men and women. The top employers are aware of the skills you’ve developed in the military and are interested in recruiting you. Unlike in many office jobs (including, by the way, inhouse sales – which you should avoid) you can’t be too aggressive, too driven, too ambitious in this field. Nor is a great deal of experience needed – at the entry level, they’re typically looking for people who can sell, period. However, a word of caution: choose your first employer carefully. Only work for a medical products or services company with name recognition and best-of-breed products or services. Do some research on the Web before you accept a job. Check Glassdoor.com, to name one good resource, and talk to anyone you know in sales. What’s it like to work for this company?  In particular, you’re probably not ready to jump into a startup at this point. The top companies have the best training programs, and that’s what you’ll need most. Also, of course, such companies have well-established customers and markets so that “selling” can translate largely to “order taking.” That means less pressure while you’re learning. In any case, you should consider taking some consultative training courses on your own (often available at community colleges – or check the Internet). Some employers weigh such training heavily in picking new employees.

As indicated, pharma is the biggest area and has the most jobs. But competition is toughest there and, on average, you’ll make more money in medical devices or medical capital equipment (such as diagnostic equipment). Employers in this latter fields (one of the most lucrative in medical sales) will often consider candidates with sales in other fields, such as office equipment. However selling medical capital equipment can be complex and demanding, and requires a high technical skill level.

Clearly, medical sales is not for everyone. You have to be an extrovert who loves a challenge, loves talking to people, including strangers, enjoys the thrill of the hunt. And also someone who doesn’t mind spending a couple nights a week at a motel. You have to be a Type A personality through and through. If you’re all of this, medical sales may have much to offer – high income, status, a sense of being your own boss. By the way, another plus is that people in the health care field – your prospective clients – tend to be upbeat, positive professionals. In this field, who knows, even Willy Loman might have wound up as a superstar.

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