In this episode, Mac McKellar, National Sales Director at Nona Scientific, joins Samuel Gbadebo as they talk about Mac’s amazing journey from being a used car salesman to having a high earning career in diagnostics and toxicology. Get an overview of the services Nona Scientific offers as Mac and Samuel dig deeper into the synthetic urine industry and the specialty diagnostics laboratory specializing in urine toxicology. Mac emphasizes the importance of putting your ego aside to gain knowledge that you can leverage as you move forward in your career. Learn why you should let your management know about your aspirations so you can put yourself in a position to soak in as many aspects of the business as possible. Mac and Samuel also talk about the impacts of COVID and how has Nona Scientific adopted to this disruption.
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The High Earning Career of Diagnostic Testing and Toxicology Sales
Mac, thanks for joining us. Please, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Thanks for having me. I am the National Sales Director for Nona Scientific. We are a specialty diagnostics laboratory. We specialize in urine toxicology and I was fortunate enough to have proprietary technology that we’re launching into the industry that can identify synthetic urine in over twenty different ways, patients can adulterate or manipulate their urine. It’s an exciting time.
That’s intense work. You guys are preventing people that are applying to positions from getting under the radar if they’re up to stuff like too many rooms.
You bring up a point about pre-employment drug screening, which is one industry we’re in. Our bread and butter where we started were with therapeutic drug monitoring and compliance. Doctors that are prescribing controlled substances for a long time, we had been monitoring their patients. They’ll do a urine drug screen and get back a report saying that the patient’s compliant taking what they prescribed, not taking what they prescribed, or anything else that’s in their system. For us, it’s a two-part test. We do that drug screening for them. The first thing, every drug screen that comes through our lab, we run through our proprietary specimen validity test to tell the doctor if it’s synthetic urine, real urine, if they’ve added anything in their urine to try to mask the drugs that are in their system or throw off the validity of the test.
Who’s your main customer?
We work with pain management physicians, higher prescriber controlled substances specifically opiates. We work with treatment and addiction centers, family practice, internal medicine, OB-GYN, but now we’ve been working neatly here locally with different court systems, court-ordered drug screening and getting into pre-employment drug screening. There’s a lot of different industries that can benefit from testing like this.
One thing I want my eyes to get is you’re a VP, you’re doing big things with this amazing company that seems like on some cutting edge technology. What got you into this? Take us back to college. Did you get to call and say, “I want to be working in the synthetic urine industry. I’m going to be a VP. That is my goal for life.” What happened there? Take us back and walk us through the whole thing.Don't be afraid to take the job, that may not be the most glamorous thing but learn as much as you can. Click To Tweet
I can go back even farther than that. My whole life, I always joke that I’ve been a salesman. My grandfather owned a dealership and was a car salesman. When I was a kid, when I wanted something, instead of asking my parents for money, I remember wanting a new surfboard and I started selling lemonade and popcorn on the side of the road. When I got into high school, I got to represent my school and speak at different rotary clubs in front of groups of wealthy men and donors. I worked through college, odd jobs at construction. I worked as a waiter. Senior year, I went up to my friend’s dad’s dealership to get an oil change in rural Opelika, Alabama. I looked in the window, two of my fraternity brothers were in there and I said, “What are you all doing?”
He said, “My dad is going to let me buy some cars and sell them.” I was like, “I want to sell cars.” He’s like, “Show up tomorrow.” I showed up, I met his dad who is covered in oil and grease, and he’s like, “Go for it.” One car is my first bud and by the end of it, I sold about 27 cars in my last month. I fell in love with sales. I knew it was something I wanted to do but didn’t necessarily want to go down the avenue of being a car salesman. I started doing research and found a friend of mine from Auburn until I went to War Eagle. She was doing medical sales. I sent her a message. I said I had to ask for interviewing advice.
She said, “You’d be great at my company.” I asked her what she did. All of a sudden, I got a phone call from the VP. I was walking around the car lot interviewing. He asked me if I could interview that Friday. I drove to Atlanta. I got on a plane, I flew in, interviewed, flew home. He asked me if I could go and do a second interview in Atlanta. I drove over for an interview. They asked me if I could start the following Monday. I loaded my U-Haul up, I drove there, I got a dog-friendly hotel, I stayed in there with my two dogs, I found a place to move into. I moved in and started work that Monday. The rest is history.
That’s a story. How long were you selling cars before you move into Atlanta?
I did it for about 1.5 years.
It’s a short time.
I did it partway during my senior year and then I did it after graduation. That was something I don’t think my mom was necessarily thrilled about. On the day of graduation, I gave her the emergency credit card and the cell phone. I was like, “I got this.” She’s like, “Please, move home. You can live with us for a little bit.” She wanted to tell her friends that her son was going to be a banker and accountant but that’s something I tell people a lot. I don’t think I would have gotten that job had I moved home. Throughout the interview process, when the vice president kept asking me sales questions, I could relate it to something that I did on the car loan.
I’m big into mentoring. I have great mentors and our mentor is a lot of younger sales professionals. That’s what I tell them. Don’t be afraid to take the job. It may not be the most glamorous thing but learn as much as you can. No matter what interview or what questions you get, relate it to something you did. I’d much rather say when I was selling a used car on Opelika, Alabama then if I live with my mom and dad, I’m sure that if I was facing that situation, I’ll handle it well. You got to put the ego aside.
What was the title of the first position you’ve had that got into right after you work in?
My title was customer support specialist so I was an account executive, the lowest on the totem pole. It was for a medical laboratory that does toxicology as I do now. That was my first experience.
You got into toxicology and now you’re a VP. You loved it and you stayed in it. What kept you there? I’m sure you’ve heard about people in different parts and types of medical sales in a device, pharma role, biotech role, selling biologics, or something like that. What kept you in toxicology?
I ask myself that a lot. I keep telling myself I’ll get out of this industry. I had this conversation before I joined this company with a great mentor of mine. He’s successful. He sits on the board for five large companies. I told him the opportunity I had and I was like, “I always have the what if.” It’ll be cool to be a device rep and then DOR, I have relationships with doctors. I’ve been approached by a lot of the companies. He said, “Mac, you have something special to offer. You have earned the right to be a VP position or a director position. You have a wealth of knowledge. The other companies may hire you because you’re a good salesman but why not use a wealth of knowledge you’ve gained for the laboratory industry to take a position like this and to grow a company.” That’s when I stepped back and said like, “I’m a lab guy. I’ve dedicated too much time, energy, and learned too much.” Once I accepted that, then I took and ran with it. Every day, I’m excited about it.
How many years have you been in toxicology?
Since 2012.A successful person is someone that has separated themselves from their peers. Click To Tweet
Give us the inside scoop, if you will, on how you were able to go from right out of the car dealership into that position and then ramp up to where you are now. What was that trajectory like for you?
I started off doing the grant work as the account executive. I worked my way up in that company. I was looking to get back to Florida. The nice thing was I got to start as a sales rep once I moved to Florida because I had already had the experience and I knew about the industry. I knew about being an account executive and managing customers. I could show that I had closed my accounts. I had done my due diligence there. Coming into Florida, I had the opportunity to start the territory for another lab, grow it, and try to soak in everything I could.
I let it be known to them to move up my aspirations to understand as many aspects of the business as possible, which is important. If your manager doesn’t know that you want to be a manager or an executive in the company, then they’re going to allow you to do your thing. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to a leadership training throughout my company. I was a team captain. I got to sit in on some marketing and got to start training reps at corporate as well as having new reps hire with me. I did my due diligence and I was fortunate enough to rub shoulders with some good people here in Florida. I had multiple offers and I chose the one that I felt would allow me to grow the most who would hire me truly for what I had to offer and not just my book of business. That’s something that I wanted them to hire me and did that. It is been incredible. I’m grateful for this opportunity with this team that I have now.
What would you say constitutes a successful rep? I want to hear the answer, especially from you because you’ve been a rep in a short time. You’ve also had the opportunity to manage reps. What would you say makes a rep successful? What are the top three character traits and qualities that you say, “They got to have this. They got to be doing these things.”
It depends. A lot of people define success in different ways. When I’m doing a big push for interviewing and hiring, I’ve talked to people that are fifteen years older than me that are reps. They’re successful because they’ve had 6 or 7 presidents clubs, their sample volume, quota, or revenue at the top but I like to invest in people. A successful person is someone that has separated themselves from their peers. They’ve been invited, they’ve won maybe a sales award but there are different companies that have character awards or there are companies that have retreats where they invite top reps because they believe they’re the future of the company.
Someone that’s had multiple positions tells me that their company believes that they can do more than what they can as a rep. You have to trust your gut. Success for me, when you sit down and someone can have all these different accolades, people can manipulate a resume or an application to say different things. When you sit down in front of that person, when you can call references, and truly see someone that’s special, that’s when you can separate a successful rep from a rep that is middle of the pack.
You say it’s more of interpersonal skill that you pick up on when you interview them and that gives you a sense of can this person do the job well.
For me, I rather invest in a person than stuff written on a piece of paper any day. I know that we can give the training, I can teach them some of my skillsets but if they don’t have the edge factor and if they’re not the right person at the core, then I don’t think they’re ever truly going to be successful. I say my type of success of what I want to be, we need all-stars. It’s a smaller and a growing company. We need people that can separate themselves from all of their competition.
In that vein, are there certain personal qualities someone can have that lets you know that this is most likely going to a good hire?
Some of the things that I can think about, number one, being ethical is huge, especially in medical, in our industry. I run into a lot of shady things that happen a lot. We walk away from potential reps in books of businesses when people start saying, “This is what my companies do and this is what they’re paying me.” There are a lot of laws governing the laboratory industry right now. Anything like that is a big turnoff for me because we always say there’s no one rep and no one customer that’s worth us losing our reputation or the momentum we have as a company.
I’d say ethics is big. I liked some of the little bit of swagger. I always joke around and say that I always try to be persistent without being annoying and talking to it without being cocky. That’s a thin line. Have I been called cocky in my life? Yes. When people get to know me, they quickly realize that’s not me but if you don’t walk into that meeting thinking you’re the biggest representative of that company, you’re already lost. When there’s blood in the water, I come to play. You got to have a little bit of swagger. I’m not saying there are not good reps that are more friendly and don’t have that swagger but a great rep. You got to have a little bit.
You’re in your position now. How long have you been a VP?
I came with the company in October 2019.
I know you’re still filling up the role and trying to be as impactful as you can from this position. Have you given any thought to the future when I see Trump talking to 2, 3, 4 years out?At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut. Click To Tweet
The same conversation that I always have aspirations to move up within a company. I’ve had those with our ownership team. When I came on board, they knew that I had things to offer as far as knowledge. They knew I was a hard worker and it didn’t take long for them to start putting more and more faith in me to where they’ve given me the keys to the castle.
I’m going to ask you an obvious question now. We’re all going through this. This is the COVID era. How are you guys be able to thrive and keep business alive the way you’re doing through this time? What are some of the principles you’re operating by that are allowing you to do that?
Adapter dies if they won. Instead of licking our wounds, as expected with the new company, we were growing every month. We had our best month right before COVID hit. We started to see some trends. Instead of sitting there, whining, crying, and saying, “What are we going to do?” We had an executive meeting and said, “Let’s think about what’s happening with the landscape of our industry, what’s taking place, and how can we be on top of this and in front of these curves?” We started implementing webinar presentations. We started doing recorded webinar training. We’re in a fortunate position financially that we’re hiring which is a great opportunity for us because it’s incredible to see the number of reps that were furloughed or were let go that we’re able to bring on board.
We’re at a unique time and it’s good because we’re handling training and a lot of stuff that you have to do but it’s hard to do when there’s the business to be had. We’re getting a lot of this out of the way to where as soon as these offices start opening up, we’re going to be ready to take over even more than we are now. The other thing we’ve started doing is adapting to telemedicine. That’s something that is happening across every landscape and medical. I don’t think it’s going to be going anywhere. We’ve now started implementing with our company where we have the ability to send our product directly to the customers at their home, working through referring physicians and have them utilize our product and send directly to our laboratory. That’s something that’s allowed our customers to keep sending and could continue down the road.
For those reading that are wanting to get into the industry and even now considering testing with diagnostics, what would you advise them trying to get a position? What would you advise them to do?
I’d say keep applying. During the interview process or even in their application to talk about a few key things. Some things I always give people advice that is trying to get into medical is utilized the fact that you haven’t been in medical to your advantage. When they ask you specific questions, you can say, “I have proven success as a salesperson. I have great referrals. It’s a positive. I haven’t worked for one of your competitors. I don’t have any bad habits. You have the ability to take me as a great sales rep and a great human being and teach me how to sell your product. I’m not going to come in and say, ‘This company I did that or I’ve done it this way before.’”
The other thing I talked about selling cars is no matter what question they have, relate it to something you’ve done. Don’t say I don’t know or I’ve never been in that situation. You’ve been in every position that they ask you. Think about it, stay calm, cool, and collective. The other thing that I’ve learned throughout this process because I’m going through hundreds and hundreds of applications are getting with someone to have a professional resume and make sure to put keywords. People want to list awards or different things they’ve done but when I look at my resume, I looked for three keywords that are based around the position I’m looking for. If you don’t have that, I don’t have time to get online and try to figure out what the heck your company did. If you’re listing I sell two accounts and I’m good at this. I won this award and I’m like, “Sorry, delete.” Unfortunately, I got 50 more to go through in the next 30 minutes, I can’t be sitting here. That’s an important thing.
What would be one thing if you could go back and tell yourself something right before you started your first medical sales position?
I would remind myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s been plenty of times in my life where I always wanted something quicker than I deserved it instead of slowing down, working hard, and proving myself. That was a lesson I had to learn a few times to be grateful for what I had. Sometimes, you always do your job and work hard and people are going to notice that. You don’t always have to let them know what you’re doing or what you want. There’s something to be said to put your head down, work hard, and the good things will come. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight for it and go after it. There’s a time and place for everything.
Mac McKellar, VP of Nona Scientific. Is there anything you want to let the audience know before we wrap up?
I would say feel free to reach out to me. I’m going to give you my contact information because I’d love to answer questions. One of the quotes I love is that, “You’re the average of your four closest friends. Choose wisely.” I love surrounding myself with other like-minded people and hard workers. We’re hiring and we’re interviewing reps across the country. If you’re a good rep out there, if you have relationships in medical, specifically laboratory sales, toxicology, or relationships in pain management or addiction treatment, I’d love to talk to you. See if we can’t work something out.
Thanks, Mac, for coming out. We appreciate the time.
Thank you for having me.
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