The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exposed many issues in our healthcare system and has driven much of the innovation we see today. Particularly for medical sales representatives, we have seen this new style of selling and consulting, allowing the industry to continue to thrive and grow. Picking up where we left off, Eric Ford is back for this second part of the discussion to take us deeper into the changes he has seen in recent years and offer deep career insights as we navigate the future. He then gives us a peek into his life philosophy, how he maintains key personal relationships, reflects on the legacy he continues to create, and strives to grow and be better in life.
In this episode, we continue with Eric Ford. He is the first Black leader at an orthopedic sales company and one of the youngest that led the eye division at a larger company. This is part two with Eric Ford and it’s going to be a treat so make sure you continue reading. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests that are doing things a little bit differently and pioneering and trailblazing in the medical sale space. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
Where those highly specialized areas reside, that’s where the growth trajectory is. When you start thinking about the next ten years, that’s a space where there’s going to be an influx of sales consultants. I’m being choiceful with words. People don’t want to be sold to anymore. You don’t have to go too far from even social media the way algorithms work.
You’re always fed things that are probably a part of the ecosystem that you’re shopping in and someone’s trying to convince you to do something. We got the TikTok environment where you watch one video and then you get fed 15 other videos that look very similar to the one that you watched for 2 seconds. “I don’t want to watch any more of that,” but the reality is people still want service and support.
Many people get frustrated because they call up a hotline saying, “Send us a text message or you can fill this out online.” People still want to be able to touch, speak to, interact and build a relationship with someone that they trust to navigate the space in which they’re operating. Sales consultants that can differentiate themselves, bring that value and service and have a kick product are always going to be in business. There’s always going to be a market for that. The spaces that lend themselves to that are always going to continue to grow, expand and dominate in any industry.
COVID changed a lot of things in the life of a sales rep. For a while there, people have to get very innovative in how to get access to their providers. Platforms like LinkedIn went from a useful platform to the main platform to try to get access. The role of a rep went from, “I’m in the field 100% of the day,” to, “I’m in the field when I can. Other times, I’m trying to come up with creative ways from my desk to get access, through email, text message, video, you name it.” In 2022, it’s calmed down a little bit. The remnants of COVID are still very much here. What would you say it looks like? What would you say maybe our company’s approach has been to this new style of consulting for the sales consultant?
COVID exposed so many things. At that time, we were thinking about what was essential and what was not essential. I wasn’t part of the organization at this time but my sales consultants were deemed essential. They’re partners with hospitals where they had access to the OR, the hospital and their customers. While everyone else was bunkered at home, I’d like to joke, which is a serious manner but they were like the Will Smith character in I am Legend, one dog, one gun and ready out there by themselves because they were deemed essential.
Nothing’s changed for the sales consultant in my business, which was eye-opening. When the world stopped, this business continued to thrive and grow. Granted the volume of cases was much lower because people weren’t out getting hurt and we never wish for anyone to get hurt but that’s the reality of the business. It was a little bit slower but while that was still happening, our sales consultants are right there delivering exceptional service, doing their day-to-day job and putting their families at risk. They would come home and have to take off their scrubs in the garage. We were all doing it in different ways but they were still living their life and working every single day to meet the needs of the customer.When the world stopped, this business continued to thrive and grow. Click To Tweet
What I also saw was in other industries, people were at home and were limited to Zoom calls, phone calls and messages directly on sites like LinkedIn. I saw the way we interact and the touchpoints were different but even where you have specific access in the form OR or Zoom meeting, the way we communicate for sales reps to end-user customers has evolved. The digital touchpoints are even more valuable.
Back in the day, we had a paper left behind. I remember I always use the three points of a touch point. In an in-person conversation, I would send a fax and then an email. In 2022, you post something on LinkedIn, send a direct message, follow up with a phone call, text message and all these different things. I remember playing words with friends with different doctors to get another touchpoint, have a little fun and create that harmony where it’s a non-intimidating or threatening way where I’m not trying to always sell them something but then also have that chat, “Did you see the note I left earlier when I missed you?” All those things are critically important to drive connection.
What COVID also showed us was connection will withstand any turmoil. If you have a true relationship connection with your customer, I don’t care if space or time is going to be elongated, that connection will still be there. You have your opportunity to sell and will always be there if you’ve invested the time and energy to build that relationship.What COVID showed us is that connection will withstand any turmoil. If you have a true relationship with your customer, that connection will still be there. Click To Tweet
Connection is everything and there are so many ways to connect. As long as you can maintain that connection, you’ll always have a business and a relationship. One thing I want to know from you is who were the most impactful people that spoke to your life to give you the drive and mindset you have?
It’s easy to pinpoint that. It’s my mother and my grandmother. I come from a massive family with roots from down South on my mother’s side and roots from St. Thomas on my father’s side. When I think about strong black women in my life, it’s my mom and my grandmother. My grandmother and mom were both born in Newark, New Jersey. The fact that my mom graduated from Rutgers University and took a Master’s at Rutgers University. She was a school teacher in Newark, New Jersey, in the community she lived in. The lessons that she taught me through her students that I didn’t even know were an inspiration and a driving factor for a lot of the things and decisions that I made throughout my entire life and career.
In high school, she always used to say to me, “Eric, you want to have options. You want to do X, Y or Z. You don’t want to make up your bed or do you want to have it made? Study hard. We’re not going to get a pool. Do you want a pool? Study hard.” The response to any question or request that I had for her was, “Study hard.” She got that mentality from her mother.
We talked about breaking through glass ceilings and being trailblazers in different spaces. That’s exactly who my grandmother was. She was a legal secretary in the Essex County Court System for years. She was the first Black legal secretary. A lot of times when she would go to her job, there were many microaggressions that she had to fight through to thrive in that environment. The lessons and the stories that she shared with me and my older brother over the years were preparation for the spaces that we would occupy over the last ten years of my career.
As you’re ascending to higher levels of leadership, some things are going to happen that sometimes you have to look the other way on and sometimes you’re going to have to fight and kick in that door. My grandmother did that gracefully in the space that she was in for years. I was able to learn from a distance based on the stories that she shared that prepared me for the space that I occupy.
I wouldn’t be here to this day if weren’t for those two women. My father would say for years, “You’re a director. You’re a VP. You better thank your mother.” I thank my mother and my grandmother for being phenomenal women and putting me on a path that I didn’t even know I was on I’m realizing the potential that they saw in me. It was incredible.
One thing I love that you highlight in that story is they were having those important conversations about breaking glass ceilings when you were young. You had the opportunity to build on it and build that into your psyche and live that life. Let’s switch gears one more time. You do a lot. You have a wife, we know that. Do you have kids?
No kids yet.
You’re moving. Tell us how you make it all happen. You have a very demanding position. You have a relationship to prioritize. What do you do that keeps you focused and grounded? Give us a little bit about what keeps you grounded and how you maintain everything throughout your day.
Family keeps you grounded. I have a beautiful wife, a mother, in-laws, an older brother and his two twin girls. I have that familial connection and strong network from college and high school. I played sports growing up. I hung up the cleats before I went to college but my buddies from high school and college are the folks that I still kick with so that ground me.
When I walk into a room and it’s a work function, a lot of times I feel like it’s written on my forehead, “AVP,” which is cool and I understand it’s a great accomplishment and title but that’s not who I am. As my friends see me, they’re like, “E, what’s up?” We have those reminiscent moments where we’re talking about old times, building new memories and having fun. That’s what keeps me motivated and grounded because we’re all doing great things. That’s the beauty of going to an HBCU like Hampton University.
There are so many people within my network who are doing great things like me and even better than me that continue to motivate the space that I’m in. Black excellence. At Hampton, we call it the standard of excellence and that’s something that I love. I have homecoming coming up always in the fall. No matter what part of the year, I’m always looking forward to homecoming. The weekend after homecoming, I’m looking forward to homecoming. The weekend before homecoming, I’m looking forward to homecoming. That reenergizes me.
My wife and I met on campus. The fact that we can go back to where we met always rekindles a special place in our hearts. Ultimately, it’s where I found the love of my life and my career role. There are so many different sentimental reasons why I love going back to campus during homecoming but the most important is seeing the Black excellence on campus. Coming back and seeing the beautiful bands, the football team, people, energy, charisma and swag that we have is second to none.
It is energizing and inspiring for me to be back at work every single day with the purpose to say, “I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m doing it for my legacy, my family and the folks that will come after me as I continue to kick in these doors, leave them open, pull people up and look to be pulled up to higher levels.”
Were you part of a fraternity at Hampton?
I was not. Me find me.
That’s the first time I’ve heard that. Me find me. I’m stealing that. That’s cool.
I have some vinyl records because I love music. The cool part about being on campus freshman year coming from Jersey and bringing my turntable is I was a DJ for foam parties, the alpha parties and the Q parties. I had great relationships across the board based on that passion for DJing. Even for the pageants. Every pageant person would want to have this cut of music. I would do a lot of music production for some of those pageants and fashion shows.
I was connected in so many different ways on campus. I wasn’t limited to one fraternity or organization, which was beautiful. I could see different things, experience different things and even work for the school. When the school’s writing you a check because you DJ-ed party, that’s a good feeling. I had that always spirit of that hustle, grit and entrepreneurship which transcended even on campus when I was at Hampton. It was fun.
How often do you DJ in 2022?
Tell us what are you doing and where can we hear you.
On MIXTAPE RADIO. I host a radio show. It’s great and you can find it on SoundCloud. That’s how I unwind. If I have a hard week, I look forward to that Friday or Saturday morning, get up, spin for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, record them and post it on SoundCloud. It’s great. Keep those creative juices flowing. I send it out to my friends. I’m not worldwide. I said it to a couple of buddies here. It brings this back to those memories when we were out in those streets but other than that, it is critically important to have those outlets.
I love to cook, be outdoors and exercise. Those are the things that I look forward to every single day. I always have a saying every week, “Can I look back and say I did something for the first time?” Does that happen every week? No, but every month I look up and say, “I did something for the first time.” Within our company, we had a hockey tournament. I played ice hockey. It wasn’t the first time. I grew up playing ice hockey in New Jersey but it’s been several years since I played. Those are things that keep keeping active and stay busy that allow me to bring my best self to work and not feel too stressed out while I’m doing a hard job.
It goes without saying but I’m going to say it. There’s going to be a link to one of your music productions.
Everybody, hear it. You’re the witnesses so expect to see it. That is fantastic. I love it. I believe that someone like yourself that believes in excellence and has done what they can to take advantage of any opportunity that’s given to them operates by some life philosophy. If it’s true for you, please share what it is. You talked to us about some of the things that ground you and where your roots came from but what’s that life philosophy that maybe you can inspire other people reading this episode to decide to take on if they don’t have one for themselves?
The first is when I was in high school, every day when my father would drop me off at school before I would get out of the car, he’d say, “Strive for perfection.” I would hear it every single day. I was like, “I’m not going to be perfect but I’ll strive for perfection.” He was intentional in the words that he was using when he would say that to me.
Unfortunately, my father passed in 2020 due to cancer stage four. It kicked him hard. As I thought back at that time, all of the lessons that he taught myself and my older brother, that’s one that always rang true. Whatever you do, how can you do, put your stamp on it and strive to be perfect. You won’t end there but if that’s the goal and the aspiration, you’ll do a pretty good job.
The second thing that runs through my mind is without struggle, there’s no progress. Far too often we think things come easy. We see people having success and the highlight reel. We think, “It must be easy because they’re doing it. It should be easy for me.” If you’re going to progress in something and have any type of success, there are going to be a struggle and hardships but what you do with those hardships to overcome them is what defines you as a man, an individual and a human.
The last one is if I cease being better, I cease being good. Every single day, I’m trying to get better and it’s the small things. When I was first a manager, one of my great mentors said, “Eric, you’re going to have a bunch of team members. You’re going to try to have them all do it the way you did it. Don’t do that but if you get one individual, do one thing differently. Every single time you’re with them, that’ll be a recipe for success.”
I not only took that advice to the teams that I was managing but I took that advice to heart and tried to apply that to my life. I said, “Every week or every day I can do one thing better.” If that interacts with some of my direct reports in a better way, that produces a better outcome. If you compound that over time, you’re going to continue to improve. Those are the things that people sometimes take for granted.
I had a college friend who met Kobe Bryant before he passed. It was random. He was in a gym in Philly and was getting up some jump shots. He was proud of himself. He told Kobe, “I got 1,000 jump shots this morning.” Kobe looked at him and said, “You shouldn’t leave until you make 1,000 jump shots.” That shook him up.
I remember when he was sharing the story. It makes you always think about life in a different way around, “How do you better yourself?” What you think is good someone else is looking at it as not impressive.” Continue to challenge yourself and put yourself in a space that allows you to continue to grow and improve.How do you continue to challenge yourself and put yourself in a space that allows you to continue to grow and improve? Click To Tweet
Eric, this has been a pleasure to have you and listen to your story, understand your journey and what drives you. That’s what we got the privilege of knowing. I’m going to end it all by asking you a couple of questions. This is a little fun we’re about to have. You have less than ten seconds to answer them, just whatever comes to mind. One, what’s the best book that you’ve read in the last couple of months?
It’s Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg.
When did that book come out? Is that a classic or is that something new?
It’s a classic in my mind. It’s not new. It probably came out a couple of years ago.
The best movie or TV show in the last couple of months.
Again, it’s something I haven’t heard of. What is this? Is that a TV show or a movie?
Surface is a TV show. It’s on Apple TV starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Why is it good?
The premise of the show is everything that you think on the surface is never what you think it is. That transcends into life. A lot of people judge a book by its cover. The premise of the show is a woman has a horrible accident, has amnesia and trying to remember the life that she had prior to this accident. People around her are creating environments that they think are best for her but as she starts to realize this is not the person that she was or is, she’s trying to discover who she truly is. Is she the villain? Is she not the villain? Is her husband the villain? There are turns that this show takes that are inspiring because that’s how life is. You never know. The bad person doesn’t describe themselves as the bad person. You have to only learn that after a long amount of time of discovery.
The best meal you’ve had in the last couple of months.
I have to go with my smoker. It’s been something I’ve been passionate about. It’s my barbecue ribs. I spend some time in Texas so I know a good brisket. I also spent some time in Memphis so I know good ribs. The ribs that came off my smoker are good.
You messed up. We have to add another link for people to put it in order to get these ribs.
I’m going to put some people out of business.
The last question is the best experience you’ve had in the last couple of months.
I’m soon to be a father.
My wife is pregnant. Getting that news is life-changing as you know and as everyone does. It means the world and it’s something that we’re super excited about. It’s going to be a baby boy and we can’t wait to be parents.
Talking about saving the best for last. What a blessing. Congratulations to you. Eric, it’s been a true pleasure. We’re going to have our eyes on you as you continue to make things happen for the company you work for. Thank you so much for being on the show.
That was Eric Ford. He is a man on the move and he’s blazing the way over there at the company he’s with. Maybe you read this episode and you’re someone that wants to get into the field and you want to be a medical sales rep. You want to work in ortho or trauma and maybe you want to work for the company he’s working for. You’re thinking, “How do I make this happen? What I read is exactly where I want to be.”
Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com, select Attain a Medical Sales Role, fill out some information, submit it and have a conversation with us so you can explore the Medical Sales Career Builder program which is a program designed to get a professional with a Bachelor’s Degree into a medical sales role. We are having success left and right. You could be another successful individual to come out of the program and contribute to being another success story. Visit our website and select Attain a Medical Sales Role.
If you’re someone that’s thinking about doing things in a bigger way in 2022, you’re already in the field, maybe you’re having a pharmaceutical sales position, medical device sales position or anywhere in between and you’re in some type of medical sales role saying to yourself, “I want this to be my year. I have what it takes and I’m ready to do what it takes to attain it,” visit Evolve Your Success and select Improved Sales Performance.
Take a look at our sales training program, submit some information, schedule a call with us and let’s get you the results that you’ve been looking for. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests that are doing things differently in the medical sales space. Make sure you tune in next time for another episode.
The youngest Sales Director in J&J Vision Care’s history & 1st Black AVP in DePuy Synthes history.
An experienced Medical Device Sales Leader, Eric has demonstrated a history of building and developing highly effective sales teams that deliver top-line sales and bottom-line income. With Sales Strategy, Strategic Planning, Commercial Operations, Recruiting, and Sales Force Design as his core skills, he has climbed the ranks of Johnson & Johnson while winning multiple president’s club awards, manager and director of the year honors all while being the youngest Regional Sales Director in his company’s history.
Eric blazed another trail in Johnson & Johnson history by being the 1st Black Area Vice President for DePuy Synthes which is Johnson & Johnson’s Orthopedics Company where he currently manages a ~$200M book of business with 110 Sales Leaders/Consultants Reporting to him. Eric graduated with honors from Hampton University’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism & Communication with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) majoring in Advertising and minoring in Marketing within the business School. His current passions are Music through turntablism, cooking, hiking, biking, and traveling the world with his wife of ten years.
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