Pharma Sales a Stepping Stone to Medical Devices?

Pharma sales to medical devices?
Pharma sales to Medical Devices?

We have all heard of that phrama rep that has transitioned from pharma sales to medical devices.  Often times people keep in touch with him/her to hear how awesome they are doing and how much money they are making.  Pharma reps start whispering to each other and thinking inside of their own minds that maybe they will explore such opportunities.  Pharmaceutical DM’s often have conversations with you lending their opinion and saying things like “the grass is not always greener on the other side”.  But when a territory sales rep can successfully make the jump from territory sales in pharma where they make a base of $60,000 or so to a job in medical devices where (though base is usually lower) they have the potential to make high $100k’s or even $200,000+ in total compensation if they blow it out of the water, it is difficult to argue with such numbers.  So the question becomes; is pharma sales a stepping stone to medical device sales?

Having a decade and more of pharmaceutical experience, at some point in my career the notion of taking the step to medical devices certainly crossed my mind.  If I am being honest it did more then cross my mind.  In fact I interviewed with at least three different medical device companies if memory serves.  I learned many things in the process.  The first thing I learned was that they believe they do not have to at all come for you.  In other words, they want to see someone who is hungry and almost begging for the opportunity.  After an interview with one organization, a very well known one, I was told by the recruiter that the manager very much liked what I brought to the table, but wanted to see how hungry I was for the position.  He wanted me to almost beg him for the position.  I found this to be a little over-the-top and weird frankly.  I mean I certainly understand someone wanting to see hunger and drive but should I really be begging for a position when my credentials and history of success were exemplary?  Maybe or maybe not…who knows.  But I found it a bit off-putting to say the least.

Another thing I learned was that they HATE when interviewees speak in hypotheticals.  They want you to speak about actual experience you had not what you would do or may do…rather what you actually did in certain situations.  I completely get it and agree until I was asked the question; “Tell me about the last time you sold a physician….what did you do, how did you get to your end goal” or something along those lines.  He asked this after having seen my resume which clearly stated that I had been a DM for many years, and after I had discussed with him for about a half hour that I was a DM and went over the variety of things I was responsible for…none of which was selling physicians anymore.  In fact I coached and taught sales.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually sold a physician because I hadn’t been a rep in a very long time.  I explained this to him but when I closed him at the end of the interview, he told me I wasn’t actively listening because I gave him a hypothetical during one of the answers.  I kept my cool because I wanted to say “right back at you jackass”!!  You haven’t heard a word I said….I just got through telling you I was a DM, not a sales rep and therefore hadn’t sold directly to a physician in many years.  He was smug to say the least and almost looking to use the “hypothetical” line.  Many of the interviewers have been taught over the years to dig in on hypothetical but they take it to a ridiculous degree.  I even here the “hypothetical” line when I am used as a reference by former reps who make the jump.  Whoever it is that has interviewed them inevitably calls me and uses the “hypothetical” line on me as a reference source.

With all of the above being said, for many pharma reps, medical device sales is like the holy grail so to speak.  Many are under the impression that if they just land the job it is a substantial increase in pay from what they are currently making.  But what are the downfalls.  Whereas with pharma sales you are rarely likely to lose your position for bad sales results, in medical devices it is often said that if you have a few bad quarters in a row, there is strong possibility you could lose your job.  It is more cutthroat!  As an example, I had interviewed with a medical device company and was asked to go on a field ride with one the reps to get a sense and feel for what they did.  I obliged and the rep that I was out with was very candid with me.  She basically told me that she had a bad quarter and literally did not get paid.  The compensation structure that her particular company had was one in which her performance for that particular quarter or month was such that she received $0.  She did also mention that

there were quarters (or months) when she made money that was amazing.  She asked me how much money I made as a DM and when I told her she said “I wouldn’t leave if I were you”.  This was all the indication I needed frankly.

On the flip side, I have friends and former colleagues that have made the jump and speak of it as the best thing they have ever done.  I have heard it described as “way more freedom” then pharma sales.  Many of the territory reps in pharma are closely managed…some would even say micromanaged.  From what I have been told by those that made the jump, they have a freedom in medical devices sales that they never had in pharma sales and they enjoy it greatly!

Lastly, one of the major differences that I have heard about and have spoken about to former colleagues who have made the jump is that the physicians actually want them there.  In the world of pharma sales, there has been more and more movement towards restriction of access.  On many occasions pharma reps are shunned and looked upon negatively when entering offices.  The patients sigh in disgust, the gatekeeper begins his/her power play and the doctor is exasperated by how many reps they see.  In medical devices, I am told that they welcome you and want your input.  This in it of itself may be a defining factor in many peoples decision making process on whether or not they wish to make the jump.

At the end of the day however, just because you want to make the jump does not mean you will be able to.  I have read article after article that opines on the fact that pharma reps are NOT looked upon favorably by medical devices companies as good candidates.  Some of the unfortunate and potentially incorrect stigmas are that pharma sales is a soft sale and medical devices is a hard sell.  In other words someone has to actually buy something whereas in pharma sales you are trying to influence prescribing habits.  Of course this is true, but medical devices companies maybe losing out on very capable salespeople because of this stigma that often times precludes pharma reps from consideration for medical devices positions.