If you’re thinking about going into a medical sales career – whether it’s in pharma, device or any other subfield – you might want to sit down for this. Joining host Samuel Gbadebo in this episode is Brandy Walton, a top medical sales leader who has been in the pharmaceutical sales industry for 15 years. Brandy is currently working for Novartis, where she has been for the past three and a half years. Brandy tells the story of how she got from small town Texas to pharma sales and shares with us the biggest lessons that she learned in that journey. Based on her rich experience, she also shares to us the essential things that you need to learn and possess if you want to be an excellent pharmaceutical sales rep and what medical sales hiring managers value in their teams.
I’m learning how to thrive in the Coronavirus era. How are you guys managing over to get with it?
We’re pretty good. Other than the conference call wars, that’s about it. We are in Texas and we’ve been very blessed in the area that we are in.
Why don’t you tell us then who you are, what role you have and how long you’ve been in?
My name is Brandy Walton. I’ve been in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. I am with a fantastic company called Novartis. I’ve been a first line leader for about half of that time in the industry. I am the hospital area business leader based in Texas. I’m also on a BECURIOUS Rotation in our corporate office in East Hanover, where I work with our US Enterprise Strategy team and Business Operations.
You said that your division is hospital sales, is that correct?
When you get out of college, I’m assuming even as a little kid, most people don’t say, “When I grew up, I want to be a pharmaceutical sales representative and growing a company.” What did you want to be when you were young? What did that look like in college and how did that transition to where you are now?
When I was in college, I was encouraged to be a pharmaceutical sales rep by my mother. She’s in the industry, but on the research side of the business. I had no parts of that. When you’re in college, the worst thing you can do is listen to your parents. I thought I wanted to be a periodontist and did that, did all of that. My degree is in Business as well as Biology. Mom was right. I did not go to dental school. I became an analyst at a corporate office here based in Texas. I loved the work. I hated the environment. I decided to take a listen to what she said and set my foot into the pharmaceutical industry.
When you were younger before college, did your mom also open your eyes to this world or what did you want to do?
I had some insight to it. A lot of individuals in my family are in healthcare, whether they’re nurses or clinicians. I knew about it, but I knew more about the research side of the business. When it came to sales and understanding that, I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know any sales reps at that time. I grew up in a small rural town in Texas. It’s always important to have individuals who put those dreams and aspirations in your mind. My mom happened to be that person for me.Be intentional and excellent in everything that you do. When you combine these two things, you open yourself up to more opportunities. Click To Tweet
There are many options to get into, you could have gone into devices or something else. What was it about pharma? Is it just her influence with pharma or did you like something about pharma?
After it piqued my interest, it was my own research. I only knew a couple of pharma reps. At that time, when I was looking, they were more hospital, very specialty and I loved their passion of the science. I did my own research. I knew pharmaceuticals was very difficult to get into, but it aligned better with what I felt, aligned with my personality and where my gifts were. I chose that over device. After that, I put a plan in place and I worked hard to get into the industry.
Can you shed any light on what some of those gifts were that gave you that choice over device?
Number one, I love the direct engagement with the ACP. Having my mom being clinical research and also a nurse, I knew that the reps that she valued were the ones that presented themselves very well. They were almost a partner with them and the individuals within their clinic. I love that. Device reps, at that time, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to it, but I knew it was very competitive. I wanted to build a family. I had a young family at that time. I had gotten married. I had a young son. I didn’t have the availability to be on call. I knew I wanted something that allowed me to have flexibility, but I could still bring value to the clinicians that I wanted to. That was the one of the deciding factors for me.
What helped you choose Novartis?
I’ve been with Novartis for about 3.5 years. When I got into the industry, I started with a contract company. I had put my resume out there, but I’m in the DFW market and it was very competitive. One of my coaches at that time said, “Why don’t you get a shot at one of the contract companies?” I did. A lot of the Big Pharma companies at that time would contract with bringing in contract reps, and I call it the true grind. We’re calling primary care, hauling the boxes, but it’s amazing when you do everything you do with excellence, the opportunities that it brings. One day, I was out working hard and a manager and another rep saw me. That manager listened to my call with the ACP, afterward gave me her card and said, “I need you on my team.” I have been doing that for about a year. After that, it got me into a permanent pharma company and that’s made the transition to me. What I learned from that is be willing to start where you can, work hard to get to your goal, and that was my ultimate goal.
A pharmaceutical position, even though it was contract, that was your first position out of college?
It was my first pharma position. Out of college, like many and probably a lot of individuals who are coming out, I was an analyst and it helped me understand my business then. I’m a type of person that believes that everything you do has a purpose and using your life. In that analyst role, I learned about strategy being strategic and understanding the core financials of the business. I apply that every single day in what I do. That was one of my transitions. I didn’t wait until it fell in my lap. I kept busy. I kept continuing to build my skills and that was one of my transition roles until I got to a pharmaceutical role.
What industry was the analyst position?
I was on the corporate side of retail.
From retail analyst into a permanent position. When you were navigating this, would you say that you had a lot of mentors helping you make those moves or is that all you, the research you did and being aggressive and persistent? What would you speak to on that?
It was a mix of both. I’ve been blessed in my life to have individuals who gone forward beyond, doctors, lawyers, people that I knew growing up in my town. I had seen what success could look like. I’m a firm believer that there are certain traits of every individual that you can take along to get to your ultimate goal. I was never afraid to ask questions and to try new things. A lot of those experiences were things that helped me move toward my ultimate destiny to be here in pharmaceuticals. The other thing I am passionate about is if you don’t have those mentors and you don’t have those individuals that you can reach out to is, we live in a world now where information is at the tip of your fingertips.
Get a book, go to the library, use podcasts, use YouTube. There are ways to build those skills, even if you don’t have access to the people to get the information that you need. There were gaps for me, that’s exactly what I did. I was aggressive. I’m a big reader. I love to read. During that time, the books were on CDs. I had a lot of CDs in my car that I used during that time. I’m old school. I go to the library because there are a lot of resources there that you can access from our library. Now, a lot of those are virtual and you can use them online, but they’re free and available. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes some time and dedication.
I want to know a little bit about how you were able to progress through your career the way you did. You went from specialty sales rep to trainer, to manager and then on and on until your enterprise strategy and business operations now with the rotation that you have. I’m sure that’s going to take you to another level. How have you been able to do that? Was that something that you planned from the beginning that, “I want to get into this space?” Did you take advantage of certain opportunities that are right in front of you and things developed?
I won’t say that I planned it, but I did plan to have individuals in my life that would push me beyond what I felt comfortable that I’ve always been intentional in doing. The other thing that was instilled in me is to be not perfect, but excellent in everything that you do. When you combine those two things, you start to open up yourself to additional opportunities. When I first got into the industry, what I wanted to be was the best sales rep I could possibly be, meaning I want to close every time. I want to be at the top of every list. I wanted to be the best in what I was doing. In doing that, it did open additional doors for me. I had individuals that would always ask me questions to help me see things a little bit further.
I remember when there was a program to help develop for future leaders. My manager had come to me and he said, “You’d be great at this program. Do you want to do it?” I was like, “Like be a district manager for other people?” In my mind, I had never envisioned that. I knew I love to motivate our team. I love to get additional information. Initially I thought, “No, I don’t want to do that.” I want to make sure I can still have time for my family and do things like that. He said, “True leadership is modeling what good looks like for you and your team.” I was like, “I was scared.” I said, “Yes.” That has been something also that has helped me transition from role to role. If this feels uncomfortable for you, if you think, “What could happen then?” It’s probably a great idea. It’s probably something you should shoot for. Remembering those core things of being excellent at what you’re doing, always can help you propel to the next level if that’s what you choose.
Let’s talk about being excellent as a sales representative. What top three things do you believe a high performing sales rep needs to do to demonstrate excellence?
The first thing is be intentional about improving your craft. There’s not a pharmaceutical company out there that doesn’t have a great sales model, that doesn’t have access to great resources and things like that. That does not exist here. What I have seen that separate good reps from the excellent reps are the ones that take it upon themselves to go above and beyond. What I mean by that is I always like to use LeBron James as an excellent example. They probably have world everything available to the players. There’s nothing that’s lacking. What’s different about LeBron and how he prepares is what he does on his own to prepare himself for the preparation. The additional coaches, the nutritionist, all those things to make himself excellent. You’re going to apply that same thing to a pharmaceutical rep.
Use the resources that your company has and the things that you have access to, but to go above and beyond that, what can you do personally to enhance yourself to get to that level of excellence that you choose to be? You can be the LeBron James in your company. The second thing is be okay with failing. A lot of reps, even the individual, they want to get it right every single time. If you don’t fail enough, you don’t grow enough. You’ve got to be comfortable with, “That call was horrible. I’ve got to try it again,” or “This model that I tried didn’t work. I’ve got to try it again.” When you do that, you get more and more that’s that building to excellence. You got to be comfortable with failing.
The last and most important thing is you have to love, not like, you truly have to love what you do. The thing we like to say on our team is, “The hardest part about our job is getting out of the car. You can know it. You can learn it. You can do everything you want to do, but until you get out of the car, you can make an impact.” The days that you know exactly if there’s a tornado or a hailstorm or 162 degree, it’s hard to get out of the car. If you don’t love it, it’s going to be some hard days. Prepare with that excellence, be okay with failing and you’ve got to love what you do.If you don't fail enough, you don't grow enough. Click To Tweet
Why do you love what you do? What is it about your job that gets you going when you wake up in the morning, you’re so happy to go out there and do that thing?
At the end of the day, for me, it’s the patient. I’ve been a patient. I have family members that have been a patient. Even with all the training and the meetings, the news, everything that’s going on, at the end of the day, there is a human being that can benefit from whatever it is that we’re providing. That’s why I do it. Having grown up with a mother that was a nurse, being on the clinical research side, I know the importance of the drugs and the products that we bring to the world. That’s why I love it because that is my way of giving back. I know that at the end of the day, there’s a patient and that’s what drives my passion.
We’ve talked about how to be successful, how to demonstrate excellence, how to get through your career. What helps you get through the tough times? What sustains you?
Number one is my faith. I do believe that everything that we go through, everything that we have is intentional. When I feel myself going down that “Woe is me” path, I stop and say, “What am I supposed to learn?” That always helps me propel either out of the situation or at least access the situation to, “If I see this again, this is what I have learned.” I’m a fan of learning. I’m very curious. When I position things in that perspective, it helps me get through because now I know, “From this situation, this is what I have learned in either I won’t make that same mistake or I can use that to be a gift for someone else. When I see that maybe happening to them, I can say, ‘Here’s what I’ve learned,’ and share that with someone else.”
You interview people regularly. Let’s talk about interviewing. Right off the bat, what are the three most important things you look for when a candidate steps in front of you and sits down?
The first thing that I personally look for is, “Can this person sell me on them?” You could have had whatever kind of experience, anything, “Have you told me that you are the absolute best? If you can’t sell me on you, you’re going to have a real hard time selling the doctor.” Not just sell, but convincing them that, “This is going to be the best therapeutic for that individual.” If you can’t sell me yourself, that’s the number one thing that I’m looking for, whatever that experience is that you have selling me on yourself. The other thing that I look for in an individual is can you articulate to me your relevant skills? We all come with varied backgrounds or all these things that you’ve done, whether it was in college, high school, how do you take those learnings and apply it to what you’re going to do?
Just because you were a pharmaceutical rep at X, Y and Z, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be great in A, B and C company. If there are skills that are transferable, if you’re able to articulate how those skills are transferable and how you move that forward, I think that’s a seller. The second thing is everyone has different types of personality. I want someone on my team, that’s going to compliment the team. You only know and can do that if you’ve done your research. Do you know what we sell? Do you know the culture in our environment? Do you know what can make this chemistry and work? A lot of information is out there. I looked for individuals who have done their research and coupled that with all the other things that helped me make a great decision if a candidate could be a good fit for our team.
What do you say for those that are outside of the industry and want to get in? What are 1 or 2 things they can bring to the table that can help them make that transition?
The first thing is networking. There are many different societies, groups within everywhere throughout our country. Networking is big in our industry. Once you integrate and learn about where it’s going to be a great fit, use your transferable skills. There are a lot of skills and not just selling skills that make an excellent sales representative. Work towards utilizing those skills. Another tip I’ll show in there is showcase them. We have YouTube channels, LinkedIn, write articles, do things to get yourself out there in audiences that may or may not see you initially as a good fit for their company. The last thing I would recommend also is being able to say yes. A lot of people will say, “I want this role, this time, this company,” but be open to maybe different roles or different opportunities within the same industry to get you to that ultimate goal. You’ve got to have a wingspan to open it up a little bit to get to that ultimate place.
What are some of your long-term goals? You’ve progressed so far in your career. You might not know exactly where you want to be, but can you share anything as far as maybe the next few years where you see yourself?
In the long-term, I would love to lead a commercial organization within Novartis. I will say I am on a journey to be curious. In this rotation that I’m doing, what I know to be sure is there such complexity in the pharmaceutical industry. Going through what we’re going through, we know things will continue to change. I’m a forever learner. I know that there’s still more steps and things that I need to learn to get to that last space. I’m also a person that don’t like to put a title on what I want to do. What I know for sure is that I want to lead people, lead an organization and be in healthcare. That points all fingers toward Novartis. When you have an open mindset of that, it helps you be open to a lot of possibilities. I knew there were a lot of different roles in the field and I know all of those. Now that I’ve gone in-house, I realized how much more there is to learn and ways to contribute. I try to lead by example. I’m pretty open. That’s my long-term goal, lead people in a high level.
Right before you started when you left your analyst position and you got into your first pharma role, what’s the one thing you would have told yourself?
Say yes, what I mean by that is I thought out ever scenario, got to plan it out. I wrote down the goal. I wrote down goal B, A, C, D. It takes me a long time to get to yes. You have a thought. You have an inkling and the worst thing that can happen is that something doesn’t work out. If I could go back to myself, I would tell myself, “Say yes sooner and faster. Don’t wait until everything has to be lined up perfectly for you to progress in whatever it is.” I would say that to anyone. Be open to the possibilities and the worst thing that can truly happen is it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t, you learned a new way not to do something.
I want to know what you think about people that don’t have pharmaceutical or even any kind of medical sales experience that want to get into the industry. For you, what do you need to see that makes you say yes, even though they have no experience in our industry and they had never done anything like this, “I want this person on my team?”
If they don’t have the experience, one of the things that they need to not be afraid of is to apply and ask questions. That’s something that I’ve learned a lot of. Because you’re not prepared or ready for a role doesn’t mean you can’t engage to understand how to prepare and get ready for a role. If you have the availability to get to that hiring manager, or even get to the recruiter, be open, honest and say, “I saw this, this is my long-term. I know I may not be a fit, but tell me what I need to do to prepare for that.” Oftentimes, you’ll be very surprised that those individuals know who you should go to get the experience that you want or even be helping guide you.
That has happened to me many times in my career where I saw something that long-term that’s what I want, but I’m not going to wait. I’m going to say, “I’m going to put my hand up. I may not be the best candidate, but what would make me the best candidate for the future?” It speaks to you and your character when you do the things or get the experience that they ask, and then you’re ready. That oftentimes happens a lot and it’s a great path to do. The other thing I would say is that’s why I talked about saying yes. While there oftentimes aren’t roles that you are qualified for, especially in pharma, there are a lot of companies that do have roles that could lead up to that. See if you’re qualified for that and if there’s a bridge program that they had. Be willing to work towards that long-term goal.
Brandy, it was wonderful having you as a guest. You’ve been so thorough with us. You took us to some fundamentals and basics around why things should be as far as demonstrating excellence, being a great candidate and navigating your career. We sincerely appreciate it. Thank you for being with us. Is there anything else you want to share with audiences before I let you get back to your busy schedule?
I can’t re-iterate enough about investing in yourself. A lot of people like to wait until they get to the whatever role or destination that they’re looking for. You don’t have to wait. You prepare now for the long-term role that you want. If you’re going to be a leader, you need to be a reader. However, you like to get your information, whether it’s podcasts, Audible, you’ve got to invest in yourself and your growth early and often.
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