If you have zero experience in medical sales, you can still make it if you put in the time and effort to learn. Erik Grahovac is a great example of this. He went from corporate sales to consulting up-and-coming medical device salespeople. Corporate Device Consulting: Fast isn’t fast, smooth is fast. Take it easy. Just start where you are in your career. You don’t need to look at someone’s LinkedIn and say that you need that now.
Join Samuel Adeyinka and discover Erik’s colorful background. He was a football coach, then a sales professional, and now a medical device sales leader. Learn how he is really improving how medical sales should be done. So if you want to get into this industry, take your time, learn the business, and take the opportunity.
In this episode, we have with us another special guest that goes by the name of Erik Grahovac. You might recognize his name from LinkedIn. He’s become somewhat of a medical device sales influencer in the space. He hails from a very colorful background as an American football coach, pharmaceutical sales rep, medical device sales rep, and then medical device sales leader.
In this episode, we talk about his rise in his career and how he transitioned from corporate life to consulting life. He also goes into the details of what it was like to be an American college football coach and become a medical sales rep. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests that are changing the way medical sales happen, are seen, and are done. As always, I hope you enjoy this episode.
Erik, how are we doing?
I’m good, Samuel. How are you doing?
I am fantastic. No complaints over here. Why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do?
Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. My name is Erik Grahovac. I am a former twelve-year med device veteran, former B2B salesperson, and former pharmaceutical salesperson, and then even in a prior life, I was a college football coach, which was my dream, my passion, and my pursuit. I still say that if I were a single guy, I would probably be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers now, but I’m not. I found a very intelligent young lady once upon a time who fast-forwarded along and became a surgeon.
We couldn’t live those lives of football coaches and surgeons. It’s not necessarily a mix that works. I rerouted. I got into sales and wrapped up a twelve-year career in the med device. Now, I am trying to blend that all together as a former coach and sales leader, and sales rep in the med device world to help people and coach people into the industry.
Once they are in that industry, they grow their careers and go from there based on what I’ve seen, what I’ve known, and the things I couldn’t share the way I wanted to as an employee. I had a day job that got in the way of that. With the modern world, the internet machine, and all that stuff, you can help more people, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Is this the consulting company?
Yes. It was LLC I started a few years back to see how LegalZoom works, but I figured I might as well keep it no sense in giving somebody $150 if I don’t need to. My initials are my football number, and the consulting seemed like a buzzword that I should use but certainly, the goal is something that I’ve realized over time.
Originally, the moniker for the company was making more leaders. That was always something we talked about as I was managing managers and leading leaders. Our job is to make more leaders, and perhaps 60 is the multiplier that I never thought about. If you can affect that one person and make them a leader through the course of their career, their efforts, their life, and their impact, they should get to about 60 folks where they can make them better. Lo and behold, that 60 has more significance than I was prepared for.
That’s a powerful theme. You mentioned something. You said that you are now in a position to talk about things that you couldn’t do when you were in the corporate world. Give us an example of what those things are. What does that look like?
The biggest thing is the reality of heading into a med device opportunity and chasing that down. The biggest part when you and I were talking about this is that medical device is much bigger than scrub sinks, surgeons, and standing in ORs. Those are necessary, fantastic, and incredible. Those careers are changing people’s lives, certainly.
Patients, caregivers, and the reps, everybody but when you zoom out and think of healthcare, particularly in the United States for sure, you’ve got nursing and transport. You’ve got all these folks that are in the building that is taking care of people. They have products too. They have needs. They are trying to stay safe. They are trying to prevent injuries and all those things. I want people to understand it’s a much bigger world than just being in the operating room.
Let’s take it back then because everybody needs to know how you got to where you are now, and more importantly, you’ve had all these tastes of life that people can’t say, especially being a football coach. I’m going to take you back to college, and I want you to tell me what is on the horizon. When you were in college, where was your mindset, and what happened getting into your first role out of college?
I joked in a post a few months back. I barely graduated college. I barely graduated high school. Sitting in a classroom was not my thing but I was fortunate enough genetically in those things to be able to get a full scholarship, play football, live that life, and do all those things. Did I want to play in the National Football League? Sure, but I was also very realistic about the odds there.
I have always wanted to be a coach. That was the thing that I always wanted to do. I had a conversation with my position coach at the time. He had been in the industry forever and said, “When you graduate, I will help you get into the industry.” He called me on Christmas Eve. He said, “I took a job at the University of Louisville. We have an opening for a video graduate assistant.”
I was like, “I don’t even know what that is but I will park cars and shine shoes or whatever we got to do to get in. I will be there.” I went down there and did that. Eventually, I evolved into a tight ends coach. It was an amazing experience for a young kid coming out of school to be a part of a big multimillion-dollar top-five program.
That was a great experience to see all that but as I’m going along the whole way, I could see the consistencies between the great coaches and the average. I started to pick up on the common themes and what they had. I put it in the back of my brain, and as time went on and I decided to get out of coaching, it was like, “I want to get into med device sales. Why? My brother was in it. I had a couple of friends that were in it. They were driving fancy cars. Life looks pretty good for them. This looks like something I want to do.”
As I went around the horn and talked to recruiters and all that, I kept getting the experience pushback. It’s like, “You don’t have the experience.” “What do I need to do?” They are like, “Go sell something, come back, and you will have it.” I got a job. I worked on the West side of Cincinnati. I got guns pulled on me in autobody shops. I learned how to sell. I learned if I was any good at it, which I was okay with back then.
It wasn’t like I set the world on fire in twelve months, and I was the greatest sales rep in the world. I started to understand how this thing is supposed to work. Those great B2B companies are like going to the Marines. They are going to teach you how to fight and how to win. That’s what you get from those great companies, and you could have a hell of a career there if you so choose to but I had my eye on that.Learning how to sell from great B2B companies is like going into the Marines. You're going to learn how to win. Click To Tweet
As we were getting ready to move back to Pittsburgh and my wife was going to begin her residency back there, I was meeting with a gal that was selling me a diamond for her ring. She had a brother-in-law that was working for a pharma company back in Pittsburgh, and he helped me get an interview. I spent three years in the pharmaceutical world, which wasn’t necessarily for me.
I still had my eye on that med device thing. That’s what I felt like I needed and wanted to do. I then got a call one day from a former teammate of mine that was with a med device company that was getting back into the coaching world. We have been trying to swap lives for a long time. He said, “Dude, you need to stop what you are doing and interview for this job.” I was like, “Yeah. Okay. I got it. We are going to do that.”
I went and did that. Coincidentally enough, a counterpart of mine had just interviewed for the job and had a bunch of bad things to say. The hiring manager was a jerk, a bad opportunity, and all these things. I had that in the back of my mind. Lo and behold, I had interviewed with a guy that I could tell right away resembled those great coaches that I had seen before. He had something about him that attracted me, and he was an incredible leader. He understood how to develop people. Off we went, and I spent that time there working my way up through a couple of different business units and divisions. I went from rep to Manager and then ultimately a Sales Director.
We are still going to go back, though. In college, your goal was to become a coach.
Yep. That was it.
In everything you were doing, med-devices weren’t even on the radar.
It wasn’t on the radar but I knew about it. I saw what my brother was up to and had some former teammates that got into that world and that thing but my dream certainly was to get into coaching, climb the ranks, and move all over the country in hopes of landing that big job one day.
You met the love of your life, and you came to the conclusion that, “Lifestyle is not going to work. What are my other options?” Is this where med came onto your radar?
Yeah, that was it. There were days I would walk into the offensive staff room, and some of the coaches would be like, “Are you still dating that doctor?” I was like, “Yeah.” “Does she not know what we do here? How are you guys going to make this work?” “I will figure it out,” but then, as you started to see the lives that their families had, we always said working as a coach is like working for the carnival. You never know what city you are going to end up and live in. You have to take your family with you. It’s a very interesting lifestyle.Working as a coach is like working for a carnival. You never know what city you're going to end up in and live in. Click To Tweet
For anybody that is a football fan, don’t only show up on the game day and put it all together. There’s a lot that goes on there behind the scenes that makes that tough life. When I decided to shift gears, I was like, “I’m going to get into sales. I was a good recruiter as a coach, and I’ve made some sales, so to speak there.” That’s how it all jumped off from leaving as a coach.
I’m completely ignorant. I’ve never ever had a coaching role in that capacity. I do now, but as a sports team, I haven’t had that role. It’s challenging because of the travel. You have to go from city to city. That’s what makes it tough.
It’s a 100-hour week. If you are lucky, you are working 100 hours a week. It’s 51 weeks out of the year. You get about a week’s vacation in June or so, especially in college, because of all the recruiting that you have to do. You will have a territory. Coaches will have territories around the country. They are responsible for Texas, Florida, and LA. When you are not in a dark film room watching a film, preparing for a game or coaching your players, you are trying to bring in the next great group of players, and that never sleeps.
On top of all that, opportunities can come and go. Maybe the coach you are working for wins a bunch of games, and then they get a bigger job, and they are moving or you are moving in with them. Maybe they don’t win games and get fired. They are moving, and you are moving. Maybe they make a mistake one night and don’t have a job anymore, and then you are moving. My mentor, I remember his daughter had 4 different bedrooms and 4 years of high school. It was Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Kentucky. Think of that if you are a high school kid and you got to move every year. That’s a tough family life.
It must have been cool, though, to go from that into pharma being with a doctor. Did that play into the decision at all or did it help in that career space or were you guys doing your separate thing?
When I was in the pharma world, she was knee-deep in residency, which is brutal altogether, especially as a surgeon doing general surgery. They are a Swiss Army knife in their way through all the different specialties. The biggest takeaway from having a spouse that’s a physician and a surgeon, and I will tell people this, current reps and future reps. Be mindful of what’s going on with them, even nurses and hospital administration included. They are working on really complex and heavy-hearted things.
If you grab that doc in the hallway or pull that nurse aside, understand that they may have just left a family waiting room and had to deliver tough news. Maybe they told somebody they had cancer for the first time. Be smart. No one cares about your widget now but you are going to have to be a little more mindful of the day that they are having and how you approach them because that can get you in trouble.
It can get you kicked out and get you banned. They are never going to do business with you again if you don’t approach things the right way and have a little bit of tack. That’s the thing that I learned from hearing about her experiences and, as a rep, certainly, in dealing with the nursing staff. Be mindful of the tough day they have every day.
Transitioning from pharma to med device. You have this insight that you explained to us now with your wife. You have your coaching experience behind you. Talk to us a little bit about what you are in. You are working for this company as a rep, and then you get into management. How did these experiences play into making that transition or did they? How was it for you?
It all came together in the end. In every interview that I had after leaving coaching, I’ve always said, “Whatever success I have in the future will all be because of the experience I had coming from coaching,” and that was true when I got into the medical device, what I noticed right away because you would rather be lucky than good. I was lucky to continue to work for and come across leaders that understood these fundamentals of you have to have an offense as a sales rep.
If you leave your house as a rep and grab a chunk of grass, throw it up in the air, and wait for the win to show you which direction to go, you are not going to win. There has to be a playbook. There has to be an offense. There has to be a system like a franchise. If you go to Chick-fil-A in any one of those towns, cross country, you get the same experience.
I learned that in the med device too. You’ve got to have an offensive and a playbook where this is how we win. This is how we score points. We run the ball. We throw the ball. You have to have that. You can’t just leave your house every day with coffee and let the wind take you somewhere. You’ve got to have a way to score points, win, sell your product, and help people. That was coming from coaching to know how valuable that was, and then once I got into med device working for leaders that got it, that’s when a big dumb guy like me was like, “I can make this. I can do it.”
Tell us a little bit about the transition from first-tier management to an Area Director there. What was that like? Again, how did your experiences play into making that transition and making it successful for you?
Again, it’s going to come back to the mentors and the coaches I’ve had for certain but when you go from being an individual contributor where you’ve got to perform in your role. You’ve got to do all these things that one day puts you in a position to lead other people and be responsible for careers in that way, which is a heavy responsibility. Also, going into where you are coaching those coaches or leading those leaders. What you find out when you are competing for roles like that, it’s not about how many Rolexes you’ve won and how many crystals you’ve got in your office and “achievements” because everybody has that.
What everybody wants to know is, “Who did you hire? What are they doing now? How did you develop them? What does your coaching tree look like now? How influential have you been in these roles that you were in before that matters the most?” When I interviewed for my sales director job, I think competing against incredibly talented people. The separator was having a sheet of testimonials from the people that I’ve developed over the years and what they had to say.
It wasn’t my resume. It wasn’t my presence or my style. It was like, “These are the people that I have been working on for seven years, and this is what they are doing now to help the shareholders, the customers, the bottom line, and the top line. Now, they are bringing more leaders into it. That’s how moving up the ladder. The higher you go, the more they want to know about that. “Who have you impacted so far? How much have you sold?” You will get to that point. Everybody has got “achievements” and all the other stuff. You have to have something more going on if that is the thing that changes as you go from individual contributor and keep taking more org chart underneath you, if you will.
Now, to the big moment where you said, “I’m going to go ahead and wrap this up, and I’m going to create this company.” You have to share with all of us, and everybody, I’m sure, has been dying to know why did that happen? How did that happen? What gave you the confidence to even make that happen? Talk to us.
It’s a great question, and it is one that I’m getting a lot. Anytime something like this happens, right or wrong, people automatically go like, “What happened? Who did you punch? What did you steal? How many drinks did you have?” It was none of that. One of my mentors told me a long time ago that, “When you are a leader of people, there’s no such thing as a two-week notice.” There isn’t. It’s a six-month notice, and a couple of things were going on. It’s almost a combination of the post-COVID realizations of things and where we were as a family.When you're a leader, there's no such thing as a two-week notice, it's a six-month notice. Click To Tweet
We were working like crazy to get debt-free and doing the Dave Ramsey. We got money and envelopes. We are trying to work on all those things which were coming to a head. Making the decision to move from Pittsburgh and go to the beach where we vacation and live there full-time, everything started to come to a head. I said to myself, “If I’m 80 years old, sitting on a boat dock with my grandkids and my great-grandkids, and I know that I never went for it and bet on myself to start my own thing, I’m going to have a problem with that. I’m not going to be at peace.”
Those are big drivers. That was 75% of the pie for me for certain but then I also got to the point in my career I was like, “I know what I’m pretty good at.” Someone might overhear me saying this and be like, “Who’s this guy think he is,” but I only want to do what I’m good at. I don’t want to do all the other things that it takes to be an employee at a big company. I only want to hire, develop people, and coach. I don’t want to do expense reports. I don’t want to do TPS reports. I love my boss. It was a very emotional exit from this company because it was an incredible place and an incredible group of people.
It changed my life. I cried every other week. It was wild when I decided to announce that I was leaving because it probably surprised a lot of people. It was almost like, “What’s it feel like when you retire and you have that retirement party?” I got to feel that at 42, and that was pretty cool. To have people come out of the woodwork and be like, “You helped me back in the day, and I will never forget it. My family will never forget it.” It was like, “I need to go do this. I need to go take this show on the road.” It all felt right, is what it came down to.
Congratulations, Erik. More power to you for making that decision, and I love your glimpse into the future of being 80 and reflecting. That’s a powerful exercise to put things in perspective. Talk to us a little bit about family then. You brought up the family a couple of times. We know you have a wife that’s a surgeon. Do you have young ones? Give us your family dynamic.
I’ve got two girls. I’m a girl, dad. The fighter’s curse, as they call it but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve got 1 in 6th grade, all right, and 1 in 3rd grade. We are moving down here. They are starting at a new school and all that scary stuff but we found a great community to live in with great people that have welcomed us. We weren’t expecting it but it’s amazing. They are getting into their rhythm. They are doing school and all that. They’ve got their mom’s brains, so they get all As and all that stuff. They are figuring out sports, their interests, and all that has been cool to see. They are excited for me. Young kids these days are hip to social media.
They know way more than we do.
They can teach me way more than I can them. It has been interesting when I tell them what I’m doing now, and they are like, “You are like,” and they will rattle off some YouTube person they watch or something like, “No, that’s not, sure. Yeah. That’s fine. You can think that.
I’m curious about your daily routine because being an area of Vice President is a busy lifestyle. You got to be up early. You are grinding pretty much probably the whole day, and then you are closing up at the end. I can’t imagine, and you have now said, “I’m not going to do that aggressive attack of the day anymore.” I’m sure it’s the same but it’s in different things. Tell us a little bit about what the daily routine looks like now.
I’m learning what the routine is because school has just started. In the past weeks and months, I have been limping along at 25% speed taking care of the girls moving and all that stuff. Now that they are back in school, the routine is to take my dog to the beach after I drop the kids off. I run her until her tongue hangs all the way out the side of her mouth. I get her good and tired. I get a workout in myself. I come back home.
I start working on my content ideas and working on building the things that I’m trying to put together now, where I can help more people at scale and build out a product that’s affordable and very impactful. It brings a lot of value to people as I get my content out there on LinkedIn, network, and catch up with people who have been in my life and career.
Check in with them and see what’s going on. I get a lot of inspiration, ideas, and memories that come back to me that are helpful and that I can share, and that’s it. I will pick the girls up and see what they have going on. I will probably get them a smoothie or something like that and come back. I will work until it is dinnertime and enjoy the life that way.
Working means content creation.
Yeah. That’s it. I put my ideas on paper.
You had all these ideas in your career. How does it feel to get them all out and run through them? What’s that experience has been like for you?
It has been fun. I’m super competitive. I know that to be true. One of the things I always appreciated about working at this company is that they helped me with self-awareness. The Gallup organization, the relationship they have, and everybody knows where they are good and not. The competition is my number one. Now it’s to the point where I will put together some content or something I’m going to send out on LinkedIn, and then I get all excited about it.
I will tell my wife about it. I’m like, “This is a really good one.” I’m hitting them with the juicy stuff now, and I got to see how it does, and the dopamine hits. You get the clicks, likes, and shares but it’s cool because you get to see people you’ve never met in your life, and maybe you never will. At that moment, they are like, “This was cool. I like that. I got something out of that. That’s unique. I don’t know. That’s a very 2022 thing.
That is a very 2022, but it’s a powerful thing. That’s very cool. Let’s talk about a little bit of advice you want to give to the audience here. Our readers are people that want to get into the industry, people that are in the industry, and those leading the way. Let’s start with those that want to get in. If you can give one piece of advice now on this show, what would you say?
A very 2022 thing is speed. “Now. I got to get there now. I need that job now.” Smooth is fast. This is this phrase that I heard from a Special Forces person. “Fast isn’t fast. Smooth is fast,” and that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. If you apply that to a career or a pursuit in the med device, for example, take it easy, take it slow. You don’t need to look at someone’s career on LinkedIn and be like, “I need to have that now.” You start where you are.
It’s like the saying that people use, “It’s okay if you go sell knives door to door.” Find a job where you can sell, work on your craft, get good at it, and see if you like it. Sales are tough. Sales isn’t a thing for everybody. It’s because it’s such an old profession that people will automatically look at it and be like, “I could do that. I want to do that.” It’s like, “Are you sure?” If you think you can, do it. That’s probably the biggest advice for people, especially if you are pursuing a career in the med device, to learn the techniques.
Learn what it feels like to get popped in the chin and learn how you are going to react when that happens. How’s that going to affect the rest of your day? Do you pack it up at 1:00 and go home or make a couple more calls? There are going to be all these things that you are not going to know until you do it. We were talking about it before. It’s like, “Do you want to get good at ju-jitsu? You must roll around on a mat and ju-jits and not get tapped out.” If you want to learn how to fly a plane, you are going to have to fly a plane.
That’s the biggest advice and find the people who, with social media, you are one of them. You are doing it. Get great advice from people who are trying to help you out, like yourself. There are so many resources that are free for people to get involved in and make a decision on how they want to double down on themselves and keep getting better. Be a pro. There are a lot of amateur salespeople. They are freaking everywhere. If you want to be a pro, that’s the route.
Doubling down and investing in yourself, I like that. What about those sales reps that are in the field reading this on their way to their next account? What do you get to share with them?
One more call now. When you say it’s time to go home, make one more.If you're in medical sales, make one more call today. When you feel like going home, make one more. Click To Tweet
Lastly, for the leaders tuning in, what would you like to share?
For the leaders that are tuning in, whatever your quota is, the company assigned you as a leader now. Your job isn’t to sell that. Your job is to hire a team of people and develop them, pour into them, love on them and learn about them so that they can sell that quota. That’s your job. Don’t be a super rep. Make more leaders on your team. Teach them how to fish. My biggest professional pet peeve of all time is that super rep mindset because you are not making more leaders when you are doing that. You are trying to add to your resume and be the one to go to your high school reunion and brag about what you’ve done. Brag about the people that you’ve grown with. That’s what impresses people.
We are going to have some fun before we wrap things up. I’m going to have a lightning round of questions. I’m going to ask you four questions. You have less than ten seconds to answer. The best book you’ve read in the last six months?
The Go-Giver series. That’s a good series. The best movie you’ve seen in the last six months.
The new Minions. We saw the new Minions movie. It’s the story of Gru. It’s pretty good.
They’ve mastered how to entertain adults. They know what they are doing. The best meal you’ve had in the last six months.
Being in South Carolina, the barbecue down here is legit. There’s a place right up the street. It’s an excellent barbecue, and that’s my favorite food.
Lastly, what’s the best experience you’ve had in the last six months?
It’s got to be when we moved down here on June 13th, 2022, and that first day that we went to the beach as a family and everything that we had been envisioning and talking about for the last several years. What if we lived here, and what if this was our life? Imagine that when we stood there in the sand with the mailing address here, that’s pretty wild.
Erik, it was a pleasure to have you on the show. We will be watching you and all your great posts, and maybe we will even see you again. Thanks for the time.
Thanks for having me. Thanks, Samuel.
That was Erik Grahovac. It’s always great to hear such a colorful background. Having been an American football coach and American college football coach, and then becoming a sales professional and ultimately transitioning to medical device sales leadership. There is so much that he’s learned along the way that he’s now sharing with his followers and improving the quality of how medical sales are conducted.
Maybe you are reading these episodes, and you are a regular reader. You are learning this and thinking to yourself, “I want to make my transition. I want to get into medical sales.” Maybe it’s pharmaceutical or medical device. Maybe it’s medical supplies or dental. I’m asking you to stop thinking about it. Don’t only listen to these episodes and these wonderful stories. Keep reading, but take action. Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and select Attain A Medical Sales Role. Submit an application and have a conversation with someone here at Evolve Your Success. Let’s talk about how the Medical Sales Career Builder program can change your life and get you into the role of your dreams.
If you are in the field now, maybe you are driving to your next account. Maybe you are at the gym or at home and thinking about your territory and to yourself, “I know my numbers could be better or I know I can promote to the next position or I know I can get to President’s Club or Winner’s Circle next year. I know I can make these things happen.” Again, take action.
Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and select Improve Sales Performance, submit an application, have a conversation, and let’s get you where you want to be. As always, we do our best to bring you guests that have innovation and are changing the way things happen in the medical sales space. Make sure you tune in for another episode of the show.
I hope you enjoyed this episode, and remember, I have a couple of programs that show you exactly how to break into the medical sales industry, become a top-performing medical sales professional, and also how to masterfully navigate your career to executive-level leadership. Check out these programs and learn more at EvolveYourSuccess.com. Stay tuned for more awesome content with amazing interviews.
Former College Football Coach and Med Device Sales Leader who is now Coaching the Future of Med Device Sales Reps
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