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How Medical Device and Medical Equipment Sales Differ — It’s More Than You Think

Understanding the difference between medical device sales and medical equipment sales is important when looking to break into the industry. While the nuances may be obvious to sales reps with experience in healthcare, conceptually, they seem the same to outsiders.

The key factors that can play into your satisfaction when entering the medical sales industry include: identifying a product you are passionate about; finding a work culture that aligns with your values and lifestyle; as well as must-haves like flexibility, balance, and a competitive salary.

When you look at the finer details, medical equipment and medical device sales are two islands in the same sea. We’ve made it simple for you to determine which medical sales market is your calling.

Here’s a look at the important differences between medical equipment sales and medical device sales.

Common products

Depending on who you ask, medical equipment and medical devices are considered the same, but there are distinct differences. In fact, the FDA spells out how to determine if your product is a medical device, which would require higher-levels of FDA approval to be sold on the market than medical equipment. 

The factors the FDA calls to question per Section 201(h) of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defining a device include:

Is it an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or similar article, including a part or accessory which is intended to diagnose a disease or condition, or cure mitigate, treat or prevent a disease?

Let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Medical equipment

By the FDA’s standards, not all equipment used in a healthcare environment would fall under the classification of a medical device. Tools, furniture, and resources that accommodate for patient care but do not diagnose or treat diseases tend to fall into this category.

Examples of medical equipment include:

-Hospital beds

-IV stands

-Wheelchairs

-Surgical lighting

-Walker

-Bedpans

-Scales

-Patient lift

-Operating table

-Patient monitors

-Medical cart

Medical device

It’s easy to understand why medical devices and medical equipment are so often confused when the span of medical devices is so vast. Medical devices can range from lifesaving products implanted within the body to massive diagnostic machines. Some medical devices are used by patients, while others are commonly used by doctors and nurses.

Examples of medical devices include:

-Pacemaker

-Insulin pump

-Infusion pump

-Syringe

-Thermometer

-Blood pressure cuff

-Medical gloves

-Tracheal tube

-Nebulizer

-Scalpel 

-Speculum

-Defibrillator

-X-ray scanner

-MRI machine

It’s important to determine where your passions fall within these product categories. How much you believe in the product you sell and the value you see for patients is the degree to which you connect with your clients. If you aren’t passionate about hospital beds and bedpans, clients will see right through your sales pitch. Likewise, if you’re unable to stomach a few hours in an OR, you’ll want to steer clear of certain medical devices.

Typical customers

Naturally, because the products vary, the client does as well. Ultimately, the end user and the environment play a big role in determining who you have to convince your product is worth a look or investment. Understanding the differences between these environments and how you need to customize your pitch or schedule sales meetings makes a big difference in your experience.

Medical equipment

Medical equipment is often a bigger purchase made by a hospital, doctor’s office, rehabilitation facility, or nursing home. Generally, these purchases will not need to be made frequently and the number each client needs will be limited.

You’re most likely to go straight to the top of the budget and decision-making process for sales calls. You’d need to pitch to executive decision-makers, doctors, surgeons, and healthcare site managers. Making a great impression and building a strong relationship ensures you’ll be called upon should they need to replace equipment, rather than shopping around for a new deal.

Medical device

Medical devices are purchases that need to be made repeatedly on a case-by-case basis. Doctors and surgeons regularly stock sterile surgical tools and gloves, therapists need to frequently replace electrotherapy pads and tension bands. Pacemakers and insulin pumps need to be updated and replaced, and they are used by only one person, and so on.

Because decision-makers are most likely to be the healthcare provider working directly with patients, you would need to plan to meet with busy doctors, surgeons, and therapists. Your sales pitch with these clients requires honing your passion for the product and the value it brings to their patients. Your relationship is still valuable when selling medical devices, and you’ll be meeting for sales calls much more frequently.

Work environment and travel

While both medical equipment sales and medical device sales reps have to travel to meet with customers, the amount of travel and distance can vary for several reasons. The environment in which you meet with decision-makers is also diverse, even though you’re meeting in the same types of healthcare spaces.

Medical equipment

You can plan to visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, doctors’ offices, therapy clinics, and more. In these locations, you’re more likely to sit down in an office to make your sales pitch, as the decision-maker will likely be an executive or director.

Keep in mind, however, because you sell fewer medical equipment products less frequently, your sales area could be expansive. You may have to travel long distances more often to meet your sales goals.

Medical device

When selling medical devices, you can expect to meet with doctors in their busy offices between patient appointments and stand in the OR for long periods. You really need to know your products inside and out so you can educate your clients on how they — or their patients — will benefit from using them. You may even need to be present to help with fitting prosthetic devices or installing large diagnostic equipment.

Because your clients need their inventory replenished often, you’ll probably have a smaller sales area. You’ll still be on the road every day, and you’ll meet with many more clients, but your travels will keep you closer to home.

Salary and commission

A lot more factors play into your salary and commission than just whether you sell medical equipment or medical devices. The size of the company you work for and the market segment can impact everything from your base salary to your commission and benefits that contribute to your overall compensation. Like any industry, your job title and years of experience exponentially raise your potential earnings.

Medical equipment

Every year, we look into what medical equipment sales reps earn and how satisfied they are with their total compensation. Our most recent salary data revealed that on average, medical equipment sales reps take home a base salary of $114,221 and $106,199 in commission.

There is a fairly large discrepancy between average total compensation when comparing small companies to large companies in medical equipment sales. In fact, in 2021, medical equipment sales reps at small companies reported an average of just $152,920 compared to $198,774 by sales reps at large companies.

Reps with fewer than two years on the job are likely to take home an average of $107,493 according to our respondents. Whereas 11-20 years of experience seems to be the sweet spot when it comes to total compensation, with an average of $228,080 reported by our respondents.

It’s notable to mention that reps who spent at least 50% of their time traveling reported earning as much as $37K more than reps who only travel 25% of the time.

Medical device

Similarly, our our salary report revealed sales reps are compensated graciously. According to our 2021 findings, medical device sales reps report an average base salary of $110,596 and an average of $200,146 in commission.

Medical device companies from small to large offer competitive and similar base salaries. However, larger companies provide high commission structures that boost total compensation. For example, while small medical device companies were reported to pay an average of $110,596, nearly $7K more than large companies ($103.702), total compensation at small companies is still remarkably lower. This is the result of large companies offering more than $40K more in potential commission.

Total average compensation reported by medical device sales reps is competitive for those breaking into the industry. Reps with fewer than two years on the job reported an average of $110,596, and those with 11-20 years on the job rake in as much as $230,772 on average.

Travel impacts medical device sales base salary and commission structure a little differently than that of medical equipment sales. Medical device sales reps who travel only 10% of the time report higher commissions, but those who travel at least 50% of the time report high base salaries. Ultimately, those who travel more still take home the biggest paychecks.

—As you can see, while medical equipment and medical device sales reps may pass each other in the halls of the hospital or doctor’s office, the products they provide, the clients they meet with, and the number of times they close a sale differs. Understanding the differences between these two industries is important in determining your best fit in medical sales jobs.

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