As free as a bird
Will the New Year bring you a change of career direction? Ann Pinn of Delta Consultants looks at how healthcare sales representatives can move between roles and/or companies.
Most people who have made the decision to move into healthcare sales are ambitious and keen to find out how their skills can be used in a different environment. Few see themselves as career sales people, staying on the road until retirement. Many are naturally gregarious, and field sales can be a lonely life. There are many options when looking for a new role, however, and careful thought should be given to embarking on a new career direction.
Time to change
Many people start in sales as a route to a marketing or product specialist role. They want to be part of the strategic and tactical team that influences the future direction of business within the company. This is quite a logical transition. The thrill of the close is not always lost for the individual, as good companies send their marketing people out with customers on a regular basis to do joint visits and assist the sale.
Companies will often sponsor their employees to take qualifications with the Institute of Marketing – if they don’t, this is a step worth taking on your own if you are seriously considering a marketing career.
Some people who consider themselves natural presenters and have responsibility for training in their current role may decide to pursue a training career, and people who are good at their jobs often want to pass on their knowledge in this way.
Many people perceive the way forward in their career to be the management of people. But of course, not all good sales people make good managers and not all managers want to move their best sales people into management – think of the potential lost business! This is short-sighted of course, and a quality employer will encourage talent to progress – but sometimes the only option for the ambitious sales person is to change employer.
It is also worth remembering that some companies want to see movement so that fresh talent can be brought in with different thoughts and ideas. This sometimes creates a win/win situation for all parties, and means progression can be achieved.
Running the game
The challenges of managing a team are manifold. The first step is being able to convince a future employer (or even your own boss) that you have the potential. How do you get experience if no-one will give you the chance to get the experience? This ‘Catch 22’ situation is well known.
For most people, the solution is to see an opportunity and grab it with both hands. When a key person leaves, you should be in there with a plan that gives a distinct advantage to the business as well as yourself. Be confident and assertive, but above all ensure that the company can see the benefit of you in that position.
The next challenge is working with a team who have been your peers, with whom you moaned about the management, with whom you stayed up late in the bar revealing your innermost secrets at sales meetings... and now you are appraising them, constructively criticising them and helping them to do a job you once did alongside them. No wonder people often move to another company to become a manager.
But in the end it is all about respect – which can be earned in the course of your work. How many times have you heard someone say “the right person got the job”? Wouldn’t it be good if they were saying that about you?
A restless spirit
However, there comes a time in every job where there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to learn – or it is simply time to move on for a new challenge, a new experience, a time to grow elsewhere. All company cultures are different, and by experiencing more than one you can form new ideas and develop new ways of looking at things.
Small companies obviously operate in a different way from large ones, and this can lead to culture shock. In a smaller company it is often the case that decisions are made faster, ideas are more readily listened to and everything moves at a faster pace. But resources are often limited, as career progression may be.
In larger corporate companies, the decision-making process is often slower, more laborious and frequently frustrating. But they have the funds and resources for more advertising, bigger budgets for marketing, larger expense accounts, and in theory more potential for career progression.
A change in product line can also present a challenge – for example, selling surgical gloves or similar consumables calls for different skills than selling high-tech ultrasound equipment or robotic units. How are these skills learnt, and how can sales people prepare themselves for the transition?
On the consumables side, the competition is tough. You may be dealing with buyers who are more interested in saving money than in product quality – this is a recurrent issue in the current NHS climate. Invariably, your company will be asking you to sell on quality and stressing that price should not be the issue!
On the high-tech equipment side, it can take many months before an order is secured by working with a variety of customers at all levels. Exhilarating when the order is won – but frustrating when it’s lost and the company is shut out for the next few years. Not just at one site, but maybe over a whole area.
The road ahead
Changing role or company is more traumatic than most people realise. We spend more of our waking hours at work than with our family or friends. Each company has a different culture, and people often need to adjust their outlook and attitude to fit in. But if you find you need to change your personality, it’s the wrong step for you. We all have tremendous potential if we honestly ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Moving beyond your comfort zone will help you to grow, but putting on a false front to get a new job or promotion will only cause inner and outer conflict. One day they will find out who you really are.
Using a recruitment company to further your career can be more helpful than just putting your CV forward to a potential new employer. Good agencies will get to know you, your motivations and your ambitions, and match your personality to the company culture. If they don’t, and they try and persuade you to go for roles you feel are not you, don’t go back to them.
The agency should be giving you interview advice, telling you about the people in the company and discussing your career progression there. It shouldn’t end when you start work: you should be able to call them with any issues or concerns in the first few months. A third party can often see solutions when the involved parties do not.
The great thing about today is that it’s a candidate’s market. There are quite a few good job opportunities around, and a scarcity of good people. You are in demand. You need to ensure that your skills are recognised and your employer is able to nurture your talent, as you may have to do for your staff in the future.
A great future can be yours – if you are prepared to take a risk.