Jumping from one job to another takes courage, even more so if you’re jumping ship into a totally new industry. Josh, the Vice President of Sales at Viadna, did exactly this, armed with only the network he built and skills he learned that are actually transferable. Going from med sales all the way to tech, he shares the courage and mindset he had during his time of transition. Believing that you need to take strategic risks in life, he trusted his confidence in his skills and experience and shares the mistakes and lessons he’s learned along the way. Learn how he coped and adapted his skillset into a new environment by keeping an open mind.
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Transferable Skills: Med Sales to Tech Sales
How are you doing, Josh? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Josh Calcanis, VP of Sales at diDNA, which is an ad technology company. I got my start over in the medical sales industry, which has led to a leadership position in software sales.
You started in the medical sales industry. Tell us a little bit about, was it something you chose out of college, out of a Master’s degree or some education? What brought you into the medical sales?
I got into a Professional Selling Program at UCF, University of Central Florida in Orlando. I wanted to get into medical sales or the medical field. I took Biology, did horrible and had to figure out a different way to get into it. I became much more familiar and comfortable with selling. I realized that was more of an innate strength that I had in terms of communication. I got into the program and found out about one of the lab companies that I jumped on board. They offered me a job in Savannah, Georgia. It was either move or don’t take the job. I started my very long moving career through the medical sales in Georgia in 2011.
It was with the lab company?
Correct. I started as Toxicology, urine drug testing, evolved into genetic testing as well.
You were selling testing?
Yeah.You got to take leaps. Strategic risks. Pay attention to the leadership of a company. Click To Tweet
How did you like that?
It was a lot of fun. It was an industry I was unaware of. A lot of people think medical sales and they think pharma and device, which is fair. When you take a look at some of these different verticals, they’re disposable. There’s device, pharma, genetics, toxicology. There are so many. I was excited when I got into it. Once the career started to evolve into a couple of different clienteles that we started working with, I found a little more of a pride for what I was doing compared to when I first started.
What’s the traditional pathway with genetic testing? You start off as a rep and then you can take it where?
It started with the urine drug testing side. It was an account manager position. How that works would be 80% of your day, 70% of your day was handling a lot of the clients that you already got. You’re teamed up with a rep that handled a lot of the new business. You have two different responsibilities. To get promoted to that sales rep position, you did need to close business too. You made the time to also close the business. It starts as an account manager into a territory rep. About two years in, they relaunched the genetic services, which allowed you either to go into a sales trainer role or a very specific and focused on the genetic testing.
It’s almost a highly specialized sales rep role and sales trainer. Were there a lot of management opportunities in the genetic testing or was it people that were there for the long haul with a smaller company? What did you experience?
It was a large field rep team. When they relaunched the genetic service, they created a new leadership position for it. It wasn’t necessarily a sales manager role, but this was technically my first step into leadership. It was the sales trainer role. They picked a couple of the reps that had done the best in terms of numbers reselling this. It was about 12 or 13 of us. We were tasked with creating messaging around this, how to communicate this to physicians. A lot of physicians didn’t know what was going on with a lot of the genetic testing. We didn’t necessarily need to go toe-to-toe with them, but we needed to be able to explain it and communicate in a very simple way. It was not something that was simple. They brought us all on board. That was our first technical leadership role was how to communicate this to physicians and how to work with a lot of reps on doing that.
Clearly, you were successful that’s why you had that opportunity. What would you say would be the number one thing you have to be able to do as a rep to be successful with testing services?
Testing services, device services, even in the ad technology world, depending on who you’re talking to, you’ve got to be able to communicate very clearly. I’m not a physician. I don’t have a doctor’s degree. I’m a Bachelor in Marketing Science. You have to be able to communicate it very simply. The more complicated it gets, one, you don’t understand it very well. Two, you’re making it harder for them to understand what value you’re bringing.
After sales trainer, where did you go next?
After the sales trainer role, I was offered a regional sales manager position. I didn’t stay for too long in that role because I was going to have to move again. One thing I haven’t brought up with you is that I moved 4 times in 5 years for the company. That was the fastest way to get to the top in terms of leadership was, “I have a new city for you, do you want to go?” You’re like, “Yeah.”
Was it dramatically different areas or was it pretty much the same region?
The only corner of the country I haven’t lived in is the northeast. I started in Georgia. I took a rep position over in Los Angeles, which was a great experience. They offered me that sales trainer role up in Seattle, Pacific Northwest.
What’s your favorite place?A company is nothing without sales because if you've got a killer product, throw a little fuel in the fire, you've got something great. Click To Tweet
My favorite spot is Seattle. I love Pacific Northwest. I miss it. I’m a big outdoors guy. If you were working during the week, I’d have a flying experience on the entire Pacific Northwest working with a lot of the reps and the sales manager. It was a beautiful place.
You were a sales manager, then where did you go? What happened?
I was lucky from the very beginning because I had two leaders that had always supported me and taught me a lot. I love them both dearly. I don’t talk with one as much as I like to, but they offered me the role. They believed in me. I was at that point where I’d moved so much, I had started investing in real estate. I wanted to get into the startup scene. I’ve made the decision probably three months into that sales manager role before moving. They’re going to move me again down to the southwest and put in my two weeks. Two weeks turned into a little bit longer, both leaders understood it, even though they did fight for me to get that role, which I greatly appreciate. I ended up cutting the role they’re putting in two weeks after a five-long-year career with them.
You put in two weeks not having something lined up. You were taking the chance in yourself?
I had to segued into the burnout phase, but I felt that it was time to take a break. I was working a lot. I was on the road a lot. It started to evolve into a, “Sunday night, pack up your bags, get back Friday night.” I was like my Friday and Saturday started turning into unpacking, washing my clothes and packing back up again. Starting to invest in the real estate, I felt it was time to maybe put a little more time into that, take a break, travel a little bit, and that’s exactly what I did. I felt confident in the fact that the experience that I had built up, the connections that I had built up, that I’d be able to find another role once I was ready to do that. That’s not arrogance. If you’re taking a break and you’re not job hopping, I feel that’s something that a lot of people will look at and say, “What was the problem? You needed a break. Come back to me.”
You’d build up quite a career already. You were confident so you knew what you’re capable of doing. You take a break. You’re doing a little bit of real estate. You’re thinking about getting into startups, then what?
I still remember driving back across country too. I drove my car because I packed some of my stuff up, but I was like, “What am I doing?” Driving back home, I ended up moving into a small place. I traveled a bunch and started to learn how to fly to it. It was one of my bucket list things. I ended up learning how to do that. I finally decided that I wanted to still stay in healthcare at first. In terms of transitioning to something new, I started reaching out to some of my networks. Some of the recruiters that had recruited for me were going to help me now, and it was cool because they make money on that. I try to explain what I was looking for.
I went through two. It was tough because the startup world, no matter what, is they’re careful with the income and the revenue somebody is bringing in. For both of those, because it was software I had to jump into, I was starting at the bottom again. It’s not necessarily a blow to your ego, but you’ve got to be able to accept that you’re not in a leadership role anymore. You are an individual contributor if you want to get into this. Explored too, didn’t do too hot and finally ended up getting into this one, which I’m excited about.
Tell us a little bit more about what this role now is?
The last role that I had, I ended up speaking with the president CEO here. I was introduced by one of the guys I knew from college, who is now at a venture capital firm. There’s whole other story in terms of networking. It is an ad technology that essentially automates and optimizes any kind of digital publisher website. If you’ve got content, the ads that are being served, our software does it and then optimizes for the greatest amount of revenue. The cool thing is it doesn’t matter what vertical it is and we can make the actual site owner money. The CEO is brilliant, visionary in terms of the technology he’s built out. The president has been my go-to contact at the very beginning. A little frightening because of the different industry, but taking the software knowledge and the sales skills that I had developed over the last couple of years, it was going to work out well.You can't go and give legitimate advice unless you've actually done it and been in the field. Click To Tweet
You guys take the content that someone already has and recreate new content or you take the content that someone already has and you make sure it goes to work?
It’s the content that they already have. Let’s say EvolveYourSuccess.com, if you were to have those ads that you see on the side of the screen and the very top, our software works in the background. There’s an entire manual process and entire ecosystem on the backend that’s working in terms of getting that ad in place. Our software will go out, use the machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms and pull in the correct ads for the highest amount of revenue without anybody having to touch it. We take a rev share on it, which is cool. We’re diving into multiple different verticals now.
How large is your company in terms of team?
There are only seven of us.
This is a startup. You went from genetic testing to software sales for a second, to this startup which has changed the future.
It has. My mistakes from the very beginning in terms of the startups that I was looking at, because I had never done it before, but I wanted to get into it. You’ve got to take leaps, strategic risks. What I didn’t pay attention to at the very beginning was one, leadership, which this company is impressive and I’m happy to be part of it in terms of leadership that’s already involved. The fact that the company has grown on its own without a sales team is another big thing. Where’s the company at without sales? There’s product marketing and sales. If you’ve got a killer product, you throw a little fuel in the fire, you’ve got some great. They already had that. They need a little sales and marketing.
Your story is fascinating because you transitioned completely out of healthcare sales into a different space. You were a sales rep for how many years?
If it’s counting the account manager role, probably 3.5 years.
If you could go back to when you first started that position knowing what you know now, if you give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say? What can someone that’s getting into that career that’s open like you were, what would you tell them to be mindful of that maybe you wish you did? You’re very happy where you are, but maybe if you did this, it would even make it even more of a difference.
Two pieces, one of which would probably be try to keep an open mind on a lot of stuff. That’s cliché and vague. What I mean by that is open mind on the actual vertical mobility, open mind on location, open mind on what’s going on in the company and keeping your mind open to other companies too. If you are very open to what’s going on, and I’ve given myself that same advice, there’s going to be a lot more opportunity in front of you. A lot of people sometimes get narrow-minded and stuck in a certain spot. Myself included, it’s happened, especially when I started up in Savannah, Georgia. If you keep your options open, things start to fall in your lap. You do have to recognize that.
The second one is money. I was very money motivated. I’d be lying if that still doesn’t have some type of motivation now because money does buy free time. I’m so focused on that, that I might have missed opportunities before or miss time spent with other people. I’ll probably go back and say, “You’re going to work hard. You’re going to make money. Don’t worry about it. Keep that in the back of your mind. You need to make sure that you have more than this stringent goal.”
As far as the future and what you want to do moving forward, do you even think about that or are you planting seeds for maybe this, maybe that or, “Now, it’s crunch time because of the environment we’re in and I’m trying to make sense of everything that’s in front of me?”
It’s a little bit of both of those. In our world, compared to of the friends that I still have in the medical industry, the ad tech world is still moving. It’s different verticals from what we were possibly focusing on in January 2020, but we’re going full steam ahead. We’ve got a very busy day all day long, which I’m fortunate to say I do have that. There’s a big focus on 10X-ing what we’re doing at the company now. That has been a big strategy and goal since the very beginning. I want to get in and grow a team, grow revenue and be leading the charge there. Future-wise, I’d love to keep investing in real estate. The reason I’m getting into something like this is because I want to be able to have the experience and turn it around and say, “This is how you do it.” Maybe even be an advisor one day, which tells you on some of the LinkedIn guys, is that you can’t go and give legitimate advice, unless you’ve done it and you’ve been in the field.
Thank you for the time, Josh. It’s been very enlightening to hear your career because I love having someone talk about what they did to transition now. A lot of people want to get in, a lot of people love where they are. With that being said, there are a number of people that have been in pharma or medical devices or healthcare sales for a number of years. They’re not sure how to transition those skills into something else. To hear someone that’s done it is lovely.
There’s definitely fear to it, no matter what for everybody doing it. One thing for everybody that’s in medical sales, and it’s tough for some people think about this. For me, sales skills are transferable. It’s different per industry. You’ve got to pick up new industry knowledge, inbound, outbound, there are nuances and things like that. For the most part, asking open ended questions, having an idea there and prospecting, that kind of stuff doesn’t change. It’s all there. That’s one that they’ve got to figure out, “What do I want to transition into?” versus, “It’s impossible.”
You would recommend considering ad tech sales?
Ad tech is great for me, especially after I got into software. If you want to lessen the blow of a transition, from outside healthcare sales to something else, an easy one there, in my opinion, would be keeping the healthcare aspect of it, but transitioning into software. Keeping the same vertical, but a different thing you’re selling, because then you have a lot of the verbiage and understanding of the healthcare space, but you’re selling a different product. You only have to learn the product and then you can start breaking out from there.
Thank you, Josh. I will be keeping in contact and talking to you soon to see how your career continues to progress.
Thanks, Samuel. I appreciate it.
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