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Understanding Medical Sales Jobs: Hiring or Becoming a Med Rep

The healthcare industry exists to meet the health needs of our society. Globally, healthcare spending could reach over $10 trillion by 2022. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. spends twice what other countries do on healthcare due to a mostly privatized system.

There are plenty of medical sales jobs and medical sales representatives, therefore, are in high demand. These sales reps (also called med reps) are often tasked with selling high-cost equipment and resources, so there’s ample opportunity to have a lucrative job.

MedReps reports that a medical sales professional could expect to earn an average base salary of $95K. When you include the average bonus/commission of $61K, it’s clear that the career path of a medical sales rep in a growing industry can be financially rewarding.

While the industry has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, it remains stable as a whole. Some companies slowed down, but others are growing at a faster rate, meaning medical and pharmaceutical sales reps today are finding work quicker than ever.

For sales managers in the medical industry, this article will cover what you should look out for to make sure your next sales team hire is a success.

If you’re considering a medical sales career, this article will also help you decide if a medical sales job is right for you and, if so, how to stand out from the competition.

Table of contents


What does a medical sales representative do?

Medical sales jobs consist of selling pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, medical devices, medical equipment, or biotechnology to stakeholders in the healthcare industry. Whether it’s a pharmaceutical sales job, or a med device sales job, you’re essentially a salesperson who works within the healthcare industry.

When it comes to day-to-day operations, a medical sales rep’s activities look similar to any other salesperson’s. Medical sales reps must:

  • Identify potential new business
  • Set appointments with decision-makers
  • Travel to meet with potential customers
  • Attend sales meetings, jump on calls and attend conferences
  • Assess their prospect’s needs in order to recommend the right products and/or services
  • Demonstrate products and explain their features/benefits
  • Negotiate contracts and close deals

Medical reps spend a lot of their time talking to prospects about the latest cutting-edge products and industry trends. This involves carrying out substantial research, both into what’s currently available on the market as well as both the historical and latest medical legislation and requirements.

You’ll need to have in-depth knowledge about the product you’re selling and how it fits into medical sales history to effectively answer possible questions your prospect might have. You’ll also need to understand medical terminology and details of the healthcare industry specific to your territory.

Why are medical sales jobs so important?

Sales reps in the health industry are often selling potentially life- or industry-changing equipment, tools, services or medications. Thus, regardless of specialization, sales reps often sell products that can significantly affect people’s lives. Because of the innovative nature of the products, medical sales reps need to establish trust with your prospects; if they don’t trust you, they’re not going to risk buying from you. You need to prove that both you and the product you’re selling are helpful, reliable and ultimately worth the investment.

Find the best new hires with this Sales Interview Checklist

Download this checklist complete with all of the best questions to ask during an interview with a sales candidate.


Advantages and disadvantages of a career in medical sales

Before considering how to get into medical sales, look at the pros and cons of this time-consuming and challenging yet rewarding sales position.


Advantages of medical sales jobs

In a MedReps survey, 90% of sales reps reported feeling satisfied with their medical sales job, a figure that has been steadily on the rise over the past few years. Moreover, 33% of respondents said the best part of their job was the ability to “make a difference.”

Feeling good about what you do for work is often a key indicator of happiness, something that’s reflected in the high percentage of happy survey respondents.

There are other advantages that come with medical sales jobs, whether it's a medical sales representative job, medical equipment sales job or a pharmaceutical sales rep job.

For those who don’t like to be tied to an office and follow the same routine every day, a medical sales rep job offers plenty of opportunities for travel. Depending on your chosen industry, you may be required to attend conferences and trade shows and travel to meet with healthcare professionals to present your product or service. There's a wide variety of inside vs. outside sales opportunities in the medical sales field to suit your preferences and goals.

Disadvantages of medical sales jobs

That said, it’s not always an easy job. While the idea of traveling around the country may be appealing, it can also be draining. As reported in our State of Sales report 2019-2020, most sales professionals work long hours and often throughout the weekend, and the same is true in the medical sales profession. One disadvantage many med reps experience is the time commitment. For example, if their clients perform emergency surgeries, they might need to be on call just like the doctors and surgeons.

According to the same MedReps survey, 28% of sales reps noted that “admin work” was the worst part of their jobs—ranking higher than stress and pressure (23%). While sales technology, such as healthcare CRM can help to decrease admin time, it’s still a big part of a medical sales rep’s job.

On top of that, medical sales reps have to continuously study and research the market to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in medical devices and drugs (as well as new legislation and regulations). This can be a pro or a con depending on how passionate you feel about your chosen specialization and how rewarding your job is overall.

Another complaint many med reps have is the time commitment. Especially if your clients perform emergency surgeries, you’ll be on call just like the doctors and surgeons.


Who employs medical sales reps?

Medical sales reps are hired by medical healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. These might be manufacturers who are pioneering the latest advances in medical technology or distributors and wholesalers who sell on their behalf.

If you’re looking for an opportunity, the best approach is to find out who the top employers are and regularly check their vacancies. You can also set up relevant alerts on job search websites.

Before you can do that though, you need to decide what kind of medical sales rep you want to be.


Choosing a specialization

Medical sales jobs cover a wide variety of products and services. You could focus on selling:

  • Medical devices and equipment. Includes items from gloves, thermometers, pacemakers and diagnostic equipment to wearable technology.
  • Pharmaceuticals. Covers drugs and medication used to treat patients.
  • Biotechnology. The development of new medical products with the use of living organisms.

Each of these areas has its own advantages and challenges, requiring different approaches and personalities.

It might be tempting to go for high-ticket items that come with the highest commission, such as medical device sales for medical equipment, but that may mean more competition and a longer sales cycle. You’ll likely have to go through several decision-makers before you can close the deal, from the medical staff who will be using the equipment to the executives that’ll sign off on the purchase.

On the other hand, selling low-ticket items like off-brand pharmaceuticals may equate to less competition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a faster sales cycle. Like any modern sales role, you will still be required to build long-term relationships with your potential customers. You’ll need to create trust, establish yourself as a reliable source of information and become an asset to your prospects.

Whichever field you choose, you’ll need to develop a deep interest in what you’re selling. Remember, you’ll have to research your products thoroughly and explain how they work in detail to medical professionals. With complex products, such as those involved with biotechnology, that can mean a lot of work and possibly additional training.


Developing the necessary skills

To be a successful sales rep, you’ll need a strong combination of both soft skills (personality traits and interpersonal skills) and hard skills (technical knowledge and job-specific expertise). The highest performing sales reps have a combination of both soft and hard skills in their wheelhouse, backed by the motivation to learn and grow.

According to Zippia, the top medical device and pharmaceutical sales representative skills are:

  • Sales territory development. Reps have to be capable of managing local sales territories in order to build and nurture relationships and develop new business opportunities.
  • Product knowledge. Reps need to be able to answer potential questions about their products as well as new technology and innovations in the industry.
  • Strong relationships with hospital staff. By providing genuine value through training, education and assistance, reps can establish strong ties with doctors and healthcare professionals.
  • Setting sales goals. The best sales reps make use of sales goals to efficiently manage their time. As many medical sales reps are constantly on the move, sales goals will help you complete the sales activities necessary to move your prospects through your sales pipeline.

To complement these sales skills, you should also be a good communicator. You'll be engaging with a wide variety of people, from receptionists to surgeons to board directors. You’ll have to be comfortable discussing potentially complex products and scenarios with many stakeholders, cold-calling at hospitals and doctor’s offices and dealing with gatekeepers who are set on protecting their doctor’s precious time.


Required experience and education for medical sales reps

As there's tons of competition for medical sales roles, having relevant experience can help you stand out.

This might mean taking on an internship with your local hospital, participating in a training program, shadowing an active medical sales rep, or volunteering your time; anything that will demonstrate to future employers that you understand the complexities of the role.

Where possible, look to your existing network to see if there’s anyone you already know that can get you an introduction, or who’d be willing to let you shadow them at work. View it as the first part of your job interview: showing initiative to get relevant work experience means you can use that same initiative to get in front of decision-makers and make the sale.

While experience in the healthcare industry will give you an advantage, sales experience and a great sales track record is even more important in the eyes of medical sales managers. Product-specific training will normally be given on the job, so recruiters are more so looking to see that you have what it takes to be a great salesperson.

The educational requirements vary between employers, but the good news is that you don’t have to go to medical school to qualify as a rep. In fact, medical and pharmaceutical sales reps are more likely to have a college degree in business than anything related to medicine or life sciences. However, manufacturers of more complex and advanced products (such as those in the biotechnology field) might favor applicants with a medical or science-related qualification.

When it comes to the level of education required, a high-school diploma may be all you need to get started selling the most basic products. However, many medical sales companies look for a bachelor’s degree if you want to sell anything more advanced.

Remember, you’ll be dealing with highly qualified medical professionals on a regular basis, so it’s important you’re sufficiently knowledgeable to talk with confidence on medical subjects.


Transitioning in from another career

If you choose to transition to a medical sales job from another sales role it’s likely you’ll have to start in an entry-level position. Even if you have an impressive record of selling in a different industry, the medical sales role comes with its own unique challenges, as we’ve discussed throughout this article.

It takes time to build up your required knowledge base without industry experience, so you’ll likely need to do some legwork and may not be able to laterally transition from a sales leader in one industry to a medical sales leader straight away. You might find that having a good amount of experience in the field as a medical sales rep will make you a better leader or manager in the long run.

Still, it’s not impossible. If you have your heart set on a career change and can prove your value and the ability to learn quickly on the job, it can be done.


Building your network

Building a strong network is crucial in the medical sales field. Not only will you need to rely on a robust network to build social proof as you advance in a medical sales job, you also need to prove to your employer that you’re capable of forming and maintaining lasting professional relationships. As customer relationships are key in most sales roles in the medical industry, you must be able to develop a trusted network, both with other medical sales professionals as well as your prospects.

Before you apply for your first medical sales job, you should be working to grow your network. As you’re getting the experience you need, make an effort to get to know the people you work with. Connect with sales reps and medical companies online on LinkedIn and social media, and engage with their content to build authority in your space. Having a strong online presence will help to expand your network, and attract the attention of recruiters who are looking for new hires.

After you land a job in this sales field, keep growing your network throughout your career. You never know who in your network may make the introduction to your next big prospect, or move to another medical or pharmaceutical company and unlock new opportunities for you.


Preparing for a medical sales job interview

Having the right skills, experience and qualifications are important, but they are not enough to guarantee you the job. Now you have to convince a hiring manager that you’ve got what it takes.

The first step is making sure your sales resume is up to standard. It’s not just a matter of having the right information, but making sure that information is presented well. If you want to convince someone you’re a reliable professional, you should make sure your resume is properly formatted, with no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.

Your resume isn’t the place to be humble; if you want to stand out from the competition, you need to give them a reason to hire you instead of them. What have you achieved in sales? What special knowledge and skills do you have that will benefit your new employer?

Once you get the interview, keep up your professional appearance. Keep in mind that this isn’t just about impressing your potential new boss. You may be thinking about getting the job, but they’re thinking about how you’ll look in front of potential customers. How do you present yourself? Do you look professional? Can you hold a conversation? This is your chance to show the hiring sales manager your interpersonal skills and how well you’ll present yourself to clients.

Ebony Mattox, Sr. Recruiter at Avion Pharmaceuticals, pays special attention to confidence and communication skills during the interview. “I’m impressed by the candidate’s personality. Someone that doesn’t have 'cookie-cutter' answers, but makes it conversational. If applicants can do that with me, they will have no problem in the field.”


How can sales managers hire the best candidates for medical sales jobs?

Sales managers face a different challenge. How can they tell who will make a great medical sales rep during the hiring process?

With any sales role, it’s important to have a sales recruitment strategy in place. This includes knowing what qualities you’re looking for in a job seeker, particularly the soft skills that are so essential in medical sales. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Rather than simply asking questions and waiting for their answers, observe how they act during the interview. What are their most obvious communication skills? Are they confident and professional? Can they convey complex ideas in an easy-to-understand manner?

There are also a number of other criteria to consider when assessing a potential candidate. What qualifications do they have? What sales experience have they had? Keep your expectations realistic: while it would be great to find a candidate with years of experience in medical sales and a Ph.D. in biology, you’re unlikely to find many people like that applying for your med rep position. Instead, focus on their relevant skills and learn how to identify which skills will transfer well into the job.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to clearly explain the job requirements. As we know, medical sales can be a challenging career path. Be transparent about the work involved. Ask them how they would intend to keep up to date with the latest advances in medical tech. Find out whether they are self-motivated to carry out their own research, rather than relying on others to do the work for them.

If you’re still struggling to find the right candidate profile, take a look at your current top performers. What do they have in common? By looking for more candidates that are like those who are already thriving in the role, it’s more likely your new hires will be a good fit for your company.


Final thoughts

A career in medical or pharmaceutical sales is a popular choice and it’s easy to see why. You have the opportunity to make a genuine difference in people’s lives and the potential to earn a substantial amount of money.

By choosing a specialization that matches your skills and interests, then building the necessary experience to stand out to employers, you can set yourself up for a long and rewarding career in medical sales.

Find the best new hires with this Sales Interview Checklist

Download this checklist complete with all of the best questions to ask during an interview with a sales candidate.

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