Is selling medical devices the right career option for you? Like many other sales professions, it requires a lot of qualities that are not teachable. Are you persistent? Are you flexible? Are you charismatic? Unlike many other sales professions, however, it also requires an understanding of the medical devices and the whole procedures in which they are used. Ultimately, it all boils down to what makes you tick. Listen as Lisa Jacobs, the National Director of MIS at Integrity Implants, gives us a taste of her twelve years of experience in the medical device sales industry as she joins host Samuel Gbadebo on the show.
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Breaking into Medical Device Sales – What Makes You Tick? With Lisa Jacobs
I want to talk about a guest that I’m going to have on the show. She’s come a long way. She started off in pharmaceutical sales. Her name is Lisa Jacobs. She rose the ranks to get herself into a leadership position with a startup as a National Director. Her story is pretty compelling. It gives a lot of insights into how when it comes to medical sales, whether it’s medical devices, pharmaceutical, testing, any type of medical sales, we can all come from different spaces. Her story is especially interesting because she made the leap from outside the industry to pharmaceutical sales, then to medical device sales. I hope you enjoy the show.
This is Lisa Jacobs. She is the National Director of MIS at Integrity Implants. She’s a veteran of the medical device sales industry. She’s joining us to educate us on the world of medical devices and coming from her role. How are you, Lisa?
I’m doing great. Thank you for having me.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, the company, where it’s at, what you’re doing, your role and then we’ll get right into it.
I’ve been in the medical device industry for many years. I have a Master’s in Nutrition. It’s a very interesting pathway and segment into medical device. I started off in nutritional sales, then went to pharma sales. I was a distributor and a direct rep and moved my way up to management. I love my role now because we are a novel nichey spine company that has unique products in the market. We’re disturbing the market with our technology. It’s a fun and exciting place to be a part of it. There are many spine companies in the market. It’s to be somewhere where we’re innovative, unique, different and have a different story to tell.
I can only imagine, that must be exciting. Let’s dial it back. When I meet more sales reps and executives in medical devices and pharma, I always ask the question. When you were a little girl, did you think,“I’m going to grow up and I want to be the National Sales Director of Integrity Implants.”What brought you into the industry? Where did you want to be going into college? What was the involvement to start in medical sales?
Absolutely not.I was a competitive cheerleader and dancer. I wanted to be a ballerina, but I knew I wanted to go something in medical, either nursing, premed or something like that. Life took me in many different directions. I ended up getting divorced and had two small children, two and a half and eight months old. I needed to figure out how I was going to be able to support them and myself while doing something I love. Do I go back to school to be a physician’s assistant or do I go back for medical school? At the time with two young children, I needed to work. I wanted to find a company where I could have a career, where I was passionate about, where I was helping people and I can make a difference immediately.
Luckily, someone gave me a chance at medical device. I was hungry and they saw that quality in me. I worked hard to get where I am. It made me a different and better person for having to go through everything I went through to get to my position. I tried to get away from medical device and start a food company business once, and I quickly went right back. I love what I do and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing now. It was a little bit of a convoluted path, but I’m glad it took me to where I am now.Being self-motivated, going the extra mile, and being purpose-driven are qualities that you cannot teach. Click To Tweet
Many of us have what you call a convoluted path. We think we’re doing one thing and then we find ourselves doing something else completely, and then eventually we fall in love with it. You went from college to pharma. You said pharma is where personal things happen, and then you re-evaluate things and took it into devices.
I was first hired for a medical nutritional role selling Abbott like Ensure and those types of products. On the job during a sales call, there was someone there from Merck and they had a new anti-cholesterol drug, Zetia. They had Zocor and Zetia. They heard my clinical background as a dietician. The manager gave me his card and told me to contact him. I did and I entered the world of pharmaceuticals, which I loved. It gave me a good background because it made me understand. The training was wonderful. It was very thorough. You go away for a certain number of weeks and you learn how to read research and white papers, and how to take those bits of information, and do your elevator speech or your lunch speeches, and understand what points you need to pull that a doctor wants to hear.
I’m very thankful for that training. After that, I found myself in the position where I was filing for divorce from my children’s father. What am I going to do? What do I want to do? I got interviewed with DePuyOrthopedics and fortunately, the distributor at the time was like,“You have six months to prove yourself or you don’t have a job. You’re on commission and you eat what you kill.”I put my nose to the grind and I went for it. Ever since then, I never looked back. I had to make it work and I made it work.I fell in love with orthopedics at the time.
In the medical sales industry, there’s this stigma out there. I’ve heard and I’ve spoken to medical device sales reps about it, that they typically don’t want people from pharma. Could you speak to the truth of that? How that was different for you and what people that are pharmaceutical reps that want to become medical device reps can do about it?
There are a few bullet points there. The first bullet point is when I’m hiring someone or looking at a candidate for a position, I’m looking at what makes them tick. There are certain qualities I believe you can’t teach. One of them is being persistent because you get said no to a lot. In medical device sales like for spine, there are 219 companies fighting for a surgeon’s attention. In ortho, there are many different big companies with a lot of different contracts and you’re going to hear no a lot from gatekeepers. With pharma, there’s a different mentality because sometimes you’re either a direct employee where you get your nice base salary and your commission-based quota or you’rea distributor employee where you’re like what I mentioned before, you eat what you kill.
With pharmaceuticals, it’s a nice lifestyle. You typically work working hours. You’re not working weekends. You get a nice base salary and a commission if you meet reasonable quotas. With medical device, when you’re first starting out, if you’re not with a big company like Medtronic or Stryker, and you’re becoming an associate rep, it’s a much more challenging road. You’ve got to be on call. You might be running around big heavy trays. You might have to do cadaver labs on weekends. You might have to go in at 5:00 in the morning. Why would someone from pharmaceuticals? Do they understand what they’re getting themselves into? Why did they want to take that leap? Those are always the questions andI’m trying to uncover what makes them tick and why do they want that new lifestyle?
You were able to prove that when you got into device sales through the person that gave you an opportunity.
It was all about the interview and them understanding why I wanted to do what I need to do. For them,I said something like,“My ex-husband is an anesthesiologist and he made good money. I want to make enough money where I can support these two children. I want to never need anybody again. I want to be somebody again.”He was like, “You’re hungry.” It was so silly. I was scared to tell anything about my personal life because I was afraid they weren’t going to hire me for that. I was blatantly honest about why I wanted to make this work and how I had to make it work. It’s that hunger and when people say no to you, you’re going to keep on going back. You got to keep on finding different ways to connect and have relationships. Even though some surgeons or some doctors will use a Medtronic because it’s Medtronic and they want to always use Stryker, Globus, DePuyor some of the bigger companies. When you’re from a smaller company, you have to have a reason for them to want to talk to you and to have to develop a relationship with you so they stick with you long term.
With your beginning in medical devices, how did you know which company? Did you do a lot of research into figuring out where you want it to be? Was it just whoever has you? How did you approach that?
I liked the orthopedics starting because I was always athletic and into health, fitness and sports. It seemed to me being naive. I didn’t know a lot about this, but it seemed like a lot of orthopedic surgeons were ex-athletes or sports medicine going into trauma. You have small foot and ankle cases, and wrist cases. You can get your way into a surgeon’s OR by having smaller types of surgeries instead of getting into big joints. I thought that would be a good way to get someone to know you, like you, and trust you in the OR and eventually be able to ask for the bigger cases. That is why I was looking. I wanted a reputable company that had a very good training program, that’s why I chose DePuy.
Shortly after that, I stayed with them for a while until I got an opportunity to work for Biomet Orthopedics, where I spent almost ten years in a distributor-type setting. I was thankful because I was with a lot of senior guys. Biomet at the time was a smaller company. They’re still a new name. They had unique technology like E-Poly, the first vitamin E-infused poly. They had different hip stems and different technology and metal surfaces before other companies did. It was afun place to work. That’s where I believe I learned a lot about how to be an excellent rep. I worked with some challenging surgeons. I was put in a lot of different cases and that’s where I got my foundation and my skillset. Those ten years, I spent being a distributor rep with a team of people at Biomet Orthopedics.
What prompted the move from DePuy to Biomet? How do you know you want to make that move? Why did you want to make that move?
It was the team of guys who are at Biomet. At the time there was this company in Fort Myers, Florida that a hospital was trying to go to a 2 or 3 vendors system. DePuy was kicked out of that and Biomet was up. The principal for Biomet at the time spoke on the podium and I heard him speak from his heart. He says that he believes that surgeons and patients should have the best implant for their case and their situation. He believes all companies should be allowed in the hospital. He was willing to decrease his price point to allow that because he believes that the surgeon should have the right to choose the best implant for their patient and not having a monopoly. Hearing him say that and seeing his team be so polished and professional, I wanted to work for him. The team I was at before was all about preserving their price point. I knew for me, that’s where I belong.
You’re so purpose-driven. I love hearing that. When it comes to being an amazing medical device sales rep, give me the top three characteristics you got to have. The attributes that would make you an amazing medical device rep.
A charismatic personality. Someone who can have a fun banter back and forth in the OR and know how to be serious though. Someone who can understand and read a room and read people. That type of personality. Someone who is truly self-motivated, who can get up every day, do what needs to be done, go the extra mile, study at night for cases and surgeries, and be purpose-driven on their mission every single day, but that has to come from within. That’s something you can’t teach. Someone who’s always humble and nimble. These times you can feel you can get a new surgeon, get a new case, and you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other days you can make twenty sales calls and get the door shut on your face and said no, or a surgeon that you worked with for years decided that he likes a new implant better. That million-dollar doctor that you have that cushy lifestyle where you were covering cases two days a week is gone. You have to have those type of characteristics. I like to say I’m always pleasantly persistent in that case where you don’t take no for answer. You just keep coming back and you find out what your customers want instead of what your agenda is.
Would you say those are the things that create the longest-lasting relationships between you and your surgeons? Would you say there are other things to consider?
There are other things to consider being a service-oriented type of person. Its listening to what the surgeon wants. For example, if you’re in surgery and the surgeon said,“I would like an instrument that was bent 90 degrees instead of the 30 degrees.”Going back to your company and speaking to engineers and seeing if it’s something that you can get a custom instrument for. Going the extra mile, checking your implants, making sure you have everything for that case, going in and looking at the surgeries. It’s having those communications instead of running in and not being prepared or not looking at x-rays before. It’s taking the time to understand what the surgeon wants.
A lot of times, even when I’m training people, you go on sales calls with them and you have a widget you want to sell. You go in and that’s all you have in your mind. You have your little sales sheet and you have your widget. The surgeon says to you, “I had a problem in a case where it wasn’t my pedicle screw. It was my interbody that failed. I’m looking for a new interbody,” but you keep going down the path of showing pedicle screw where you could have had a win. I see that a lot because you’re trained to do a certain sales script. You’re not able to pivot and listen to someone’s needs and then own those needs.Medical device sales is a challenge to get into, but once you're in it, it is a wonderful career. Click To Tweet
We’ve talked a bit about what it means to be an amazing sales rep and how to develop long-lasting relationships. As I said earlier, you’re such a purpose-driven person. You seem like you’ll do everything for sound reasons. What sustains you to keep driving towards being more and more progressive, growing your career and going through everything that you’ve described? I think I know the answer but share with us anyway.
Probably the most thing that sustains me is leaving my two sons, why I do what I do, but also I love shortening a learning curve for somebody new. When I have new sales reps on a team and seeing them grow and shorten their learning curve. Mine was a tough road. I didn’t do everything right. I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I learned the hard way. A lot of times being in the sterile, reading surgical techniques during a case of trying to do a revision. When I see somebody new in the industry who is shortening their learning curve and winning and getting to where they want to be, I get excited about that. That’s what makes me tick. Also, in the same sense of having a surgeon, I was in the endoscopic spine. I had been able to have something that is so minimally invasive and you achieve direct visualization and be able to see endoscopic fusions now. Being a part of that team where we’re revolutionizing those surgeries.
Sometimes in those surgeries, I was in a case, my first one. The patient was awake during the surgery. They were a little bit sedated. They did an endoscopic decompression, 45 minutes later, the patient got up and walked out. There was another case where the patient was wheelchair-bound and in a week and a half got up and walked out of the hospital. Seeing those types of things and seeing surgeons learn those technologies and be able to apply it to a patient and seeing a patient with a beautiful outcome drives me. I love it.
We’ve talked about if someone wants to consider medical device sales, they should think about the why. You have experience in spine and ortho. I know there are many other fields. Can you talk a little bit about what separates the field within medical devices? Would you be able to categorize them into maybe 3, 4 even 5 major fields? How do you piece it all out?
There is your big capital equipment component where you’re selling endoscopic towers, navigation systems, robotics and that type of medical device. You have your hardware, where it would be foot and ankle, sports medicine, spine, knees and joints. You have those type and then you also have your biologic like your plasma sprays, your biologics, what you achieve to get a bone fusion. Infuse was the second-largest spine company at one point. It’s a division of Medtronic. You have your disposable things. Those are the three different type of selling scenarios that I see.
Would you say that the nature of how those devices are sold are dramatically different within each category? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Robotics is a capital component. You’re not only dealing with your surgeons, but you’re dealing with value analysis committees, your CFOs, your chief purchasing officers as well. A lot of times, those are marathons because you’re selling $1 million piece of equipment that needs a lot of hospital approval and needs budgeting. You’re not going to make a sales call and place a tower the next day. With hardware, you have your knees and usually, ortho and spine surgeons know knees and pedicle screws. They’re not necessarily teaching a new technology. Sometimes the hard part about that is learning the benefits of your product versus others on the market. Them understanding, knowing you and trusting you as their rep, and also hospital contracting. Are you on contract? Understanding all of your equipment, allocating instrumentation. You have that side, where biologics is you may not be doing the large part of the casework or instrumentation, but you are there to put your bone graft in an interbody cage or sell it. You don’t have to be there for every surgery, but you have different service call point. Hardware device reps, you usually have a rep in every room for every case. With biologics, you don’t necessarily.
If you were to maybe help someone who wants to enter devices, consider where they want to be. Let’s say they’re clear on their why. They know why they want to be in it. They’re passionate about what they understand, what questions would you say they need to ask themselves as they decide into which field they want to get into?
They want to be a rep that wants to be in OR and to be there for every surgery, and have that type of life where you’re in there at 6:00 in the morning. You’re at a surgeon’s call. Whenever they have a case, you need to be there. There’s a lot of setup for those type of cases. Capital sales, are you comfortable speaking to CFOs and CEOs? That’s a totally different type of conversation or a high-level conversation. Are you a patient person where you may start a conversation now, but not sell it for a year or two?
You have those pipelines. You get a big reward at the end, but that’s a marathon, not a sprint. Biologics, you have to understand your science, your clinical and your chemistry around that. Usually, those type of positions have larger territories versus hardware where you can’t because you have 3 or 4 surgeons that can make you very successful, and you have to run those trays around. What are your goals long-term and what do you want your daily lifestyle to be like? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself.
That was very insightful. Thank you for that. I have a question that I ask everyone and I’m going to ask you too. Give me what you would say before your first pharma opportunity and before your first medical device opportunity. If you can go back and tell yourself something based on everything you know now, what would you say? Start with pharma. What would you say before you started that pharma job? You already got the job. It’s your first day and you know everything you know now. What would you do and what would you say?
I would say get comfortable with role-playing and being on camera. Something I wasn’t used to is public speaking skills like that. It’s a lot of quick thinking on your feet. One thing I’ve always wished I did before pharma was some type of Toastmasters program. Be eloquent and be able to think quick on your feet and say what you would like to say in those messages very concisely, and have your own spin on it versus what you’re exactly taught. That public speaking skill is so quick because you may have 1 or 2 minutes. You might not have a lot of time.
Would you say the same thing before you start devices? Would you give yourself a different piece of advice?
For devices, what makes a very strong device rep is that you knew more than what is going on with your instruments and your implants. You have to understand that procedure. If you’re doing a total knee or a decompression, go on VuMedi or YouTube or ORLive and understand your entire procedure. Know the anatomy and the physiology. Know what the surgeon is trying to achieve because, in a way, you’re an expert. If everything goes by the surgical technique, that’s a great day. When everything goes wrong and instruments are dropped and how you can MacGyver things, that’s where you shine as a rep. When things don’t go the way it’s planned, how do you make things work? How do you help the surgeon achieve what he wants to achieve with what we currently have? That’s where you shine as a rep because you are almost like a consultant there from the company. Everything in everyone’s anatomy doesn’t always go as planned as you do in training. It’s understanding procedures and what the surgeon is trying to achieve other than just your surgical techniques.
Is there anything you would love to share with our audience that you want them to know?
I would say keep on taking the chances and going after your dreams. Medical device is a challenge to get into but once you’re in it, it is a wonderful career. Every day is different. You’re always learning and growing. There are many different ways you can develop. You can be a product manager or director of medical education. There are many facets than just being a medical device rep. I didn’t know any of that going into it, but keep on interviewing and practice interviewing. Go on interviews that you have no intentions of even wanting a position, but keep on practicing. Do your homework before the interview because it’s a fun and great career. I love it and there’s nothing else I would rather do than be in this industry.
Thank you so much for spending time with us, Lisa. You were amazing and I’m sure everything that everyone learned from you will definitely take it to heart.
That was Lisa Jacobs. She talked about some things for anyone that’s looking to get into any type of medical sales industry. She talked about what makes you tick. When she makes her own decisions, she pays extra attention to what makes you tick. That’s something that we all have to remember. When we get the opportunity to sit down with someone that could potentially take us onto a team and make a difference and an impact, we want to communicate who we are as a person and what we’re driven by. At the end of the day, a lot of hiring managers are going to make their final decisions based on what they believe you’re driven by. It only makes a lot of sense to get clear on what drives you. Be honest with yourself and be authentic, and then develop a story that communicates why that’s going to be so valuable to the company that’s thinking of taking you on.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. There are many things to learn from everything she shared with us. If there are any questions or something you want to specifically address in upcoming episodes, go to EvolveYourSuccess.com. Visit the podcast page and ask that question. You can ask in the form of typing it. You can leave a recording and we can put it into our next segment and directly address it. If you’re looking to get into the industry and you’re looking for something that’s going to help you make it happen, visit EvolveYourSuccess.com. Take a look at our programs and stay tuned for the next episode.