Genetic testing has its own unique space within medical sales in general. Our guest on today’s podcast is Matthew Curley, a Client Relations Manager at Invitae, a genetic testing company. Matt was an officer in the Navy who transitioned into the corporate life. He joins Samuel Gbadebo to talk about the difference in leadership between military and corporate life, and what he’s learned from both as he transitioned into his role. He also touches on what it takes to get into genetic sales and how to excel as a genetic sales professional.
As always, we’re bringing you guests from all around the country to talk about what they do in medical sales. I’m proud to mention this guest because he is a veteran. I love that I had the opportunity to meet Matt because he is one heck of a leader. He started in the military. He was an officer in the Navy and then transitioned into the corporate life. He has so much to share about the difference in leadership between military and corporate life, where they also mesh, and what he’s learned from both that he transitioned into his role. He is a Client Relations Manager at Invitae, that is a genetic testing company, and that is their specialty. He has a team there and he’s doing amazing things within his space and with his team.
Some of the other things we get into are what it takes to get into genetic sales and how to excel as a genetic sales professional. Genetic testing has its own unique space within medical sales in general. Lastly, we get into something that everyone should remember. I’m going to mention it again in this episode, but committing to what you can control. He had some wonderful things to say around that. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Matt, how are you doing?
I am doing well. It’s good to see you again.
Thank you for being on the show. I appreciate it you taking the time to educate all of us. I’m going to let you go ahead and take it away. Who are you and what is it that you do?
Who am I is a little question, but I’ll try to keep it short. My name is Matt Curley. I work for a company called Invitae. We are the fastest growing genetics health company in the world at this point in time. I am a team lead and I support a group of individuals called Client Relationship Managers. They’re the glue of the company. They fill the void between the sales, external-facing our client services, and billing teams internally. We’re the problem-solvers and the fire put-outers. We’re the people that you come to when you don’t have a clear-cut solution. We’re the ones that take it, internalize, analyze and turn around with an answer.
Walk us through a real-life example. Your sales reps go out to see a customer. They do their end of an interaction. Where do you guys step in? Walk me through how it looks.
A good example is some of our biggest customers. My team is only supporting the largest and highest potential customers. The people that come to us are usually coming to us with workflow logistics type questions. A sales rep expertise and what they’re good at is getting out there, giving Invitae a name, and selling the products. We’re good at determining what the best workflow is for a given organization or a given client. A good example might be, “We’re interested in using Invitae.” The sales rep turns around to the CRM or Client Relationship Management team and lets us determine how they can best use us. What’s the most efficient and effective way for the client to use our products, which is genetic testing.
How versed does your team need to be on the actual products? Is it the same as what a sales rep knows? Is the information and understanding a deeper level?
It’s even a deeper level because oftentimes, we’re not necessarily doing the selling. When a customer comes to us, the thought process is they’re already bought in. They already believe in Invitae. They believe in the mission. They believe in the accessibility and affordability that we bring to the world. At that point, it’s the CRM’s job to upsell and to figure out what the best workflow is for them to use us. The products come into play. We have to have an in-depth understanding of the products. It’s almost walking a tight rope between operations, logistics and clinical information.
If you guys are taking over as far as the actual workflow and using the products, do the sales reps not keep up with the interaction after it’s passed on to your team?
They certainly do. It’s very much a partnership and that’s the beautiful thing about it. Most other companies or the other lab that I’ve been to did not have this Client Relationship Manager role. It’s a bridge. What we’re able to do is focusing on maintenance, upselling, and allow the sales reps to go out and drive that new volume. Our company is all about making sure we reach the greatest number of patients possible. That’s what the field reps are out there doing. It’s the CRM’s job to keep those accounts that are already using us, the blue blood and the loyalists, happy and give them different opportunities to use us more.Culture is above everything. Click To Tweet
We’re going to get back to that, but people want to know more about Matt Curley. Take us back to the beginning. We know you’re a veteran. We know you come from a military background. Talk to us a little bit about what your experience was in the military from a professional standpoint and how you eventually got to where you are now.
First off, my military experience began at the US Naval Academy. I had no military background in my family. If it wasn’t for the scholarship I received from the Naval Academy, I wouldn’t have gone to a four-year university based on my family’s financial status. I am grateful for that. I wouldn’t change it for the world. After the Naval Academy, I immediately was deployed as a Counter Piracy Officer over in the Fifth Fleet of Operations up close to Somalia. My first few years were doing counter piracy. After that, I moved into a less exciting role but equally important as a navigator. I was in charge of scheduling and determining where the next port of call would be on our deployments. I wound up in more of a desk type of job at a command center later on. The bottom line is they are all fantastic experiences, but I did not realize at the time. It translated into the civilian world and what I’m doing now.
This was over seven years time span, your experience in the Navy.
Four years at the Academy and then seven years of active duty.
After the Navy, you entered a company called AIVITA Biomedical.
That was the shell name, but what we were called was CombiMatrix. It’s a little bit of a cooler name. Essentially, it was a diagnostic laboratory. We did prenatal diagnostic testing. When a patient goes to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist or an OB-GYN and having screening for an unborn child, they would come to AIVITA for that testing.
That’s something I want to ask about. What’s the typical type of patient that steps in to Invitae’s product pipeline? Give us the most common scenario.
The most common is a patient that has a family history of hereditary cancer, patients that are going to see an oncologist, a breast surgeon or a breast navigator. All things hereditary cancer is still our most common patient. When I started at the company, those were the only patients we were seeing at the time, but the strategy of the company as a whole is to have genetic testing available for all walks of life, across the entire spectrum from childbirth all the way to a patient’s later years. That’s the idea at this point. We’re covering the full spectrum from pediatric testing, unborn children in the prenatal space, all the way to hereditary cancer later in life.
For this type of sale, who is your customer base? Give us your top three types of customers.
Certainly cancer institutes, large academic cancer centers like the Vanderbilts of the world, USF, Moffitt Cancer Center, Dana-Farber. Those are the big institutions that we support. At this point, we have also shifted focuses. We realized there are thousands and thousands of OB-GYN practices. Although they’re much smaller and is going to bring on less volume, there are many of them. They’ve become our second go-to customer. You name a clinician in the United States, they have a reason to order genetic testing at some point in time. Whether they know it or not now, they’re all our customers.
Would you say that these types of customers are accustomed to your sides of sales reps coming in and offering these products? Is this a new thing? How long has this type of sale been around?
It’s not that long. There’s a spectrum of expertise. We refer to our expert clients as genetic counselors, oncologists, geneticists, people that speak our language. On the low end of the expertise spectrum, the OB-GYN, where in reality, they probably studied for maybe a few semesters all things genetics. Some of them, if they’ve been in the field for some time, they aren’t totally up to speed on what genetic testing can offer their patients. There is an aspect of education in that particular client base, which is a little bit different than what most sales reps are used to.
Would you say that a lot of sales reps in this role are spending the majority of their time spreading awareness or they’re trying to focus on where the knowledge is already understood?
At this point, it truly is almost like a marketing/awareness campaign. The reality of it is the market is not remotely close to saturated, but you’d be hard-pressed to go into a large institution in the US that hasn’t heard our name, even though we’re still relatively a small company. The OBs and other areas that are less of experts, they’re the ones we’ve got to educate. That’s predominantly what people are doing these days.
You were in CombiMatrix. You were the Business Development Manager and the Client Relationship Manager. What took you into leadership? Before you answer that, is it something that you wanted to get into? We’re you tapped on the shoulder because you were doing such an excellent job?
I’ll start off by saying when you graduate from a service Academy in uniform, you are charged with being responsible for a certain amount of individuals. Day one as an active duty Navy, I had a division of 22 personnel, even though I didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time. I had to lean on my go-to men and women to make sure that I was learning. I’ve been a leader most of my adult life in any way, shape or form, even if it wasn’t necessarily attached to the back of my title. When I got out, I realized it was going to be a step down in some regards. I realized I’d have to follow again before I was able to earn the responsibility to lead.
It took about four years and I’m grateful that it didn’t take long. At this point, I’m back in a lead role. Did I ask for it? Not necessarily. I think it’s because on day one at AIVITA, I was acting as a leader and seeing myself as a leader without being over the top about it. I am still following, but taking responsibility, taking initiative, making decisions and mostly, thanks to the leaders that I had that empowered me to do so.
You already saw yourself in leadership before you became a leader, but to step into the role, was that a planned move or were people asking or inviting you into that role?
It was a natural transition. My lead at the time was fantastic. She empowered me to transition naturally into a lead role. She got promoted and without opening up her backfill to the rest of the company, or even opening up to outside, they named me as her backfill.
Now that you’re in leadership, as you have said, you’ve been a leader your entire life, even in your military experience. What’s the same and what’s different with this role?Technology is changing daily; there’s always something new to sell. Click To Tweet
What’s the same is that I still have the ability to positively impact people every single day. That hasn’t changed. That’s translated perfectly. The one thing that I was able to do in the Navy, even though I wasn’t the expert, I didn’t have the experience. I was one of the youngest leaders at the time. I was able to create a psychologically safe space for the team. I’ve always been good at that. I’ve been able to translate that. What’s vastly different between the military and being in the genetic space now and building my own team is that I was handed a team in the military and charged with making them as effective and efficient as possible with what I was given. Now it’s different. Not to say the servicemen and women weren’t passionate and didn’t love their jobs. Now, it’s like you’ve got the world-class individuals each and every day on your team. It’s truly been amazing for me. I’m most comfortable when I’m the least smart in the room. I feel like that every single day when I’m with my team.
That’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. Talk to us about what does it take to excel in genetic sales and who gets into genetic sales? Is it often people from outside the industry? Is it people from medical devices or pharmaceutical sales?
You’ve got to be someone that’s a go-getter and a little bit of a wolf, but someone that‘s okay with being told no quite frequently as most sales positions are. The company has done a good job of balancing hiring experienced sales reps that have been in the industry since day one. Also, hiring people that are fresh out of college or perhaps came from other fields that were strong in sales, and train and coach them up to come into a space that they had no understanding of prior to. It’s been a beautiful mix. Who does better? I don’t have the data on that, but the bottom line is at this point, we are open to anyone who’s willing to work hard and there’s a good culture fit. That’s the number one thing at the company. Culture is above everything.
Genetic sales seems a pretty niche type of selling, all the roles within client relationship management, the actual sales rep. Even though as 23 years old, that still gives people enough time to say, “I’m going to spend the rest of my career here.” Can someone see it that way? Can they plan around, “I’m going to find one company in genetic space. That’s where I’m going to be. I’ll just ride it out?”
It’s up to the individual. The reality of it is number one, not a day goes by where there’s not some new cutting-edge technology that comes to light in our space. It is daily that the technology is changing. It is difficult to get bored. There’s always something new to sell. A few years ago, the sales reps that I knew were only selling diagnostic oncology. Now, they have a full bag with tests that scream across the entire spectrum of life. There’s more to come. I think the lack of boredom and the opportunity to sell new products keeps it lively day in and day out. Could you stay here for your entire career? I think some will, but that being said, there are going to be ten million in five other genetic companies that come up in the next years. It’s our job to fend them off or learn how to coexist with them in our space.
Are you saying the competition is not quite there yet, and a company like Invitae can excel because people are barely catching up with this technology?
It’s not necessarily the technology, but more the business model. We do have competitors, but at this point, our competitors don’t have the holistic offering that we have. For example, we’ve got people that are good at cancer and they do that well. There are competitors in cancer. We’ve got people that do prenatal testing well. There are competitors there, but there isn’t another company at this point that has the entire offering that we do. More importantly, they don’t have the business model that we do. Our business model is extremely patient-centric, which is what broke down the industry. We’re starting to see people try to mimic what we’re doing. The reason why we’re patient-centric is that we have the lowest billable test period. We have an extremely friendly patient pay price. We’ve opened up the access. Many years ago, if you didn’t have a couple of thousand dollars in your bank account, you couldn’t afford testing. That’s not the case anymore with Invitae. We want to make sure that testing is available to everyone who needs it.
That brings me to another question. Going back to the customer who you guys service, is it interaction with just the provider? Are you talking to a lot of administration? Do you have any patient interaction?
From a client relationship management and sales rep perspective, we do not work with patients directly. We have a different team that does that. We like to at least keep some semblance of separation when it comes to PHI and HIPAA concerns. For us, we are quite often working with administrations and getting contracts in place. We are making sure workflows make sense for both parties, but there is a lot of interaction with clinicians too. It depends on the days. Oftentimes, we’re working with MAs and different types of nurses. Some days we’re working with different types of doctors, the geneticists, the genetic counselors, and then other days we’re on meetings with the hospital administration. It depends on the day. Some days I’m wearing clothes like this and some days I’m wearing a button-down.
You have a team that deals with the patients directly.
We do have a client services team that bridges the gap from sales to the CRM team, to client services. That’s the full spectrum of customer support.
Do you guys have to be in close interaction with that team to understand what’s happening with the patients?
That is a group effort. That’s not common with a lot of different medical sales positions to be that interactive with that many different levels from the administration to the actual provider all the way down to the patient. Genetic sales is special in that way. Talk to us a little bit about hiring. What do you look for? Our audience can be people who are wanting to break into medical sales in general. They might be in a medical device sales position, a diagnostic position, or even a pharmaceutical position. They might be saying, “I didn’t even know genetic sales was something that I can entertain.” What should that person be thinking about if they’re going to be seriously considered for a position?
Like most sales positions, we’re looking for self-starters. I’m not a hiring manager for the sales team, but they’re close friends to me so I can speak for them. We’re looking for people who are going to come in and be able to make an immediate impact. They’re going to have initiative. They’re going to want to learn what our company is about, what the product is about, and understanding the call points. Regardless if they have fifteen years of experience in the industry or not. Invitae is different as a company than any company they’ve come from. We’ve heard this time and time again. To an extent, it is like getting firehosed with new information, new systems, new tools and new products. We’re looking for someone that’s going to be able to soak it up, roll with it, get out there, and make an impact quickly.
How has the COVID environment affected doing that? Talk to us about what’s happening there?
From a hiring perspective, like most of the world, we went into a little bit of a freeze, but interestingly enough, we did have quite a large new hire class before COVID started to impact the mainland US. We have these people come on board in late February, early March who got trained. That was it for a while. We had to quickly adapt to at-home training and coach them up on how to do client interaction remotely. Thankfully, Invitae before 2020 was about 50% remote out of a 1,600-person company. We were prepared. We were well-suited for this. We didn’t necessarily predict it, but we had hoped at some point telemedicine would be the status quo due to unfortunate circumstances that happened. We were ready to go and we were able to have a leg up on most of our competitors. They were caught chasing us for a little while because of that. We were prepared beyond beliefs.
It sounds like there’s so much that can be done in genetic sales from all the different aspects, from how often you were able to stay in touch with your customers regardless of what’s going on with the COVID environment. Matt, what would you like to share with the audience? What would you like people to take away from this episode?
When you asked me this question, in preparation I was thinking back to what 2020 has been in a nutshell for me. What have been the most common conversations that I’ve had? The year 2020 has been a year of difficult conversations and decisions in all aspects of life. You name it. We can go down the list. It’s been a difficult year for most. What’s kept me, my family and my team at work together is having this mentality that we’re solely committed to what we can control. Focus on what we can control and letting all the outside noise go by the wayside. That’s been so valuable. If there’s one thing you can take away, whether you’re in sales or the logistics of an operation or whatever job occupation, it’s truly a simple thing to think about. If you can focus on what you can control on a day-to-day basis, you can get more accomplished. In a nutshell, what 2020 has been for me and all the other stuff has been minuscule compared to what we’ve been focused on.
You’re right. It’s easy to be distracted by all the craziness that’s happening even on a daily basis. If you can somehow find a way to stay focused on what’s in front of you and what you have control over, then things can start to go in your direction. Thank you, Matt. I have one last question for you. I am asking this to all my guests and I want to know, especially for you. You’ve done an amazing thing in your career going from the military into a niche space and then in leadership and thriving within leadership. However, I’m sure at some point, you thought that if you were to do it all over again, there might be something you do differently. Let’s take it back to before you start with CombiMatrix. With everything you know now, leadership included, what would you tell yourself before you got started?Focus on what you can control and let all the outside noise go by the wayside. Click To Tweet
Going back to my transition out of the military, it was difficult to figure out where I belonged in the world. That’s veteran-specific where you’re doing this one thing for most of your adult life, and then all of a sudden, there’s no chance for you to do something similarly thereafter. It was difficult to determine what was next. I’ll tell you what happened. I went on about 70 interviews virtually or in-person over the course of a three-month span. I’m not joking. Almost all of them were either a factory manager or some type of logistics support. I even interviewed for an HVAC company, all kinds of things that people told me, military personnel should be comfortable transitioning to.
I didn’t even know that sales was an option. Sales have this negative connotation. I didn’t quite understand it. It was legitimately one of my last interviews and it was my first sales interview with CombiMatrix. I realized immediately, it was the a-ha moment, “This is where I belong.” Going back, what I would have changed, I would have gone after-sales opportunities from the get-go because whether it’s personality or the drive, that was what’s right for me. There was no one there to guide me in that direction. I wish I would have had that back in the day.
To all the veterans, consider sales, medical sales, especially genetic sales. Consider that type of career track.
No doubt about it.
Matt, thank you for the time you spent with us. I can’t wait for everyone to learn from you. It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks, Samuel. I appreciate it.
Wasn’t that a fantastic episode? I enjoy speaking with Matt because he has such a great perspective. The way we dived right into leadership, he talked about that transition from military leadership to executive leadership, to be able to work with people that are so into their craft. Not only do they do it well, but they know how to do it better than you do. You have the opportunity to lead them and have them all work together, and that’s when things start to happen. We got into a lot of good topics around what they even look for when he’s hiring. We talked about working hard and having that good cultural fit. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to, and the diverse background someone can have and still be able to get a role in genetic testing.
I especially loved when we talked about not just being a self-starter and knowing how to make an immediate impact we get to a company, but doing something that anyone of us can benefit from at any time, which is to commit to what you can control. We held onto that and we discussed it because it’s critical. It’s one of those things that when even year 2020 is as crazy as it is. A lot of times, you’re a little disenfranchised and scattered. You’re wondering how you are going to make sense of what you think is supposed to happen. When you can focus on and get into what you could control, set up a strategy to follow, hold yourself accountable, and put some accountability measures in place, you’re going to even have glorious, successful and amazing times in an environment like this. That’s what we all need to be doing. Whether we’re in the field and in a position where we’re seeing customers and we’re making things happen. Whether we’re trying to get into the position, you need to focus on what you can control. I loved how Matt captured that theme and we got to talk about it.
If you’re someone that wants to get into a medical sales position in any space within medicine and that’s related to medicine that deals with sales, you need to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and take the assessment. There are resources out there that can help you significantly. I have a program that can help you significantly. I want to help you get to where you want to go. If you’re in medical sales and you’re looking for a way to improve your performance, whether you’re a sales professional yourself or you’re leading a team, then visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and select improve sales performance. Let’s have a conversation about what we do and what we can help you do to get things in the direction you want them to go.
As always, I do my best to bring you guests that can give you some insight into the work that you do, the work that you want to do, or the work that you lead and preside over. I aim to do that every week. I want to make sure that I continue to have your commitment to tune in. I’ll bring you another guest and have another conversation that hopefully you can learn from. Thank you all for being here. Thank you and tune in for another episode.
I am passionate about servant leadership, committing to a challenge vs. doing what is comfortable and, elevating and empowering others to help unleash a team’s full potential. U.S. Naval Academy and Norwich University alum currently solving complex healthcare problems that traverse genetics and technology at Invitae.
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