Monday, December 4, 2006

When the Circus Came to Town

Over Thanksgiving, my sister, her husband and little boy came to visit us. And their two dogs. And their cat.

"The circus is here!" she announced.

It was a houseful, but we had fun.

My brother-in-law started as a cardiovascular rep about six-months ago. Reps with his company train in-house for 16 weeks when they start. During training, he did spend a few days in the field riding-along with more experienced reps. He finished second in his training class.

While they were visiting, we compared notes about what it's like to get started in medical device sales. I shared with him the "classic" cycle new reps go through, as described to me once by one of our distributor's sales managers. (Okay, just so you know, these are not the sales manager's exact words.)

Month One: Euphoria! I got the job! Everything is new and exciting!
Month Two: Oh crap, this is a lot of hard work and I don't know squat. Can I do this?
Month Three: Training (usually), a little happiness boost, but my head seriously spinning.
Month Four: ...sinking into the black pit of depression.
Month Five: Why did I ever think I wanted this job? Was I crazy?
Month Six: Hey, customers are actually starting to call me! I actually knew the answer to their question! They might actually buy something!

After I describe this scenario, my sister looked at me and asked, "Have you been a fly on our wall?"

My brother-in-law is not in the same market as Linvatec, he had hard-core training, but he still hit the wall. He and my sister (child, dogs and cat too of course) relocated to a new city, so finding his way around snarls in big-city traffic was an added frustration. (And one reason we prefer local candidates, not relos. There's enough stress already!) He stepped into a territory that had probably been neglected by the last rep, so customers did not exactly embrace him. His manager quit or was fired a few months into the process, and the sales in his territory were off significantly at one point. He said one of the hardest parts for him, after having been in a classroom for 16 weeks, was working alone all day, everyday.

I'm happy to report, he and his territory have turned the corner. There is light at the end of the tunnel! Sales are climbing and his docs are calling him. Life ain't totally peachy yet. There are still rough patches, but it's definitely on the upswing.

I'll admit, this is a very small sample size to compare the experience of our reps to, but it wouldn't be too far-fetched to suggest that in most cases, there is a tough learning curve in medical device sales. There are certainly exceptions, reps who thru some combination of charisma, intelligence and luck manage to "knock it out of the park", but I would say most get thru the learning curve the old-fashioned way. They work hard, study hard, have a little faith, but they pretty much have to gut it out.

A candidate I spoke to the other day remarked how successful OR reps just seem to carry themselves a little differently and seem to be treated with more respect than other types of reps. I think there's some truth to it. Reps who succeed in medical device sales are damn proud of themselves, and rightfully so. There's a lot of pride and confidence to be had in succeeding in a challenging, highly competitive industry.

So this week, a new class of reps is here for training and their happiness booster shot. I really look forward to meeting new hires face-to-face for the first time, after having spent so much time talking to them on the phone during the hiring process. As they battle their way through the initial learning curve, I hope they keep their eyes on the prize.

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