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“Medical sales” often gets lumped into one giant category regardless of what you’re selling. This is especially true for those new to the industry. While some of the differences may seem small to outsiders, they’re immense to those selling the products every day.

Two of the most giant, and sought-after, fields are medical device sales and pharmaceutical sales. Both are facing controversy, as the opioid crisis and questions of the FDA’s medical device approval process are flooding mainstream media. However, these controversies aren’t holding industry leaders down from making life-changing developments.

Anyone considering one of these sales fields needs a high amount of passion and drive. But to make the right decision for your future, you’ll also need to understand the distinct differences.

Here’s what you need to know when looking at medical device sales vs pharmaceutical sales:

The follow-up game

Pharmaceutical sales: When it comes to customer service, a pharmaceutical rep’s job begins once they’ve made a sale. They then must keep in contact with the customer, educate them on effectively prescribing and using the product, and occasionally offer patient support. This environment puts pharmaceutical reps in a permanent relationship-building follow-up status.

Medical device sales: Similarly, after a medical device sales rep sells a product, their hard work is just beginning. However, their follow-ups consist of chatting with customers, troubleshooting device issues, and even checking-in on devices to see if there’s an issue. They’re left with a juggling act of finding time to service current accounts and building new ones.

The difference in customer service is very slight, but it’s the most critical difference of all. Pharmaceutical sales are more about the relationship factor, rather than the hands-on technical aspect as seen in medical device sales. To be in medical device sales, reps need to expect unpredictable service calls and have the motivation to continually check-in on products to ensure everything is running smoothly. This requires medical device reps to be even more in-tune with customers than what might be expected of other medical sales reps.

The sales process

Pharmaceutical sales: Reps can talk to a doctor, hand him all their samples and educational materials, bring lunches for weeks on end — but sales aren’t made until that prescription pad is filled out. That means income for these reps depends entirely on a doctor following through on a promise that your product will be prescribed.

Medical device sales: While this isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it sales field, reps can rely on that initial agreement. Rather than receiving non-contract promises that a customer will eventually sell a product, medical device sales reps close deals in the moment and immediately receive credit for the sale.

Money is a major motivator in all sales positions. Pharmaceutical reps are known for bringing in large paychecks. That isn’t achieved, though without persistence and positive relationship skills. Medical device sales reps have grit as well but they don’t need to continue striving for a sale once an agreement has been reached.

The location factor

Pharmaceutical sales: You’ll find pharmaceutical sales reps in waiting rooms hoping for a chance to speak with a doctor. This waiting game takes a large amount of patience and understanding. Pharmaceutical sales reps need to remain calm, professional, and kind to all staff, even if they eventually get turned away due to a busy office schedule.

Medical device sales: Medical device sales reps can be found anywhere from a doctor’s waiting room to the OR. Thanks to the wide variety of products offered in this field, you have a choice of how technical you want to get — and where you want to spend your time. Many successful sales reps (33 percent), in fact, are building relationships and problem-solving while in the OR, according to our 2018 Medical Sales Salary Report.

As a medical sales rep, you’ll be spending the majority of your time waiting for or talking with doctors and other staff members. It’s crucial you understand where you’re most comfortable before completing your pros and cons list for medical device sales vs pharmaceutical sales.

What do you love most about medical device sales or pharmaceutical sales? Let us know!

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