However challenging and full of pressure the medical industry is, nothing can overpower someone with authentic leadership. Samuel Gbadebo continues his discussion with Kris Krustangel, Vice President of Business Development for Saluda Medical, as he now talks about his life as a leader and manager in medical sales. He explains how he balances his personal and professional life, how he keeps himself motivated and energized, and what his daily life looks like. Kris also emphasizes how meaningful conversations and proper human connection build a better team as well as a truly effective leader.
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Achieving Authentic Leadership In Medical Sales With Kris Krustangel
We are back with Kris Krustangel, Vice President of Business Development at Saluda Medical. In the last episode, we got into about his history, how he found the industry, and how he started in the industry. In this episode, part two, we’re going to get deeper into how he sees operating in this space, leadership, performance, and also how he is able to manage it all, how he balances his personal life with his professional life, and what he believes in that allows each and every person to be their best and show up as their optimal self. As always, thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoy this episode.
In my situation, a lot of my top–performing territory managers have teams of clinical specialists who work with them and report to them. They got to have some of those conversations with the people on their team, too, to grow them. Even though they’re not a business manager, they still have the responsibility to help their team. Empathy with the customers, the ability to drive these kinds of more difficult conversations, and be able to manage that appropriately create a lot of momentum, inertia, and success with these top–performing territory managers.
As much as you can share, give us somewhat of an example of what driving a crucial conversation looks like.
I’ll start with someone on your team because that might be easier. You have someone who reports to you or provides support to you in your individual goals. They aren’t performing the way that you want them to perform but the speed of the business, too, you can’t take for granted. A manager should have time to deal with the development. They’re busy, to begin with. It may be 8:00 by the time they get home and now they have to coach somebody. One, they got to find the right time to do it. Two, they got to sit down and say, “Jim or Joe or Sally, this is how I need you to work in this role.” Have that conversation with them because maybe that individual doesn’t see it the same way, they thought they were doing a great job, or they were frustrated with the feedback that they were getting from you.Being authentic as a leader is a critical component that will never hurt you. Click To Tweet
It’s being intentional about having a conversation that changes the trajectory or performance. In this situation, someone who supports them on their team. Not being like, “I don’t like you. I don’t like what you do,” but talking about it objectively like, “Our goal is to sell $5 million this year. Right now, we’re on pace to sell $3 million. If you could do X instead of Y, we could get closer to $5 million. Let’s talk about those things.” Bad reps don’t even know what’s a problem. Good reps see it, but they rely a lot on their manager or somebody else to do the work for them. The best reps I worked with know that they’re responsible. As I said, you’re driving the car and you have a responsibility to act and be a leader for your people. That’s an example of someone on their team.
With a physician, it could be the same thing. There have been many situations I’ve been in my team where you walk in and you’ve got so much experience in cases. My top reps may see 1,000 spinal cord stimulator trials and they may work with a physician who has seen 10 or 20. How do you manage that conversation at the moment when you know the physician who is doing 10 or 20 is doing a good job, but they could be doing a great job with some critical feedback? Where does that conversation happen? Do you do it in the operating room with the staff around? Maybe, depending on the personality. Do you try to have that one-off discussion with them?
There are two parts that I believe are important. One, it has to happen because it improves performance. It helps this individual but I’ve learned over in my career, physicians appreciate when you’re authentic. They may not agree with you. I don’t want to set you up. Readers, you start non–filtering yourself. I’m not saying that. You need to have the awareness to know when you know what you know is right. They appreciate you challenging them. Not at the moment or in a day but over time. My strongest relationships are the most difficult conversations I’ve had with physicians because I’ve been like, “I don’t see it how you see it. I see it a completely different way. Here’s why. Let’s go with it.” Over time, that has differentiated me or these top reps because they have their best interests out. They’re willing to sacrifice their relationship to give them feedback that’s critical. You can’t replace that type of momentum when you create it in these relationships by having these critical conversations.
That’s what it’s boiling down to, having that bold approach. What about some of the pitfalls? What are some of the things that reps need to know they should not be doing and need to be more mindful of?
The biggest one is how they create their plan for success. Generally, we have quarterly quotas. I know some people have monthly or some people have yearly. The biggest pitfall I see is this real lack of effort around preparing to succeed. It’s like, “I’ve got some cases next week. I’ve got some good things going with Dr. so-and-so,” but it’s more about great for us. You know you need to do so many trials and implants. Who are the people who you think might do that with you? How are you going to help those physicians find those patients, give them the resources, or educate them? The pitfall that I see is not enough time, granularity, or specificity at the beginning of quarters or years to create a real plan.
The second part is to communicate that plan to the people who are involved. For the way our business is, you have a territory manager, clinical specialist, and then regional business director. Our regional business director and clinical specialist know their responsibility. You go back to best reps. The best reps will reach out to me and be like, “Kris, you’re doing this for me this quarter.” I’m like, “Got it.” You’ve got a plan. I love it like, “Let’s go execute together.” When I don’t see that, there’s a lot of pauses and questions because you’re setting yourself up to fail if you don’t put in the time to plan and execute on those increments.
Let’s jump back to leadership. You’ve been a leader for a long time so you have a lot of experience. What makes a great leader? What are the top qualities? The same thing that you give to the reps. Give that too for the leaders.
I’m humbled by being asked that question because I’m still not there yet. I’m in my past. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned thus far. More so than ever, being authentic matters. Going through COVID and all the unrest of where we are nationally in society, I’ve been as authentic as I’ve ever been with my team. I would like to say I’ve been courageous at times to say what I’m thinking and be out there. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. This is specifically not the time right now, but even in a normal operation, you shouldn’t be anything but yourself with the people who you’re working with. I trust and believe in the people who have led me when they’re authentic. They admit mistakes. They say they’re sorry. They realize that they may view things differently. They may overreact. They’re underprepared. They say those things.
Being authentic as a leader is a critical component that will never hurt you. It may scare you to be like, “Should I say that?” I don’t think you will ever hurt or see your brand as you build for it to be a leader in the space. The second thing that I think about going back is the growth mindset is the idea that you’re continuing to invest in yourself and make yourself better. That could be this show, online resources, or executive education. I know a lot of people have got back their MBAs. A lot of medical device companies and pharmaceutical companies create a pathway for that. Take it. Invest in yourself.
When you asked me about the regional business director and the area vice-president, I’m always trying to look further down the road like a CEO is probably looking out five years. In order to even look that far in advance, you have to be innovating yourself, growing yourself, seeing things that you are going to do differently tomorrow than you did yesterday. The only way you can do that is by educating and trying to be focused on growth. Growth mindset and authenticity are, in my world, two of the most critical components of being a successful leader who’s going to continue to have success in the future.
With COVID, what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve seen for your reps and you as a leader? What has been the best way for you to manage it?
We all quickly learned that we were generally in this habit or flow of business. We made these small little increments of getting better and then the bottom fell out underneath us. I remember there were 4 or 5 weeks when we weren’t doing any cases across the entire country, and that’s unheard of. For many years, that was like, “What do you do? Are we going to have a job? Are we going to have a product? Are physicians going to have practices?” What I learned is that it all goes back to something that I try to think about a lot, which is, I still feel the best when I serve other people. The opportunity for our reps was to be like, “I know the situation is in gray, but the building is on fire or there is a flood. What can I do to help?” I remember in the beginning, back in March 2020, we had all these calls. We had so much enthusiasm for all these different ideas. Some of them were terrible. If I told you what they were, you would be like, “What?” I applaud us for the effort and intent of trying to do the right thing and then we’ll refine that over time. What I learned is that we need those pauses.
You’ve had quite a stellar career. We’ve talked before. You’re always traveling and doing things. The audience got to know, how do you manage it all? I know you have three kids. You have a big family and a busy life. What’s your routine? How does it all play into family and everything else you’re doing?
I’m going to have a great support system. My wife is amazing and remarkable. That’s a huge part of having that around you. We all have busy lives. Mine might be different than yours or someone else’s reading. The biggest thing that I’ve learned over my career is that you have to have self–care. You have to not just invest in the academic sense of learning, but you have to take care of yourself. You have to sleep right, work out, be aware of what you eat, how it affects you, and how much you drink or how little you drink. All those things are very real to me.
Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals freedom.” I’m a firm believer in that. I have committed almost on a daily basis to have some form of exercise. I’ve got a kettlebell. I’m serious. I have to be that person who keeps it committed because otherwise, I’ll lose that. That self-care is what provides me the energy and clarity I need to be successful. In the beginning, I do think this is a pitfall which you’re getting at, “You have to outwork everybody.” I have to do that, too. Don’t get me wrong, but the best versions of my work rely on me investing in them. Sleep, eating, meditation, and yoga. I’m no joke. There are ways that you can invest in your body and mind that make you perform better when it matters.
Let’s think about it like this. In my schedule, I could spend two real days before I have 30 minutes of important interaction with a customer. Do I treat every hour of the day the same? I throw myself out and grind. Do I try to build myself in a position where I peak the best, most rested, fired up, and an appropriately caffeinated version who shows up for that 30 minutes? I’m intentional about it. I thought about this interview about how can I get into this peak state by the time we talk? I want to give the best version of myself when it matters the most. You can only do that by being aware of yourself and trying to invest in it over time.You can only give the best version of yourself by trying to invest in it over time. Click To Tweet
What does it look like? Give us a day where you’ve incorporated a workout or meditation. What time do you normally get up? Take us through the day.
It depends if I’m leaving or staying. I’ve been staying a lot more in the COVID world. There’s at least a fifteen-minute workout every day. I try to do it before all the kids wake up because I have three. If you didn’t have kids, you never know. I keep inching my morning up earlier. I like to not get up before 6:00 AM. That’s the thing for me. I do like to sleep, but I hit it first thing in the morning. I have a cup of coffee. By then, a kid has appeared usually by 6:30 AM. I try to be present with them. I try to enjoy them because that fills me up to be around them and be participatory.
I try not to get into work until about 1 to 1.5-hour after I wake up. If it’s still quiet in the house, I may throw in a little meditation for five minutes. I’m not a 30–minute transcendental meditation. I don’t need that. I need five minutes to collect my thoughts and breath. By 7:00 or 7:30, the day has begun, personally and professionally. If I’m home, it is out of the races. If I’m on the road, for certain, I’m grinding all the way to the night. I will also say that in the afternoon or sometime before dinner, I’m trying to take more time to pause. Pick up a book or listen to a podcast for 20 or 30 minutes.
If you’re in your car, you get that time. I don’t usually have that time. I have someone who’s around me all the time. I know that I need another afternoon breather like a podcast, a book, or maybe a nap if I’m in the right place, which is rarely happening. I’m being honest. The data on that is strong, especially if I need to get into a dinner presentation. That gets me ready to go with my second half of the day, which could go late into the evening until midnight. I’m being intentional with that process and trying to invest in it.
One thing that I’ve seen a lot of people in this type of field, leaders especially, they have a hobby or something that they’re into outside of the family and work. I see sports behind you there. Is that the thing or is it something else?
It probably is the thing. I’m an avid learner. I’m trying to learn and participate in everything. I love sports. I went to the University of Washington. I’m a diehard Husky. I see what’s going on in all the professional sports in Washington State. It’s not very good right now, which is very troubling to me. I love it too because my oldest is twelve. He is in a space where he likes that as well. I’ve got two daughters. I’m also learning about painting more and someone is going to make them bracelets. I would say that because of the fullness of my life. My hobby is my kids. It’s whatever they’re into that I follow and try to do my best to be present and participatory, not just standing there on my phone. That’s fun for me. We got a treadmill. I’m running with my son. We’re having competitions. My daughter got a bracelet sent over the holidays. She was showing me how to put them together. That’s a hobby for me and I love it. It’s so much fun.
How important is it for people who want to develop themselves, especially within their company? How much time should they be spending understanding what goes outside of their role?
As much time as possible. I know a leader, Allen Meacham. He’s the Vice President of Sales at Nalu. He said a line of like, “As much time as necessary but as little as possible.” There is a sweet spot where I don’t need to double-click into finance or how we audit our books, but over my career, I did reach out and try to have a special project with almost every department, except for regulatory and finance. I was in marketing, HR, and sales ops because I wanted to learn about the business. Why did I do that? One, because I’m naturally curious. That’s truthful. I’m always like, “How do we do this?” As a leader, you find out quickly that you have to align stakeholders to make better decisions. Going back to empathy. Understanding their perspective and what they care about will create more success in what you’re trying to create. I did it because I like to understand where they’re coming from and what they need from these decisions. I would say, do it and put your head up. If you can take a special project on HR or operations, do it. Keep learning.
In that same vein of learning, you’re an avid reader. What book are you reading? What are your top three that you suggest for everyone that they need to read?
I’m reading BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0): Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company. It’s Jim Collins’ old book. That’s a book he wrote from Good to Great. He did a rerelease of that. It’s a unique book because he wrote the original one in 2001. He has got updated texts that are highlighted. He was talking in a 2020 voice back to his 2005 voice. It’s a cool perspective. That is a great book. I don’t always read long books. I use something called Blinkist, which is an abbreviated CliffsNotes. I have to decide before I’m going to invest in a full book. This is a book that I’ve invested and enjoyed.
I would say for my top recommendation, the normal one I always go to is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. That’s old. My kids are reading it and anybody else I can ever talk to read it. Anything that can stand the test of that many years and still be relevant says a lot about the principles. The principles are a lot about empathy, understanding people, and their needs when you try to express your problems. I put that very high on the list. There are many good books. I like the influence books a lot or some of the Daniel Pink books. I’m more like an author guy like Seth Godin and Daniel Pink. Great books that you can apply pretty much anywhere in your career. I would go with those two authors at the top of my list with Dale Carnegie. He’s the OG.
Are you part of a masterclass? Do you go to a masterclass at all?
I’ve done one masterclass. I started doing LinkedIn Learning a lot. I didn’t realize how deep and rich that content was. I’ve been looking at LinkedIn Learning and Coursera.org. It’s a culmination of all the internet virtual classes across the country and then Blinkist. I rely on it.
Any other message you would like to leave for the audience?You got to take up rest. Don’t feel guilty about it. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot, but I’ll try to condense it to this. When you’re flying on a plane, they say, “Put the mask on yourself before assisting others.” I do believe it if you want to be your optimal self. If you look at all the greatest athletes to the greatest leaders, if you dig in, they’ve been very intentional with that self–care and trying to optimize their performance. It’s counterintuitive because when you get these roles, you’re like, “I’m going to grind.” That’s a part of it but in order to run on the treadmill at 12:00, you’ve got to prepare it too sometimes. My point being is you’ve got to take up rest. You’ve got to find the things that fill you up, do it, and be okay with it. Don’t feel guilty about it. That’s another thing where you’re like, “I could be spending this ten minutes doing X.” You could, but you’re not going to be doing it very well. Stay committed to that. If you do, you’ll maximize what you can create, the value and joy that you’re going to get doing what you do.
What a great episode with Kris Krustangel. I loved how he keeps it all going from the authors he loves to the routine he sets up and to the value of not feeling guilty about how you spend your time in order to keep you consistently performing at a high level on a regular basis. Thank you all for reading the blog. If you’re someone out there who’s looking to get into this space, whether it be pharmaceutical sales, medical device sales, biotech sales, or genetic sales, then you need to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com. Find me on LinkedIn under Samuel Adeyinka. Let’s have a conversation so we can get you into a program that can help you get to the position that you want.
If you’re a leader and is looking for ways to develop your sales teams, how can you get better access to customers, how can you get them to go from meeting that right customer, getting them to close the deal, and utilize that product to utilize that service? Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and visit the Sales Builder page. Go to Improve Sales Performance right from the homepage and get access. Schedule a call. Go ahead and find me on LinkedIn and let’s have a conversation and get you to where you’re trying to go, whether you’re an individual sales professional or a team leader who’s trying to get your team to the next phase. Thank you for reading the blog. We do everything we can to have amazing guests who get on here and give you great insights into how they lead their careers, teams they work with, and how they get into the industry. Make sure you tune in for another episode.
- Saluda Medical
- Last Episode – previous episode with Kris Krustangel
- Jocko Willink
- BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0): Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company.
- Good to Great
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Daniel Pink
- Seth Godin
- Samuel Adeyinka – LinkedIn
- Sales Builder Page
About Kris Krustangel
Proven Medical Device Leader.
Kris is focused on innovating strategies for success while increasing the capacity of his teams performance along the way. Passion, commitment, and results have been the consistent theme of his career.
He started in Pharma and then quickly took on a +15 year career in Medical Devices. He has served in many roles from clinical specialist to a front line manager and everything in between. Currently he is the Vice President of Business Development for Saluda Medical.