What does an associate sales rep do? The spotlight tends to be on the sales rep most of the time, but being an ASR is anything but easy. Much of the role is about learning, and being in it means having to deal with a very steep learning curve. Samuel Gbadebo’s guest for this episode knows it from experience. Aaron Ransom is an Associate Surgical Sales rep for Medtronic, one of the biggest medical device companies in the world. He specializes in medical devices for gynecological procedures, especially hysteroscopy. In this episode, he shares how he started his career in medical device sales, how he came to choose it and what he learned from doing it. Come and you’ll see that there is so much more to an ASR than meets the eye.
I’m doing well as we talked about navigating these new waters with what’s going on in the Coronavirus. I love talking to you because you’re someone that’s relatively new in the medical device sales arena. You have an interesting way to get there. I want to hear your story and let our audience hear the things that you’ve experienced. Tell me where did you start? Talk about when you left college. What did you want to do? Is this what you ultimately always knew you wanted to do?
I went to college. I was a collegiate athlete. I ran track in college. I had a real passion for athletics. I also got injured in college. During that time, I had to work a lot with strength and conditioning and sports medicine staff to get back to competing. During my college years, I realized, “I want to go into strength and conditioning.” For people who don’t know, you’re training athletes. That’s where I put my focus. I did some internships and whatnot to gain that experience. As soon as I graduated, I went straight into the industry of training athletes and working with professional all the way down to amateur youth sports athlete. It was during that time, a few years in, I had a good buddy of mine that we’re both looking at, “Strength and conditioning is awesome, but you’re never going to make the big bucks,” which we both wanted to make. That’s where we both started looking into the medical device sector.
Tell us a little bit about who you are, which company you work for, how long you’ve been with them and what area are you in?
I am an associate sales rep with Medtronic in the MITG division. I work with gynecologists, OB-GYN doctors working in the hysteroscopy procedure, supporting their cases as they use our equipment in the operating room.
Let’s get back to the strength training. I didn’t even know that something like this existed that you can do out of college. What type of company do you work for to do strength training for athletes?
There are all kinds of companies. Especially, at the collegiate level like your collegiate football programs, they’re the cream of the crop. Being a strength coach for a collegiate football team in LSU or Alabama, that’s the dream for most strength coaches. You’re working with high level athletes most of the time, which you’re able to get creative and stuff you’re doing and training. You’re also dealing with some of the best athletes ultimately in the world, especially if you start talking about the professional level now. The sector is not only the professional level, but you start talking about a lot of military branches. A lot of your special operations units have strength and conditioning coaches to make sure that their conditioned and in shape for when they’re going over to fight and protect our country. You can work for the government. You can work for a private agency that may train athletes in their off season or you can work for a university or a high school. I worked for a hospital system for an outpatient physical therapy clinic. I got a lot of youth athletes that were coming back from injury or athletes wanting to get better. The majority of my training during my 5 or 6 years was training youth athletes.
You were an athlete going into college?
I was good going into college, competitively nationally in track and field. I had the opportunity to compete for a few years collegiately until my body gave up on me and I got old.
What was your sport in track and field?
I was a sprinter and long jumper. Long jump is what ended my career, but I was mostly a sprinter.
You were an athlete. You got into strength, conditioning, training and coaching for athletes. What happened that made you say, “I want look into medical sales?”
I got bored. I knew that I had reached the peak of where I was in the company. I couldn’t go any higher. I didn’t want to go back to school to make more money. When I started in strength and conditioning, I was newly married. I didn’t have a family. I didn’t have a lot of the responsibility. As my wife and I started having kids, and I started thinking about long-term, I’m like “I’m probably going to need a little bit more money to be able to provide what I wanted for my family.” I knew what sectors could I go down? A lot of sectors were like, “If you are wanting to go into healthcare administration, you’ve got to go back to school.”
I don’t want to go back to school. That’s when I had a good friend of mine that brought up, “Have you ever thought about medical device?” I’m thinking about getting into it. I started doing some more research about it and we started talking about it every day, that’s almost like, “This is something that I could possibly see myself doing. It’s competitive. You have to have a certain personality to be successful in this industry. You’ve got to be a hard driver and push yourself. From there I’m like, “I’m going to try to go that route and try to do all of that to see if I can make it.”At the end of the day, it’s all about the patient getting the service that they deserve. Click To Tweet
When it comes to medical sales, you weren’t thinking, “Do I want to do pharmaceutical? Do I want to do genetic testing? Do I want to do lab equipment?” You knew medical devices because of what your friend brought up and there was nothing else on the radar.
I tried for pharma off for a while. After I left strength and conditioning, I went to a job where I was selling the physical therapy services to all kinds of doctors from your family practice doctors to your primary care, to your orthopedic surgeon to neurosurgeon. I called on a large spectrum. It was very similar to a pharmaceutical job where you’re out in the field selling. I knew that was probably going to be a good transition for me. I also knew that if the door opened for me to be in the OR because I had some or experience back when I was in college. In exercise science, I had to take an athletic training course, had to watch an ACL surgery. I knew OR might be more where I would probably be more passionate and that’s the door that ultimately opened up, which is the door that I wanted. I knew at the end of it, I wanted to be in device.
You didn’t even apply to pharmaceutical companies?
Early on, I did. The top of my list was always I wanted to get into device. I did everything I could from reaching out to people on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great resource to not only learn, but to try to get into this industry. Majority of people I was trying to reach out to were device reps.
What helped you say, “I want to work for Medtronic?” There are a lot of device companies out there.
We are the biggest med device company in the world. Before, I heard of it as having a great culture. I knew my companies where I wanted to work. I have my top lists, and Medtronic was at the top of the list. Once my position opened up, I did everything I could to get on the radar to try to get the job. I did everything. I went to that athlete mindset, “I’m going to do everything I can to make it here and if I fail, I can look back and say, ‘I did every single thing that I could possibly do within my power to try to land this role.’”
When did you know you had it? What was the interview process for you?
I went through three rounds of interviews. One with the rep, one with regional manager and one with both the rep and the regional manager. It was maybe a couple of days after that last round of interviews where I got the call. I was ecstatic to get that call, to get into the company. I was like, “This would be such a great opportunity to work under these two, the rep and the regional manager,” to learn the landscape of the business and move down the path that I ultimately dream of being on.
I get a lot of questions when it comes to people that are thinking about getting into devices about the ASR role that you’re in. Talk to us a little bit about what is required, the day-to-day and what happens in this role?
For me, it is a lot of covering cases. Being in the OR supporting the surgeons and the staff that are using our equipment for their surgeries. It’s offering troubleshooting or technical advice during a case to a surgeon or being there sometimes as a backup, just in case something does go wrong, but also being a teacher and resource to the staff when you’re in the room. Our sales calls are out, trying to convert business. There is the sales aspect of it, but a big part of it is supporting the surgeries. To make sure that the patients get the best outcome possible when they are having the procedure done. Doing all that I can to make sure the surgery goes well and I’m providing what is needed for that surgery to go well. That patient that’s on the table to get the best outcome possible.
Even in your role as ASR, the majority of your day is in the OR. Can you even go through, you get up at 6:00 or 7:00 and then usually, it’s this for the next 2 or 3 hours? You’re seeing cases and you’re in the OR for the next, and then you do what? How does it look? Just a quick timeline, snapshot.
A lot of times, cases are starting 7:00 or 7:30. For me, I know I have one hospital that they’re starting at 7:00 AM. I’ve got to be there at 6:15 or 6:30 AM. I live about an hour away. I’m leaving 5:30 or 5:15 AM and get there, change into their hospital scrubs. Get to the room before the patient does to make sure my equipment is ready to go for the surgery. Getting everything set up because it comes back to, I want to make sure that as soon as this patient is on the table, surgeon walks in the room, we’re ready to roll. We’re going to have the best possible outcome for this surgery. Sometimes I could be in surgery from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, bouncing back and forth between hospitals. I could be at one hospital for the day.
If I don’t have a lot of surgeries, I’m doing sales calls, going into offices, trying to get to a particular surgeon that may not be using our device. Some of this stuff that may get pushed to the wayside because we’re sales reps so we want to sell. We want to move business and close deals. The administrative stuff is important. Keeping track of equipment that I may have in my storage unit to make sure that if I do get an add-on case and that hospital doesn’t have enough stuff for that case to run smoothly, that I have enough trunk stock and stuff, to make sure that I’m able to support that case and that case go as smoothly as possible. At the end of the day, it’s about the patient getting the service that they deserve.
I’m sure our audience is wondering, you did touch a little bit on, you’ve got to drop everything when there’s a case to get to, what are your nights and weekends look like? Are you pretty much gone more, more than not or is there a way to manage it? What would you tell our audience as far as what the realities are?
One of my good friends works in trauma spine. His days and nights are crazy. Luckily for me, most GYNs are not doing the hysteroscopy procedure at night. I’ve had one case where I left the OR at 9:15 because she had to rush off and do emergency C-Section and in our case, didn’t start until 8:00 PM. That’s rare. I do have early days, but I’m not in the OR at 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM. That’s not the lifestyle of this role, but there are other divisions or an orthopedic and stuff like that, where you might be pulling some long days. The schedule is a whole lot more different than my role now.
Are you making cases on the weekends that’s pretty common?
No. The hysteroscopy procedure is an elective surgery. It’s rare that we’re getting calls or anything like that on a weekend for emergency surgeries or anything like that. If it was something on the weekend, it would probably be because a doctor is requesting that he or she doesn’t want to operate during the week and wants to operate on Saturday. Which in my tenure here, I haven’t heard many of even other reps throughout the country that have worked on Saturday. My nights are spent with my family, rushing around to practices and doing homework. My weekends are centered around my family. Majority of the time, I’m not dropping my kids off at school because I’ve got to be somewhere for a surgery early morning. My department is family friendly per se.
You have a significant size family?
I’ve got five. I’ve got a lovely wife that was extremely supportive as I even tried to make this transition into med device. She was extremely supportive of me making this decision and knew that I could do it. She encouraged me because it took me almost 1.5 to 2 years to get in. It took some long nights of getting her encouragement to keep going that I could do it. Even now, she encourages me, “You can do it. If this is what you wanted, you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to do this and that. I got your back.” That helps. My kids helping that process of motivation when I’m on that roller coaster and I’m going down, they help in that encouragement. Even at the peak, it’s great but it’s even better at the bottom knowing I have a family that supports me.
How long did it take before you were doing this on your own? I’m assuming you shadow your rep for a while before he left you to have the cases on your own, or was it thrown into the fire pretty quickly?
It was a mixture of both. It is a fast ramp up because a lot of times the rep wants to get out, sell and grow the business. You don’t want to stay in support cases when you want to grow the business. Shadowing, learning and thrown into the fire with high quality surgeons that knew what they were doing, but it was still thrown into the fire when I was by myself covering cases on my own because it’s the nature of the game. In this industry, you’ve got to be to learn fast.
How long would you say is the track between being an ASR and then transitioning to an actual sales representative role?
Some people say two years. That’s the normal thing you’ll hear in most companies because there is a lot to learn. You may come across people that are doing it in 8 or 9 months. I have friends that have done it in less than 1 or 1.5 year. It could be from 6 months to 2 or 3 years, depending on what you’re selling. I have another friend that works in the cardiac division in Medtronic. It’s probably going to be three years until he moves up to even have a shot at interviewing to be a rep because their training is intensive. They’re dealing with an expensive area. You’re dealing with somebody’s heart. Three years of him almost shadowing and training before he can even get a shot to interview for a rep role.
What do your products deal with?
Hysteroscopy. We go in with a history of scope into a woman’s uterus to reset pathology that may be causing bleeding or pain or infertility. Whatever that spectrum is going in with a history of scope, which is there’s a camera at the end of the scope. They’ll have the camera during the surgery. You’re able to see within a woman’s uterus during a procedure to see what may be causing her problems. If there is something in the uterus that needs to be taken out, we have blades that we insert through the back of the hysteroscope. We’re able to resect whatever tissue is in the actual uterus to get that out, whether that be send it off for testing to see possibly if it’s cancer. Those are all these great cases, but it’s awesome because you know that your product could possibly change this woman’s life forever. For me, it comes back to the patient. I don’t know the patient’s story, but it’s always good to be able to talk with a doctor a couple of weeks later and say, “How did that patient do? How was that? I remember you said, you thought it might be cancer.” They were like, “No. It’s not cancer.” You don’t get a better feeling than that.
Talk to me a little bit about the sales call that you said you do make. Even though you’re not a sales rep, you’re helping make sales calls. What are the typical touchpoints for someone in your position? Who do you first try to get access to?To be a successful associate sales rep, you need to be persistent, open to new learning and flexible. Click To Tweet
For us, in our sector, we have a major competitor that we’re trying to go after those competitive surgeons, whether that be making sales calls in the office setting, or sometimes it’s one thing we do. Most med device reps do is look at the surgery board to see if a competitive surgeon might be there. You might have that chance to be able to talk with a competitive surgeon before they’re going in a case or walking by them in a hospital because they’re there. That may be frowned upon by some people sometimes, but the nature of the game sometimes is getting access to some of these surgeons can be difficult.
There are some office calls. My rep and I carry a huge territory. It’s phone calls, getting into your car and doing a call block of calling a certain number of offices that you’re trying to crack into or they may not be doing the actual physical going in to an office to drop off marketing collateral because sometimes we don’t have that time with running around to cases. It can be, “I’m going to do a big prospecting block in the afternoon before I call it a day.” It could be office calls, phone calls, emails, if we have emails of surgeons, it can vary. You have to get creative especially for us where we cover such a vast area.
You cover the whole State of Virginia?
Yes. It is busy.
You’ve had a lot of success going into this role. It sounds like you’re getting an idea of exactly how to do your job very well, very quickly. From what you’ve experienced and especially with what you’ve seen with successful sales representatives, give me three attributes that make a rep successful in this role. Give me three for the ASR and then three for what you believe a sales representative should have.
I don’t have a certain order. Being persistent is huge and not being afraid to get told no, even during the interview process. That’s what will make you successful as an ASR and as a rep. Another thing, as an ASR is being open to learning possibly a new way from what you may know. For me, I was a career change person. My thought process was completely different, but I had to learn a different way. I had to be coachable. That’s the key thing. Also, being flexible, especially in these roles because a customer on the other side of your territory may need you. It’s like, “I was getting ready to go do this.”
It’s like, “No. You drop what you have to do to take care of that customer. If you don’t, your competitor will.” You’re learning flexible on how you do business and how you sell. Trauma reps are completely different than like us as GYN reps. Understanding that you’re going to be flexible. You may have to change some things. All those things play a huge role into becoming a rep from the reps I’ve even talked to throughout my tenure here, but even before I got in. Those are the three of the attributes that were echoed across multiple people is the flexibility, being coachable and being persistent because it’s the nature of any sales role. Especially in healthcare, you’re going to need to be persistent with access changing in hospitals and the landscape of healthcare changing constantly. You’ve got to be able to change with it.
If persistency and flexible are namely the top two for being a sales rep as well, what’s the third one or is it also being coachable?
In any part of your career, you’ve got to be coachable. I would say the third one is knowing your business. That’s the point of an ASR is to learn how this landscape of business work. It’s a huge learning curve coming into it. Even from my physical therapy sales to this, it was hard. I’m not going to lie and say, “I came in and it was easy.” I had my challenging days and still do. You’ve got to know the business and know why you’re doing it. Your ‘why’ can’t be to make money which sadly sometimes that was my goal. It took time for me to say, “Why do I want to do this role?”
At the end of the day, it came down to I want to know this business to help the patients that are coming in here saying, “They’re in the operating room because they need help.” They’re at a point where they’re like, “I want help. Can somebody help me?” It’s like, “I can step up. I have something that can help the surgeon and you, so you can get back to the quality of life that you want.” As a rep, you have a quota but you also have to have a bigger ‘why’ than just your quota.
This is something that I want people to understand. People come to me and they think that medical devices is some glamorous high paying, “I’m going to be with surgeons,” and they have no clue at what it requires. I couldn’t agree with you more that if you don’t understand your ‘why,’ you shouldn’t bother.
I came into it with that glamorous idea, “I want to make money and provide for my family and live this certain life.” I had a conversation with a regional manager from another company to pick his brain and he hit me to serve people. I’m like, “You’ve got a guy this high up, an area vice president of a massive company, saying serve people.” Don’t chase the title, serve people well wherever you are and the jobs will open up. That’s where my perspective changed. I was like, “I can serve well,” but I’m not going to sit here and chase money and jobs. It will come.
Your next goal is to be a sales representative. Do you have any longer-term goals that then maybe you had when you were going into this role that have been a little bit refined or maybe you develop them as you started to succeed in this role?
Since we’ve been in this Coronavirus thing, I haven’t been able to do my job for a lot of time to sit back and life has slowed down. I think about, “Where do I want to be in 10 or 15 or 20 years?” My goal was to be in sales leadership, to be able to help the people where I am now, help that associate that’s hungry to be successful, be successful. Whether that’s a regional manager level to be able to give opportunities to people like me, that didn’t necessarily didn’t have the extreme background that maybe some other sales background that some other reps had. I was hungry. My regional manager, who is awesome, took a shot and saw that, “He’s hungry. If I get them in and funnel his motivation in the right direction, he’ll be successful. He’s done that so far.” I can’t say that it’s going to be an easy journey. It’s my ultimate goal of being in sales leadership, but I won’t quit anytime soon.
If there was one thing you could tell yourself before you started this position that would allow you to even have been able to do more or you think a little bit differently that would have served you, what would it be?
I did all that I could. I had a good friend that was in it walking me through what it was like and getting his wisdom and advice. I was at my wit’s end of, “If I don’t get in now, I might call it quits and be like, ‘Maybe this isn’t meant to be.’” I probably would have done a little bit more asking day- to-day. It was one thing that early on, I wouldn’t say threw me off, but it was different experiencing it. Maybe shadowing a rep, not for a couple of cases, but for a whole day and say, “Can I spend a whole day with you to see what it is like?” You hear about it but it’s different. It’s like the high school kid going to college football, you heard about it but now you’re seeing it. It’s like getting that chance to possibly, “Let me spend a day with you to see what this is going to be like so it won’t be so much of a shock when I get in to it.”
What would you tell our readers out there that want to become medical device sales reps, that are coming either from pharma or from a different industry altogether? What’s the number one thing you would share with them?
It’s to know your ‘why.’ Why do you want to get into this industry? That’s the first question I ask people when they reach out to me that, “I want to get in.” “Why do you want to get in? Is this because you hear about how glamorous it is and you can make a lot of money? If that’s it, I’ll be honest, that might not be the best reason to get in because surgeons and staffs can sniff that out that you’re not here for this patient. That’s coming in here again, knocking on the door saying, ‘I need help.’ You’re here so you can hit your quota. If that’s your ‘why,’ then you might want to choose a different industry. If your ‘why’ is, ‘I want what’s best for whatever patients on the table, no matter what their history is. I want the best for them,’ you might be knocking on the right door.”
Thank you for the time that you gave us. We learned a lot of lessons. I’m glad I had you on. We’ll be talking later to find out how you’ve been doing as you’ve progressed to becoming a med sales representative.
For anybody who wants to reach out to me on LinkedIn, feel free to shoot me a message. I love talking with people.
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