The Difference Between Pharmaceutical Sales and Medical Device Sales

There are similarities between Medical Sales and Pharmaceutical sales, as well as some key differences. Certified National Pharmaceutical Representatives are trained by the NAPRx specifically for pharmaceutical sales, not medical device.
By: Grant Emerson
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Medical Sales Representative
Account Executive


Washington - District of Columbia - US

June 21, 2012 - PRLog -- There are several similarities between pharmaceutical sales and medical device sales. In both professions, we are trying to educate doctors and other medical staff that the features and benefits of the products that we represent are better than that of our competitors. Both types of sales representatives provide lunches, samples, marketing pitches, and other forms of entertainment.

Medical devices span several different categories. There are disposables, capital equipment, surgical, non-invasive and diagnostic to name a few. Disposables medical sales are similar to pharmaceutical sales in that there is a high likelihood of repeat business. For instance, if you represent a manufacturer of medical latex gloves and the purchasing manager is convinced that you have the best product (whether it is based on product feature or price), then they will most likely re-order from you again. Similarly, a physician will continue to write your drug if he or she believes it has the fewest side effects in the class.

Just as in pharmaceuticals, where you are concerned with formulary issues, many hospitals participate in buying groups. You need to check with the purchasing department to see if the hospital has pre-negotiated prices with a buying group such as Novation or Premier. In addition, MDR does an annual survey of medical device manufactures. Only hospitals that have purchased equipment are asked to participate in the survey. The survey covers equipment price, quality of the equipment, and the level of service and support. Many hospitals have access to this information and if you are involved in a competitive bid situation, the MDR rating will be used in the purchasing decision. Government agencies have their own contract and pricing.

The goal in pharmaceutical sales is to increase the number of prescriptions (“scripts”) written by physicians in your assigned geographical area. In medical devices sales, the goal is get the purchase order. In pharmaceutical sales, the results of your efforts are rarely instantaneous; weeks may pass before you know if the lunch you provided increased the writing habits for your drug at that particular office. With medical devices sales, you know at the end of the day if you did a good job, because you either got the purchase order or you didn’t. You don’t have to wait a month to see if your numbers go up.

Forecasting is much more relevant in device sales and you have more power to influence your forecast. One of my best quarters when I was in pharmaceuticals sales was when I went away on vacation. It turned out that I was giving away too many samples, and when I was no longer there to provide free samples, physicians had to write my product and my numbers reflected this. As a medical device representative, your numbers will suffer unless you actively go out and close deals.

Both positions will have their pros and cons. Pharmaceutical sales is more stable and routine. Device sales have longer selling cycles and less stability; I find this exciting and challenging.

For more information on breaking into the pharmaceutical sales industry, contact the National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives (NAPRx) directly.

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