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Sterile Processing Tech Gone Sales Rep: How to Ease Your Way into the Role of Vendor Representative Starting Today

“I hear medical sales makes a lot of money; I want to do that.”

This is a common phrase frequently brought up by sterile processing (SP) technicians. Out of genuine curiosity, I ask them why and, in a snap response, they say they want to be a vendor rep because reps get paid well and they want to be in more surgeries. It’s sometimes followed by “How do I do that?” but typically they leave it at a plain statement, assume it’s unachievable, and bustle onto wrapping sets.

That’s a great question to ask, yet if your answer was solely something about money, the vendor has checked out of the conversation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being driven by the appeal of a higher paying career, but if that is your only driver, you’re in for disappointment. Being a vendor is hard work, and not all rainbows, unicorns, and butterflies. Imagine being a rep is a lot like being in “sales decon” for at least six months while you learn the ropes and are taught a skill set that is totally different than any you learned up until now. Pair that with a sales quota, endless hours of training, factors outside of your control influencing your success, and so much more, you will realize it is not a role for the faint of heart, which is why many SP technicians make great reps; they know multiple devices and definitely know how to work hard. Yet, there is a large barrier and deficit between surgical instrument and device knowledge, and the ability to be a quality and successful medical device sales rep.

Don’t let that deter you just yet. As you begin navigating this newfound desire to launch into career growth, and a new playing field, you must start thinking and speaking a bit differently to catch the attention of a rep that can help bridge the gap and get you in front of a hiring manager.

Thinking differently
Sterile processing and sales are worlds apart. It’s not even apples to oranges; it’s apples to broccoli. To succeed in conversation in this playing field, it will require you to reframe the way you view sales. Sales is not a dirty word, and you must think of it differently than you maybe have before. Sales is simply serving in a different capacity and helping your clients solve a problem. The role requires more than ambition and drive; it requires you to ask yourself if you’re cut out to sell by looking into these areas.

Three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you open to constructive criticism and do you have a thick skin?
  2. How competitive are you? Does a goal (a.k.a. quota) drive you to perform or scare you?
  3. Are you confident? I’m not talking confident in general surgical devices used and how an operating room works, but confident in your ability to show up, take a risk, and stand up and out.

What can you do to start toward that path today?
Sales skills can be learned, as can the soft skills that make for a great sales professional. Maybe your current form of professional development has stayed directly in the SP lane; try moving outside that lane. A Google or YouTube search on developing sales skills will render thousands of free results. Start right there, even if it’s five minutes a day. Or consider listening to sales podcasts. You will find that professionals in the sales arena speak a bit differently. By listening to them often, you will start to speak with new clarity as well. Start there and move to the in-house reps at your hospitals today.

Develop great relationships with your current vendors and start a conversation that shows you’re interested. Reps often have downtime between cases or while waiting for instrumentation to get through the washer. This is an excellent time to strike up a conversation. Maybe even consider the give/get strategy when starting that conversation. Give the rep a key bit of information that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise get without talking to you: a product shortage, an educational need, or some pain points you see management struggling with that they might be able to help solve. This works in their favor often because they can extend the conversation to management and, potentially, they have a solution for the pain points you have today. In return, ask them for a few minutes of their time to get to know them a bit. Don’t ask if you can pick their brain; consider this approach: “John, our department is having a few issues that maybe you can help with. Do you have any time between cases that we can talk about them, and in return can I ask you a few questions about how you got to where you are today?” If they agree to a conversation, I urge you to value their time and expertise.

Three questions to ask vendor representatives working in your facility today:

  1. How did you get started working with [insert company name]?
  2. What is one thing you wish you knew that you weren’t prepared for when you started?
  3. What is one thing I could do to get a step closer to working for an organization like yours?

The next step
Research positions that fit your desired career outcome and align them to see what core competencies or degrees might be necessary (if any). The times are changing, and as tattoos used to be frowned upon but are now common and have no weight on hiring decisions, a degree might not be required to get started. Don’t let the idea that you aren’t qualified for a position stop you before you truly know the required capabilities. You might not be qualified for one position, but upon digging deeper you find that you are indeed qualified for others.

Before you accumulate mounting student loan debt because the theory is that a bachelor’s degree is required, try gathering great relationships, skill sets, and core competencies that will get you one step closer to getting the coveted role of vendor representative. A degree will not get you the job; in some cases it is just one requirement.

Should you find yourself in the amazing position of interviewing with a company to become their next all-star rep, remember it isn’t about what you bring to the table (core competencies are expected); rather, it’s about how you and your skill set can make their organization stronger. This means you must understand their company’s mission, core values, and why they are hiring in the first place. During your interview, remember it isn’t about you—it’s about them and how they will benefit by having you on board.

No career goal is unachievable, but are you ready to forge through the forest with a machete and start chopping down the barriers that exist to pave a clear path to your goals?

Rebecca Kinney is a medical sales representative and small business owner of Cypress, Inc. She is a Certified Central Service Vendor Partner (CCSVP). Rebecca has worked in healthcare for more than 15 years: 7 years as a sterile processing technician and 8 years in medical sales working directly with SP. Focused on a proactive and consultative approach, she takes her experience to share knowledge in the field she wishes she knew when she worked in SP. She actively participates in speaking engagements and uses LinkedIn as an educational tool to reach an audience of almost 30,000 professionals. 

Continual process improvement and education lending to patient safety has always been her primary objective.

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