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Top Women in Medical Sales: How to Meld Passion With Risk to Rise to Success

Women are outnumbered in medical sales. In fact, in the 2018 Medical Sales Salary Report, 70 percent of the respondents were men. In addition, the report found that women earn just 81 percent of what men do and make up only 30 percent of the respondents.

While, at first glance, this may seem discouraging, there is a multitude of highly successful women in medical sales. We’re talking to these professionals to find out what it means to be a woman in the field and what it takes to be successful.

Experience and skills aren’t the only two factors that impact success in medical sales. In fact, Erica Karlson, the director of sales at Coapt, married her passion for science and helping others to forge her own brilliant path over 15 years in medical device sales. While she’s gained valuable experience and skills along the way, her passion keeps her going strong on that journey today.

We recently had the opportunity to discuss her personal success story in medical device sales. Here are a few lessons Erica learned along her path that will, hopefully, inspire your journey:

Sales and science are an unbeatable power team

While earning her B.S., Erica worked in retail, where she learned the importance of one-on-one, personal interactions. This experience prepared her for the sales relationships she’d encounter throughout her first medical device sales job out of college.

I worked in retail sales before and throughout college. That’s where I learned the importance of one-on-one interactions and discovered my desire to know products inside and out. No matter the product, I wanted to know everything about it.

I didn’t really learn I wanted to use my degree for medical device sales until after I graduated. However, I went into it knowing I loved the truth of science. This, coupled with my scientific background, made me comfortable in the field and helped me to appreciate teaching people about technical devices. All of my passions aligned perfectly when I secured a medical device sales job after graduation.

Having the educational background in biology and chemistry lent itself well with fitting into any role in medical device sales. In my current position with Coapt, I’m still using my degree. When I help practitioners fit our product, I know it has helped me to have a much deeper understanding of how our product works.

You must discover and fight for your core values

It wasn’t good luck or the drive for a high salary that motivated Erica to move up the medical device sales ladder. Instead, it’s her passion for helping people and acknowledgment of her core values that she’s not willing to compromise.

I learned that I needed more than money very early in my medical sales career. I needed to be able to help people and sell a product I truly believe in.

When you work in orthopedics and prosthetics you’re often working directly with patients at a very vulnerable time in their life. You help them open or close their prosthetic hand for the first time or witness them taking their first steps after losing a leg. Actually, I’m sitting in an office today between patient appointments and again have witnessed new users with tears of joy in their eyes because of this transformative technology.

My passion comes through in my job because my core value of helping others directly connects with the end-users of our products. I get to go home and feel good about what I’m doing.

Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks

Erica didn’t wait for an open position at Coapt — she was bold enough to create her own.

You must be willing to take calculated risks. My biggest career risk was reaching out to Coapt when my current position didn’t even exist.

They didn’t have a dedicated sales team at the time, but they did have a cutting-edge product and they were growing fast. I knew their control system was life-changing for consumers and I knew I could help them increase sales. Once I met the people behind the tech, I was even more convinced it was an absolutely perfect fit and would be a mutually beneficial opportunity.

Cultivate consultancy and partnership relationships

In medical device sales, strategies and approaches evolve year over year. People are more informed because of the internet, which has led Erica to form consultancy-based relationships.

The cornerstone of professional relationships is, really, credibility. They [customers] all must believe in you and be confident you know what you’re doing. If any of that is lost, your sales relationship is destroyed.

I build this credibility by viewing myself as a resource for practitioners or whomever I’m talking to. This approach helps customers view me as a consultant, a partner, rather than a sales rep. So, when they have questions, they call me directly. This type of trusting relationship can take time to nurture, but you can do it if you’re responsive and available.

Tailor your education message to your audience

In medical device sales, you typically have more than one audience who needs to be educated. Erica believes to effectively educate, you must first listen and understand what your target audience needs to know.

Teaching is my favorite part of this job. This is where all that prep and study you put into learning the product pays off. You get to tailor your message to your audience. Patient, doctor, medical student, prosthetist — all of these professionals must be given relevant information that’s helpful specifically for them. They need to understand the product well enough to make an informed decision.

So, you’re taking complicated tech concepts and trying to explain them in a way people can find accessible, so they can, in turn, ask informed questions. Through this dialogue, you know what they know and what they need to know, so you can customize your sales approach to meet their needs. After all, communication isn’t what you say, it’s what the other person hears.