The sterile processing industry is making its name known in the medical space – and outside of it – and one individual has contributed significantly. Meet Hank Balch, a man who started his career in instrument reprocessing as a frontline technician. He has since created a podcast and a platform that commanded over a million downloads. Hank joins host Samuel Adeyinka to share the journey he’s taken to discover his path in the industry. Get to know how he became a prominent figure and thought leader in the field of sterile processing. Plus, gather his tips and advice on the key skills you need to make it big. Don’t miss valuable takeaways from today’s episode by tuning in.
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The Enterprising Sterile Processing Podcaster With Hank Balch
We have with us another special guest who goes by the name of Hank Balch. He is interesting because his space is another unique space and it’s called sterile processing. What exactly is sterile processing? I’m not even going to give it away. I’m going to save it for when you read this interview. A little bit more about Hank. He began his career in instrument reprocessing as a frontline technician in 2009, and then served as an instrument database specialist.
He went on to become a sterile processing leader and he started his podcasts, which became businesses for him. He has written over 150 sterile processing articles and his work has been published all around and all the top magazines that feature sterile processing. His passion is seeing frontline sterile processing professionals equipped to fight dirty every instrument every time. Great tagline.
This is a unique space. It’s not a common space and I want to say I have had very few guests, if any, that have talked about sterile processing. As always, we bring you innovative guests that are doing things a little differently and bringing innovation to the medical sales space, and this is another one of those episodes. Make sure you tune in. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
How are we doing, Hank?
I’m doing very well. Thank you.
Good to have you on the show. Why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do?
My name is Hank Balch. I am a serial entrepreneur in the media space, in particular social media. I have got a couple of companies that all started as podcasts. In the clinical education space, within medical device, medical device reprocessing, healthcare supply chain, operating room, and infection prevention. Even though we are a few years into the first company, I’m still doing all kinds of random things on the front lines, like creating graphics and scripting podcast interviews. I do it all on this side of the equation.
Four companies and all of them do non-marketing but outreach for other companies.
We’ll get into some of this, but I was in the hospital setting back in 2009. I began my career as a sterile processing technician, which for those of you not familiar with sterile processing, that’s the cleaning and sterilization of surgical instruments. That always blows people’s minds out there outside of that device. They are like, “They reuse instruments on people?” They do. You want them clean, sterilized, and functional.
That’s what the team down the sterile processing does. I started in 2009 and I was already tuned into social media like a lot of folks in my generation. I started looking around for content to learn more about the industry. I was shocked that there was almost nothing out there. A couple of years went by and I was still learning the old-fashioned way through some textbooks. They had some certification training programs.
I finally got on LinkedIn in 2013, and that’s when I decided if the content isn’t out there yet, I’m going to start creating some. It began way back then as blogging about sterile processing and then along the way, it has turned into a couple of these media companies that do this same thing at scale around the country.
When did it start to branch away from sterile processing? Give us the timeline here. From college to the creation of your first company, how much time had passed?
As with a lot of folks out there, I went to college. My parents were like, “College is where you go after you get done with high school. That’s it. No questions asked. You’re going to college.” I went to college at Texas A&M. I had a full ride to become a history teacher. I had a little bit of college money that was saved up, but I didn’t need it because I had a full ride. I bought a used pickup truck. It wasn’t too much. It was like $15,000 or something. Long story short, I got through my freshman year and I made a 2.97, but I needed a 3.0 to keep my full-ride scholarship and lost it.
Here I am as a college sophomore, no college money. I have got this used pickup truck now with the little college money that I had. When I lost the scholarship, I had to come to Jesus moment and said, “I don’t have to be a history teacher anymore,” because that’s what the scholarship was around. What do I want to do with my life? I ended up going into studying agriculture which has nothing to do with what I do now.
I graduated and went to seminary for five years. That has nothing to do with what I do now. I graduated from seminary. I went to law school for a year and a half before I dropped out with that, which has nothing to do with what I do now. Along the way, in that graduate school time was when I got into sterile processing because I needed a job. I’m trying to work my way through school. What was great about sterile processing was there were all three shifts. I could work in the evening. I could go up to school in the morning, and they did tuition reimbursement at the hospital.
Were you at the sterile processing when you were in the law school stint too?
Yes, I was there working through it.
You were figuring it out. You could say, trying all those different career paths, you probably took good chunks of information that gave you the confidence when you got into sterile processing to take it to a different level.
I did learn a lot. Any experience you are in if you want to learn, that’s what I would challenge folks. “You may be in a job or situation that you don’t like. You don’t want to be there forever, but don’t look too far past it.” You need to soak it up, like what you said. There are things there that are going to help you in some form or fashion down the road. I remember, as a grad student, this was before I was working at the hospital. I was working the second shift at the local Walmart. In Kentucky, there are these little small Walmarts called Neighborhood Walmarts, and so they are green.With any experience that you're in, you’ll learn if you're wanting to learn. Click To Tweet
You don’t buy clothes. You just buy food. It’s a little market. I was working there stocking shelves and looking around thinking, “I’m the only one that works here that has a college degree.” It could have been tempting to say, “I’m too good for this.” I was like, “I need a paycheck and these people hired me, so I am not too good for this. I need to do a good job and I need to keep trying to figure out what I want to do with my life if I don’t want to keep on working at Walmart,” which crossed my mind.
I don’t know if a lot of folks know this, but directors of Walmart are making over six figures to run those Walmart stores. That Is a great career trajectory if that’s your thing, but it wasn’t my thing. To your point about going through in grad school and law school, even that whole time, I was working at the hospital and I was thinking, “I’m not going to stay in healthcare. This is my little way to get to where I want to go.”
You weren’t even trying to make those connections.
I wasn’t. Speaking of connections, so going back to college. I hated the term networking. I was deathly afraid. College professors are real big on that like, “You got to network. You got to build on that.” I’m like, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t like meeting strangers. I don’t want to talk to people like that.” Wouldn’t you know that through that, all of that school and everything else, when I graduated, the most important thing in my life became not what I knew or the degrees I had, but who I knew, who I had networked with. Nobody has asked me, “What was your undergrad in or what was your GPA in?” Not once, but I have had a lot of phone calls and interviews because I knew somebody who knew somebody who got me that opportunity or kicked that door open. It’s huge.The most important thing in life becomes not what you know or the degrees you have, but who you know and who you network with. Click To Tweet
That’s the reason why we are here now. It’s definitely huge. I want to know the moment. You are this guy, you are doing your second act, and you are in sterile processing. I need to know the moment that you said, “I’m going to go this direction within a sterile processing.” I’m sure at first you were working, especially if you didn’t even you hadn’t yet made those connections with the wonderful experiences you were getting. You were working, trying to do your job, and do your thing. What changed? What happened? Was it an experience? Was it you woke up one morning? Talk to us a little bit about that.
I had been in college for ten years straight. If there are any doctors reading this, they will be like, “Suck it up, sissy.” “Okay. What to do?” I was in college for 4 years and I did 5 years for my Master’s degree. I went right in to law school for that year and a half, and it was that third semester of law school. It was in the fall, the middle of semester and I’m thinking, “I could finish this if I wanted to, but do I want to?” Do you all want to keep spending the money to pay tuition? Do I want to be an attorney? I still didn’t know what I wanted to be.
At the same time, as you mentioned, I was in that sterile processing department. I enjoyed the job and the people. I could see opportunity for growth. That was big for me. Whatever I did, I wanted to be able to see a pathway to growth. Around all that time, wherein all this fogginess and everything’s happening, our manager at the department quit and took a job in Florida. The director of the manager came to me one day and said, “I know you are not too thrilled about the law school stuff. Would you be interested in throwing your name in the hat for this management position?”
That’s fantastic but let’s be clear. What was the role before you were asked to step into management? What was your job title and what were your responsibilities?
I had a good manager and good director who were also very committed to building pathways for growth. When I started law school, I moved up from the frontline technician that’s the normal sterile processing technician. In the decontamination area, inspecting the trays, packaging the trays, and sterilizing them to what we called a database specialist.
I was handling all of the instrument tracking because this is expensive inventory. Surgical instruments are not cheap, but they often get lost in misplaced if they are not labeled correctly and everything else. I was managing that job. What’s funny is that my manager at the time was like, “This is going to be a new role, so I’m going to let you pick your own job title.” I went into the internet. I remember I Google job title generator and I threw in all these words.
Anyways, we ended up with database specialists. It was called the integrated database specialist which did not mean anything at all, but it was fun. I was in that job and threw my name in the hat and then said, “I’m ready to start making some money instead of giving all my money to the school.” That was all it took. I don’t think that was the moment that I knew this was going to be my forever career, but it was the moment that the shift happened. Now looking back, I can say, “That was a pivotal decision for me.”
When you first started, was it you and your ideas and you had to find a team? Did you have partners that you were establishing the idea or fleshing out the idea with? What was the pathway?
I have always been a contrarian. When I got into the industry, I looked around. As I said, there wasn’t a lot of information to consume. The few voices that were out there talking in the industry from the leadership perspective, I didn’t agree with what they were saying and I started voicing my opinion. This goes back to everything that we are talking about here. The power of social media is it democratizes opinions. It takes away the gatekeepers.
I was able to speak directly to an entire industry through my LinkedIn blog and articles. That challenged the status quo almost immediately because no one else was out there writing. The way I was writing was not to stir up crap and throw bombs to see it explode. I was asking, “Why do we do it this way? Has anyone ever said a better way? Why don’t we collaborate in this way and why don’t we do new things? Challenge the status quo.”
From that contrarian nature, more and more folks started paying attention to what I had to say, both on the establishment side of things, but then all of these new leaders who felt the same way I did but didn’t have any place to go to have that conversation. I began doing that in 2013 and I told myself at the beginning, I had been a blogger years before and all kinds of different topics.
I knew the blogging space and I said, “I’m going to do this. Even if no one reads it, I’m not going to be blogging and saying, ‘If only 5 or 10 people read it, I’m not going to blog again tomorrow or next week.’” I said, “I’m going to do this because I want to do it. I know it’s the right thing and I’m going to keep on doing it.” I did that for 2 or 3 years until everything started to come together in terms of the profession, the industry, the timing, and the opportunities for me, and then all these synergies spilled over from there.
With all of your fantastic services, what’s the best way medical sales reps can benefit from what you guys do?
The most surprising thing has been the value of clinical conversation to these sales reps because you got to think about it. You’ve got a lot of windshield time. You are driving from hospital to hospital, from account to account. What are you doing besides jamming out to Jimi Hendrix?
Listening to Kindle, audio tapes, or podcasts.
The podcast is the point. Early on in our podcast, we created all these podcasts and conversations specifically for the clinicians. We wanted to be talking to other people in the trenches doing the job and making decisions. A couple of months after we launched the podcast, we started getting all this feedback from medical device sales reps, and they were saying, “We love your podcast because now this gives us a topic of conversation to have when we get to the accounts.”
What is the name of this podcast that we are talking about right now?
The first podcast baby that we had is called Beyond Clean. That’s the sterile process one. That’s the big brother podcast. We got all this feedback and folks, instead of talking about the weather or the game on Sunday or whatever, all of those are fine topics to have, but it began equipping with the language, challenges, frustrations, and inspiration. It then builds that true relational connection that all sales revolve around that is infused now with some clinical content and education.
Over the years, we have continued to do that through the podcast and all the social media content we have put out. All of our webinars and conferences are all available to medical device sales folks. It’s a good safe place to go because it’s an open-source conversation. Nobody is taking your attendance reporting to your boss or your competitors, but you can see and engage in those same conversations in a way that’s very hard to do outside of social media.
I love the role you are playing in social media and you are an advocate for the importance of social media. One thing that I have heard discussions about and had discussions about is how with med tech, it’s like one of the slower industries to pick up technologies around social media. You think it’d be the opposite, but you guys are making headway in this space.
Project ten years, how do you think companies are going to be utilized in social media? Maybe ten years is too aggressive because things move so fast. Project five years. Give me five years out. Where does the medical sales rep fall into this? How is social media going to continue to transform the way we do things? How are you seeing things?
I would say right now, if you look at the influencer model that made popular Instagram consumer stuff, “I’m wearing a jacket. Go buy it. I love it. I live the good life. Follow me for more,” that model is coming over into platforms like LinkedIn and other social media platforms specific to med tech. You see all kinds of sales reps now that are building their whole brand, personal brand, and influencer brand, impacting their customers.
If it’s B2B or B2C, it’s creating synergies for them because you got to remember, and this is a key. We tell this to all of our readers, but all of the manufacturers and stuff that partner with us. People can forget especially the big med tech like the ones that take a while to convert what you were saying.
They pretend that social media is all digital. They forget that there are people on the other side of those profiles. Actual decision makers who have friends that have connections and that have their own networks. If you have a legit, honest, and invaluable conversation in the digital space, it will convert into real relationships, real opportunities, and real branding for you as an individual and then also for your company.
To tie this together, in the next 5 to 10 years, I see that influencer model continuing to grow at the individual level. I see these brands, especially the big boys starting to wake up, not because they see the light. They are going to start seeing all this competition from all these smaller brands that do social better. Edging out that network and starting to build momentum to where they can no longer ignore the fact that these things are happening on social media.
It’s real. One of the things we do here is helping the sales reps build those brands. It’s a critical thing. I love it. Hank, any message you want to share with the audience before we wrap up?
I would say if you want to be a better writer, read more. If you want to be a better salesperson, you should be sold to more. I say that as a content creator because I’m real bad about consuming other people’s content because I’m so busy creating my own content, doing my own podcast, writing my own blogs, and not consuming other folks’ content. I would challenge you on the sell side to be tuned in to how everybody is out there, specifically in this digital space selling. See what they are doing. See what the reactions are and what the engagement is in that social space.If you want to be a better writer, read more . If you want to be a better salesperson, you should be sold to more. Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, we subscribe to the Gary Vee model of what he calls 51%. Always give at least that 51% of value in your post as opposed to asking people to do something on your post. That’s the difference in our view of pure marketing, which is ask, come on and buy. Give value more insight, perspective, and encouragement. Even inspiration, in some sense, can be giving more through your page and through your brain than what you are asking for. If you are going to be doing those things, you will win in the digital media space now.
Before we wrap up, we are going to do a lightning round and I’m going to ask you four different questions. You have less than ten seconds to answer. Are you ready?
No, but go ahead,
What is the best book you’ve read?
Rocket Fuel and I learned what the difference is between a visionary and an integrator. If you are in the startup world, check it out.
Best movie the last few months?
That has come out last few months, I have no idea, but I watched Godfather 1 and 2 again. You cannot recommend that enough.
It’s brand-new every time. It’s literally brand-new every single time.
Those things are freaking long, so you got to carve out six hours to watch them back to back.
It’s an event. You’ve got to pack lunches and everything. Best meal you’ve had in the last few months?
We office right down the street from this meat company called Cabalar, which has halves of cows hanging behind the people who are cooking. Legit meat place. They have a fantastic barbecue burger that the team went, “I’m going to have to go with some Cabalar meat.”
Last question, best experience you had in the last few months?
I’ve got a daughter. I would say becoming a girl dad. We had two boys. We’ve got this little daughter. I’m hooked. It’s a different experience.
She owns you now.
She owns all the little brothers too.
That is fantastic. Congratulations. That’s a beautiful thing. One thing I want to mention that we didn’t get to talk about too much, but last thoughts on it. What’s the importance of a medical sales rep and anyone, but especially medical sales reps, to learn the art of copy? How do you see that?
If you can learn it, you are putting yourself into the top 1% because copy isn’t easy, that’s why it’s so sought after. If you think about it, copy is everywhere. Somebody has to write the title to this podcast. That’s copy. Someone has the description. That’s copy. Someone has to write your brochure that you are giving the customer. That’s copy. You’ve got to write an email. That’s copy. Not everyone opens their emails. I got 20,000 emails unopened in my inbox right now that some of which may have been opened with better copy.
I cannot overstate the value of copy, but you will not learn it through templates on Google. You will not learn it from copying and pasting other things you see. It has to be an organic outgrowth of what you know and what you know about that person on the other end of the email, and that’s the big takeaway here. It’s not about the numbers, the open rates, and everything else. It’s about who is opening it or who do you want to open it and how you can get around their gatekeeping brain that says, “I don’t have time to open this. I don’t have time to hear this,” and hook them up front with good copy. That’s worth studying. I will tell you that for sure.
I love your final thoughts on that. Hank, once again, it was a pleasure having you on the show and we are going to be looking after your companies, listening to your podcast and I can’t wait to see you again.
I appreciate the invite. Good luck to everyone out there in cyberspace with your copy and with your brand building. It’s a great time to be in medical sales.
Hank Balch is impressive because he took sterile processing, which it’s known for all reps that are in the OR, but it’s not known outside of that. Not well, anyway. He created a podcast and a platform that commanded over 1 million downloads. That’s huge. Respect to him and what he’s doing and the pioneering ways he’s creating for the sterile processing space.
Maybe you are reading this and you are thinking to yourself, “I want to be in this world.” Maybe sterile processing has piqued your interest or maybe to a different type of sales. Maybe you have read these episodes for a little while, and you’ve been thinking about how you are going to get into this industry. You might be clueless about where to start or you’ve sent over 50 applications all over the internet and you haven’t heard anything back. You keep getting that automatic rejection letter or you are getting interviews, but you keep getting deselected.
Someone else is getting the position over you. You’ve been told it’s your lack of sales experience and work experience. You’ve been told whatever reason you’ve been told, but I’m here to tell you that if you have a Bachelor’s degree and if you have a strong work ethic, and if you had done good things for the company you already work for, then you have a chance and opportunity to work in medical sales.
It’s a matter of making sure you find the right field, right position, and then doing the work to get those interviews and knocking those interviews at the park to get the offer. The solution is we handle all of that and you can find us EvolveYourSuccess.com. Select Attain Medical Sales Role. Fill out a short application, submit your information, and let’s have a conversation about how you can be in a medical sales role.
This is a field that I champion every single day because of what it’s done for myself, my friends and family, and for the people that I have coached. It’s a fantastic and growing industry. There’s an opportunity for anyone that’s serious about making a difference when it comes to patient lives. If you are in the field out there and you are working your butt off and trying to make things happen, things aren’t happening quite the way you want them to.
Maybe you are thinking about next year and you are saying, “I want next year to be my year. I want to show up in the ways I have never shown up before.” Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com, and select Improved Sales Performance. Take a look at our sales training program, submit the application, have a conversation, and let’s get you to where you want to be in 2023.
As always, we do our best to bring you guests that are innovative, that are doing things differently in the med sales space and that are pioneering whole new levels of attention to spaces that were otherwise pretty obscure. This is what we are about here at the show, and I always thank you all for reading and having a true interest. Make sure you tune in for another episode of the show.
About Hank Balch
Hank Balch is the Founder & President of Beyond Clean. He began his career in instrument reprocessing as a frontline technician in 2009, and has served as an Instrument Database Specialist, Department Manager, and System Director for various SPD departments across the country.
Hank is an award winning Sterile Processing leader (2016 Healthcare Purchasing News “CS/SPD Department of the Year”), twice nominated for HSPA President, founder of two state-wide HSPA chapters, conference speaker, and well-known industry writer, blogger, and social media connoisseur. He has written over 150 Sterile Processing articles, with his work being published in Becker’s Hospital Review, Infection Control Today, Healthcare Purchasing News, Communique, Outpatient Surgery Magazine, AAMI BI&T Journal, SteriWorld, and other publications across the globe.
His passion is seeing frontline Sterile Processing professionals equipped to #FightDirty, every instrument, every time.
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