Medical device sales jobs will always be in high demand. Despite automation’s emergence in nearly every aspect of the business, medical sales remain a predominantly face-to-face industry even in this time of the pandemic. On today’s show, Steele Lightfoot sits down with Samuel Gbadebo to talk about how medical sales reps work hard to make themselves indispensable and how tough it is to stay in the industry. Steele, a medical device sales representative, shares how you always have to think outside of the box and how you can get orthopedic or vascular surgeons to look at you and agree with your consideration and recommendation as if you are one of their colleagues. He also discloses what allows him to continue to go out day in and day out, and give the job his best. For those who want to enter the industry, this is a great episode because it’s going to give you some things to consider about what life could look like for a medical device sales representative.
We have with us a guest that’s experienced two different sides of the coin. He’s a medical device sales rep. We’re going to talk about medical device sales in the cardio space, but this is a representative who has experienced the 1099 life and experienced the W–2 life. He has also been in orthopedics and cardio. His name is Steele Lightfoot. It’s a great episode because we’re going to get into the rigor of the day-to-day when it comes to being in the ortho or cardio space. Also, what it looks like in your day–to–day when you’re a 1099 versus a W–2. For those of you that want to enter the industry, this is a great episode to read because it’s going to give you some things to consider about what life could look like.
For those of you that might be in pharmaceutical sales or a different type of medical sales and you want to get into the device space, either orthopedics or cardio, this type of episode going to be valuable because we get into the details. As always, I do my best to bring you guests that you can learn from, get insights from, and even make decisions about how you’re going to get into the industry, what you’re going to do excel once you’re there, or how to lead better for those of you that are leading the way. Thank you again for reading and let’s get into it.
Steele, how are we doing?
Doing great, Samuel. How are you?
I’m fantastic. I’m ready to start with so much action. We have Steele Lightfoot. I’ll let you go ahead and introduce yourself. Tell people who you are and what you do.
First off, thanks for having me on. What you’re doing is vital to our industry in getting the word out for people who are curious and want to be educated a little bit more. My name is Steele Lightfoot. I’m in the Southeast, I work for a cardiovascular company selling balloons and stents and all of the accessories that go with those procedures in coronary and peripheral cases.
One question I get a lot is what is the day-to-day of someone that’s in the cardio space in medical device sales? Why don’t you give us a little bit about your day–to–day?If you are not educating yourself to be proficient at virtual selling, you are missing the boat. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you two answers here and I’ll keep it brief on both. Pre-COVID, our day–to–day is usually an early start, like most medical device reps and you’re going and covering cases. You’ve pre-planned the night before or even further back, and you’re supporting your physicians in the cases you have on the board for the day. Throughout your day, while you’re covering these cases, you’re taking calls, answering orders, trying to put out fires wherever they’re needed. You’re planning your sales strategy around that too. A medical device is a unique field where a lot of sales calls are not in the clinic, and you’re not interrupting a doctor or a surgeon while they’re trying to see 40 or 60 patients a day. You usually catch them in their surgical space, whether it’s a cath lab for me or what they call an office–based lab or an OBL, AFC type of setting, or an OR for most medical device reps.
You’re catching these doctors between cases while you’re seeing them or bumping into them. Trying to pick off some business here and there when it comes to picking their brain. Covering cases is vital to what we do. It can be a cord sometimes that you don’t want to get too attached to otherwise you lose sight of what you’re trying to do which is hit your quota and move the needle forward. Usually, towards the end of the day, towards the afternoon, most surgeons don’t work in the afternoons in most disciplines. You get to a point where you need to start doing your sales calls that you have pre-plans if you hadn’t gotten to them. I do a lot of wrapping up towards the end of my day with answering the emails that I hadn’t gotten to because I was in a lab, doing my job, and couldn’t answer them. It’s a reset for the next day. They’re busy.
What we’re doing now is a lot of the same, but much less case coverage. We’re having to adapt the way we sell now compared to the way we’ve used to. This is a paradigm shift for medical device sales in which if you are not educating yourself to be proficient at virtual selling, you are missing the boat. This is something that’s not going away, even when COVID does. We are perfecting our craft when it comes to how to meet our patients and our customer’s needs from my office most of the time. I’m still in the field 3 or 4 days a week and being careful and safe where I can cover cases. A lot of it is strategizing behind my computer nowadays.
With COVID and what’s going on, would you say that surgeons don’t necessarily need you to be there at all?
I wouldn’t agree with that at all. A lot of surgeons need us there. It’s how they do it. A lot of surgeons are trying to look out for their own practice first and their practices are declining. Patients aren’t wanting to come in. If you look at the data and the amount of patients that are fearful of coming into a clinic or a hospital setting, even in the midst of a heart attack. That’s what I deal with in my spaces. Patients are having heart attacks but they’re fearful of coming in because of COVID and the risks that are involved with that. They want us there to help things run smoothly. I tell young reps all the time, “You’re there more for the staff than the surgeon the majority of the time. If you can help the staff be streamlined and efficient, then the physician or surgeon is going to feel that effect too.” We’re usually there for the staff as much as we are for the physician. They want us there for sure. It’s a matter if we’re allowed in.
When you say, “There for the staff to help things run smoothly and efficiently,” speak to that a little bit. What are you referring to?
I get this question a lot about people who don’t know about this industry at all. Even my own family, when I first started out in this industry out of college, I have a degree in Zoology from Auburn University and they’re like, “What are you doing in the operating room?” The way that I put it, my job is to be an expert at my product and the techniques that surround it. The doctor knows how to do the surgery, but he or she may or may not know how to use my product to accomplish that. I am there to provide a benefit and a tool when it comes to using my products to make sure that we have good outcomes for the patient when it comes to the products being used correctly. You’re there to answer problems if something happens. Surgery is not perfect. It’s an extremely delicate process that takes hours to even get close to perfecting.
That’s why these doctors are usually in the top 1% of intellect. It’s not easy stuff. My job has to be an encyclopedia of how everybody in the region does surgery in certain ways with certain products. In that process, the staff is huge when it comes to successful outcomes for surgeries and procedures. If you don’t have staff that knows what they’re doing or can help assist the surgeon or a physician in times where they need them, then it’s as much of a hindrance as if you have a bad surgeon. The staff is going to know much less about my products and the procedures that surround them than the physicians are. If I can help the staff by being two steps ahead of the surgeon, when it comes to what he or she is going to be doing next, or what to expect, or cutting off problems while you see them happening before they get too bad, then you’ve done your job.
Does that require a lot of time before the procedures to sit with the staff and go over things?
It varies. Some cases are more technical than others. It all depends on the scenario. If you have new staff, absolutely. If you are new to the staff, absolutely. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there should be some basic conversation that the medical device rep is having with the staff before the patient gets in the room. From a simple, “How are you? This is what we’re doing,” which affirms, “This is what we’re doing.” If they have questions, it’s an opportune time for them to ask without the surgeon being in there to judge them, you should always have some type of conversation. It doesn’t have to be sitting down and going through an encyclopedia to figure it out. You should be in constant communication with every person in that room from the minute you see them when you walk into the facility until the moment the patient has left the room.
As far as hours, you said that towards the end of the day, that’s when a lot of the surgeons don’t have as many procedures. What are your nights and weekends look like in this space?
If you have a family, they crowded, that’s for sure. Between bedtime, dinner, nighttime routine, and trying to take a breath for yourself, there’s not a lot of time. Early on in your career, and this is advice that I like to pass on and you find a way to do it later in your life even when you have kids and families, is you need to be digesting information 24/7. I’m not saying that you don’t need to have a life or have a nice work–life balance. You need to be able to be ahead of the curve when it comes to what is going on in your industry, whether it’s your specific product and company, or the industry in general when it comes to what’s being done that’s new or cool product technique or, “What’s my competition doing?”
Even if it’s a sales target type of exercise, you should be always digesting something. The nighttime is the easiest part of that. I also usually say that I have more sales after 5:00 in the afternoon than I did most of the other times of the day because most people pack up and go home, including the reps. It’s a tough life. You’re up early and you’re at it early. By 7:30, you’ve done a couple of procedures and you’re exhausted mentally and physically, but if you don’t continue to push, then somebody else is going to do it and they’re going to out push you. You’re not going to get ahead when it comes to being educated and being what I call it a consultant in your field. That’s what you need to be as a true consultant and not just a box opener. That’s not what we need.
Speak to that a little bit with regarding the competition. You said, “Somebody can outwork you.” What’s that like in the field, in the competition?
There’s a reason why it’s tough to get into this industry. It’s cutthroat and tough work. It’s not that it’s not doable and that it’s hard. Every single person is going to be a hard worker. Every single person is going to have some of those key phrases that you see in interviews that, “I’m a hard worker, I’m punctual, I’m the first one to get there and last one to leave.” Fantastic. That’s what you’re supposed to have. I shouldn’t ask you that. My candidates for this position should automatically have that in their repertoire, but how are you going to think outside the box? How are you going to get an orthopedic surgeon or a vascular surgeon to look at you and agree with your consideration and recommendation as if you are one of their colleagues?
That’s the ultimate get is for them to treat you like it like an equal, because then you know you’ve made it, you’ve done your job, they believe what you say because you know, not because you’re lying. In the competition, it’s part of it. The competition is good. For everybody, for companies, for capitalism, it’s fantastic. It drives the needle forward. When it comes to patients and patient care, it’s even better. If you have competition at a corporate level, it allows for technology and boundaries to continue to be pushed that allow for amazing technologies, robotics, and artificial intelligence. When it comes to a very minute level and me interacting with my competitors day–to–day, it’s an interesting dynamic and it toughens you up as a person.
It also tests how you are as a person, your character, and whether or not you should be in this industry or not, because don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who may make bad names of themselves and put stains on the industry because they do things the wrong way. You find that in any part of the business and life. It’s no different in the medical device. We have fancier terms around it. We’re in scrubs and operating rooms doing it, but competition is good and it can help drive you the right way, but it also can push you out. There’s going to be somebody that wants it bad enough that they will outwork you if they have to. It’s an everyday process. That’s when people miss out is when they become complacent and don’t think they need to try to further themselves every single day. You’re going to get out of work. It’s simple. It’s the black and white of it, you might not even hit your number or your quota, and then you’re going to be out of a job. That’s the basic part of it.
I want to paint this picture. I love what you’re talking about. Give us an example of what it means to be outworked. especially when you’re talking about how your competition tests you to the point where you have to ask yourself, “Am I supposed to be here or no?” Give us an example of what that looks like.
In the orthopedic space, it’s aren’t easy to give some good examples. The bachelor space is a whole different realm that I’ve learned. It’s interesting to see the cooperation in a vascular lab a little bit more so than orthopedics. In orthopedics, I did sports medicine for a long time. In those procedures in general, it is not abnormal to have 3 or 4 reps in or around the room. That’s not a bad thing. Everybody has something that Dr. XYZ might want to use. A good example of competition pushing you out is something as simple as you don’t have product A for Dr. B and you’re there in the case.
Dr. B says, “Steele, I need product A to continue doing this product.” You haven’t done your due diligence and your homework to bring it to the procedure or you didn’t make sure it was there in whatever the scenario is. Your rep across the room and your competition goes, “Dr. B I have this solution that does the same thing that I have here with me.” You would be surprised at how something so simple and not even with the competitor being rude. He answered a question. It’s not confrontational at all, but the cascade and the downstream effect that might have. You might have lost that surgeon and you don’t even know it.
That happens multiple times a day, every single day in orthopedics. It’s how cutthroat it is. You’re not on top of it, if you don’t have 4 or 5 solutions for every solution that you have and their backups, then somebody does. There are millions of examples that I could get into, but if you don’t do your due diligence and make sure you are setting yourself apart in every single way, every single day, somebody is going to find a way in. That’s their job. I’m doing the same thing. My job is to find a way to push other people out so I can be there.If you don't continue to push, then somebody else is going to do it, and they're going to out-push you. Click To Tweet
One thing I love about your background is you’ve done a lot. You’ve experienced many different spaces within medical device sales. I want to ask you one question before we get into some of your own history. The picture you’ve painted so far as is a bit high strung. You have to be on at all times. Considering how long you’ve been in the game, what helps you balance it all and keeps you at this even-keeled way of being that allows you to continue to go out there day in, day out, and give it your best?
It is how you manage being not even–keeled that determines whether or not you’re going to make it in this industry. The high strung is being nice and that’s part of the industry. The operating room and the procedure rooms are extremely tough environments. They’re high strung, they’re intense, there’s a lot of stress because you’re dealing with patients’ lives. I hate to boil it down to that, but that’s how it is. Some patients don’t make it out of simple procedures. If you’re in that room a part of it, then it changes you.
Me personally, I was in the operating room early in college at some basic levels. I was an orderly cleaning the rooms after procedures and doing stocking and stuff. I’ll work throw you into a position as a first assist. I was somebody that assisted in procedures and was able to help surgeons retract and get instruments and do some of the things. I cut my teeth pretty early and you have to build a thick skin. You don’t need to have too many emotions that are going to hinder you from moving on. If you take things too personal in this industry, you’re not going to survive very long. If you translate that to medical sales, the actual sales side of it, people talk all the time about getting used to hearing no.
That’s where it starts, is being able to build your skin up to where it’s thick enough that you can take the hit, move on, and not let it affect you. I personally started early and built it up to where I didn’t have too many emotions when it came to the environment. Aside from that, it’s how you manage your stress and your reactions will determine how successful you are in this industry. As an early sales rep, I was not overly great at it. I’m a hot–headed person in general. I’m extremely competitive and what I would lose, I got mad about it. You learn quickly to learn from what has happened, the scenario, move on and try not to make the same mistake again, and try to sell better.
That’s fine. If you can look at somebody and say, “You out solving today, I’ll see you tomorrow,” then you’ll do much better at it. Ultimately, my advice is you have to have an outlet. You have to have time set aside, whether it’s every single day or once a week, or once a month where you let go. We are attached to our cell phones. In the early days when I started, it was pagers. We are attached to these things 24/7. It’s our livelihood and our paycheck. With social media and technology, it doesn’t help because we’re attached to them. You have to find a way to disconnect and to leave work behind you and not think about it.
If you’re married or you have a significant other, take them, go somewhere. If exercise is your thing, do that. You have to have that. Otherwise, you are going to kill yourself. The stress is too much. Aside from that, if you have your time and you allow yourself time to forget about work a certain amount per day, per week, per month, then you have to learn to not take things seriously when it comes to hearing no and losing. Your job is serious. patients’ lives are a very serious thing. You can relax a little bit, tell a joke here and there.
I’m the funny guy when it comes to the operating room. I know when to be quiet, but that’s my thing. I bring some humor to the room, to the situation, try to make people realize that I’m here to help and not to be a burden. You’ll be fine. It’s about how you manage it. If you blow up and take things too personally, and get super competitive, there are people that are still an industry that does all these things. It’s off–putting. Everything comes back to get you in this industry. It might not be right away, but it will find its way back and you will be out of the job and out of the industry as well. It’s only a couple of strikes and there’s no coming back from that and you need to find another profession.
You probably have experienced a number of people that had to end up going that route.
There are a few that I helped push that route out.
You’ve laid out a lot for the audience in what you should and should not have but take it back to when you were making hiring decisions. What would you say are telltale signs that, “This is not going to work for this individual?”
A lot of individual responses or characteristics when it comes to the person being much more consumed with I than we. The majority of times these are team positions in some form or facet. I’m much more singular now than I was in orthopedics, but I still have a team and we all need each other to thrive and survive, but candidates and people who were very concerned with themselves. That’s obvious when you talk to people about, “Give me some stories about your background and certain scenarios.” You can see selfish people easily. I don’t like selfish people in this industry. I try to make people understand that the patient comes first and every decision you need to make, and if they don’t, then you need to find another industry to be in or another position to be in.
Having humility is something that’s a huge, important thing in this industry. I’ll be the first one to say, it took me time to learn humility and especially when it came to the medical device. I’m not naive to think that it’s necessarily not learned versus completely inherent, but people who are inherently humble, it’s easy to tell and vice versa, people who are inherently not. Some people don’t have the ability or the adaptability to become humble. A lot of times it’s something that you learn by beating down or by being told no, or by losing a big deal or losing a doctor, that’s life.
Those people who you can tell from an early onset that are humble and don’t draw attention to it, those are traits that you want to want to feed out and try to have in your team and corporation as a must. If you don’t have humility in some form or fashion in the medical device, you’re going to hate it because you’re not going to win everything and you’re going to lose in a big show sometimes. It’s going to hurt and it’s going to be embarrassing, but it’s how it is. In this industry, you need to learn to say, “I lost today. That’s fine. I’ll try to win another one and move on.”
One thing that I hear from a lot of medical device professionals is that time when a surgeon is yelling at you or you’re the enemy of the room, how often does that happen and how do you try to navigate those situations?
Many years ago, I would have given you a different answer. I have much fonder respect for surgeons at the point in my life and my career where I’m at now. On the totem pole of the operating room, the medical device rep is at the bottom. We are extremely important to the smooth running of some of these procedures, but we are the person that is at the bottom of the chain. The patient is at the top, the doctor’s right there next to them, and the staff supporting the outcome of the patient are all above us. We’re there supporting them. It’s not necessarily a derogative thing. We are below the staff, which is below the surgeon, which is below the patient.
Surgery is a stressful thing and these physicians and these surgeons have patients’ lives in their hands. They have looked these people in the eye and told them, “I will take care of you. I will fix you. I will help you get back to normal so you can go back to work, walk, and eat,” whatever the example is. It’s a lot of responsibility and that’s why their oath is not something that would be taken lightly. It feeds into why being a doctor is such a big deal and such a hard thing to do because you have a lot of power as a surgeon specifically because you’re cutting on people, altering, or trying to fix people. It’s a stressful thing. Sometimes that trickles down. These doctors, even if you take their personal lives out of it, which they’re people too, they have kids, debt, and life, like all of us.
We all have those problems. For those scenarios and situations, surgery can get stressful sometimes. Good surgeons are taught in stressful situations to stop what they’re doing. As long as the patient is not needing to be stopped from bleeding or something, take a minute, breathe, and fall back on their training. When they don’t do that, you in the room and everybody else is a part of the scenario. You being at the bottom of the totem pole and you’re more expendable sometimes than Nurse Betty they have to see every single day. this all falls back into being able to have a thick skin and not taking anything personally.
I’ve had things thrown and yelled at me and said to me that were hurtful, not professional, and bad, but a surgeon 99.9% of the time is going to look at you and apologize even if not right then, once the stress has passed them and they’re done. You’re going to say, “No, doc. I understand this is stressful. I’m here to help.” It’s how it is in the industry. They don’t mean it, I don’t think. If they do, you might want to avoid them in their business. It’s the stressful part of this job. That’s why you have to think hard about what you’re doing here and you have to continue to put the patient first. If you don’t, you’re not going to stick in that room, and then that guy’s yelling at you and continue to press them on why they’re doing what they’re doing. “Doc, make sure you do this. Make sure you do that.” It’s tough sometimes. You wanted to grow into it, otherwise, you don’t, and you move forward.
I told you we were going to get into the details. The day–to–day, from the home office to the cath lab. What I liked about what Steele was getting into, he does embody the true definition of what it means to be about the patient. He probably referenced it 3 or 4 or 5 times in this episode. Anybody that wants to get into this industry, when you think about what you’re getting yourself into, every device representative, every device professional that I’ve ever spoken with, they all have the same theme. You need to know that your sole goal is to improve patient outcomes. Through that, you’re helping the staff be streamlined and highly efficient. That’s exactly what Steele talked about.
He talked about the role of the sales rep when it comes to stance and how he can be the ultimate resource. One thing I liked that he referenced is, “I need to be that encyclopedia,” which makes a lot of sense. He wants the surgeons that he’s working with to see him as an equal, but then you think, “He didn’t go to med school. How’s that going to happen?” He has the opportunity to see how different the same procedure is done, what’s considered, what’s used, and how his product fits into all of it. He’s bringing a wealth of knowledge to all of these providers and they’re respecting him for it. It’s allowing him to be that encyclopedia he spoke about.
Another thing that he referenced, the importance of training yourself to digest information 24/7. That can be taken in all sorts of ways. Does that mean that you do nothing but reading a book at all times when you’re not working if you’re in the medical device sales space? I don’t believe so. What it does mean, you’re getting new information, processing the new information, applying it to your knowledge and to your mind as something that you know, you’re making that a regular practice. You’re going above and beyond your job to make that a regular practice.
When you do that consistently, it’s always going to put you at an advantage amongst those that you’re selling against. When you think about it, it’s a very competitive space. You got to be on point and to be on point means, you understand what’s going on, you’re ahead of your field as far as the technology and you know how providers are using it. Another thing that I love that Steele talked about, that I think is important, not just for device sales, but for any of these positions and for any of the leadership positions as well as managing your stress and reactions. We got into that and I pointed out how still can come off like he’s an even-keeled person.
He’s like, “I’m not even-kneeled. I’m the opposite. What I practice, what I try to be diligent in is managing how I can be that way.” That boils down to managing stress and not only knowing how to manage stress when you’re right in the middle of things, but knowing how to manage stress when you’re outside of work. Knowing what you need to bring into your life to help you relax, refocus, recharge, regroup so that you can go back and be effective in this space. This was a great episode. There’s a lot to share and to learn. This is another reason why we’ve broken it up into two parts. The parts you read in this episode were the part about all the rigor of the job when it comes to working in the cardio space and the ortho space, Steele’s experience when it came to 1099 versus W–2, and the different things he learned around it.
In the next episode, we’re going to get into Steele’s background. Where did he work? Where did he come from? What was this 1099 life that he started out with? What was it like for him? We get into the details of that next episode. If you’re thinking, “I want to make a move. I want to get myself into a medical sales role.” Maybe it’s a medical device sales role in the orthopedic or cardio space, or maybe it’s something like a pharmaceutical sales role or genetic testing sales role, even a molecular sales role. If you’re someone that wants to get into one of those types of roles, you need to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and select Attain A Medical Sales Role. Learn about our program that we’ve designed called The Medical Sales Career Builder that will help you get into the position you want to get into.
For those of you that maybe you’re farther along in the process, maybe you’ve been interviewing, but for some reason, you haven’t been able to close or maybe you know how to present yourself, but it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed. You’re not sure if you remember everything you’re supposed to do to make sure you secure that position, come visit us at EvolveYourSuccess.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn at Samuel Adeyinka and let’s have a conversation. You can speak to me directly if I’m available or you can speak to one of my client specialists and they or myself will talk to you about the different resources we have to get you into the position you want to get into. It’s 2021. It’s a brand new start with brand new opportunities. Companies are hiring, so you want to take full advantage and step into the position that you believe you deserve.
For those of you that are trying to improve your performance, you’ve said, “I want to deliver above and beyond anything I’ve done before.” Let’s talk about our resources that can help you exceed your sales goals, get yourself where you want to be within your career within your organization, and see amazing things come to fruition in 2021. As always, I appreciate all of you for taking the time to read to the show. We want to bring you great information, great guests, a great insight so that you can go back out there and get the position you want, live the career you dream of and lead the way you want to lead.
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