Young Reps New Reps, New Pressures, Old Truths

Edition: December 2002 - Vol 10 Number 12
Article#: 1395
Author: Laura Thill

Let’s face it: The kinds of challenges reps face today differ in many respects from those of 25 or 30 years ago. Some may argue that the product knowledge required today is more extensive. Customers expect their products to be delivered on a shorter timeline. And, a greater understanding of computers is necessary.

On the other hand, there is an aspect of selling that may never change. “People buy products from people,” says Michelle Johnston, an alternate care territory manager at The Stevens Company (Brampton, ON). Still, Johnston points out, “Today there are so many products, and it can be a major challenge to maintain a vast knowledge of all of these.”

“When you’re new to a job, it’s always a challenge,” says Jeff Lipson, a sales consultant for Caligor (Pelham Manor). “But, today we need more computer literacy and an up-to-date knowledge of safety issues.”

Couple this with a customer demand for immediacy. “It can be a challenge meeting the customer’s timeline,” says Kurt Theil, an alternate care territory manager at The Stevens Company. “Today, people demand things on the spot. I’m guessing 30 years ago, selling wasn’t so fast-paced,” he says.

Lipson, Johnston and Theil all happen to be 29 years old and relatively new to medical products sales. Theil is the greenest, with less than two months of experience under his belt. Lipson and Johnston have been in the business for about two years each. None of the three reps grew up dreaming of the day he or she would sell AEDs or exam tables. It just worked out that way. But, today, they wouldn’t have any other career.

Lipson started out with a small company selling hardware and software for computer systems. “I sort of stumbled into healthcare,” he says. “My mom worked for a doctor’s office and knew a Caligor rep. When I met this rep, I knew this field was so right for me. Everyone needs doctors and healthcare, and I’m in an avenue to support it.”

Similarly, Johnston took an unexpected turn that led her to medical products sales. “I was always interested in pharmaceutical sales,” she says. “It happened that my present director of sales knew someone in my family.”

Theil, too, originally had a somewhat different career strategy in mind. He graduated from college in marketing. Then, through friends, got a position at the The Stevens Company in the warehouse. From there, he joined the customer service department. “Before working in the warehouse, I didn’t know the healthcare industry, or even consider it,” he says. “It was only a couple of years ago that I knew I wanted to be a territory manager.”

Computers, Computers

No matter what type of sales one is in, computers mark one of the greatest contrasts between today’s reps and their counterparts of 25 or 30 years past. Today, reps essentially can take their office with them, whether on the road or simply working from home. In addition, today’s computer-literate reps have the capacity to be more organized and more informed about their customer base.

“Our tools today far surpass the pen and paper that reps had years ago,” states Lipson. “Today, we have electronic calendars and e-mail. We can jot down quotes or pricing in an organizer, whereas 25 years ago, a rep would have to search for a piece of paper.” Lipson also describes Caligor’s wireless modem system as a modern day advantage. “From my car, I can check into the company mainframe and get all of the information I need on an account. Twenty-five years ago, reps had to make many calls and get back to their customers after a couple of days.”

Indeed, adds Theil, computers allow reps to get more work accomplished prior to calling on customers. “Computers are helpful, even when it comes to locating companies,” he says. “We sell medical supplies and needles to tattoo parlors. Computers save me time finding these clients.”

Johnston feels similarly: “I use my laptop every day for several hours. I research products and track e-mails.” But, she adds, computers should not be overused to the point that reps don’t spend enough time with customers.

Like their older, more experienced peers, the three reps agree that successful sales depend on maintaining a balance between administrative work and face-to-face encounters with customers. “It’s important to keep up to date with my customers,” says Theil. “But, if I don’t spend time in my office and stay organized, I can’t be efficient on the road.”

“I need to be on the road selling,” says Lipson. “But, it’s just as important to be in the office following up with administrative work and phone calls.”

Sold on Technology

Today’s technology not only enhances reps’ ability to sell. Sometimes it’s what they sell. As physician products become more electronically complicated and technologically advanced, do reps have a more difficult time marketing them to their customers?

“Yes and no,” says Theil. “Some physicians want items that will make their job easier. Others are less comfortable with change. The doctors who have been around the longest are less open to change.”

Johnston concurs. “Younger doctors often are much more open to the idea of using electronic equipment. And, they’re more comfortable with computers and more interested in paperless offices.”

Lipson says his general client base is open to newer products. “Doctors thrive on new technology,” he says. “Of course, the rep must be prepared,” he adds. “When doctors ask why they should use a new rapid diagnostic test, reps must be able to provide CPT and reimbursement codes. The same goes for bone density equipment or anything else. But, they definitely are interested in new technology.”


It’s tough for anyone to earn the respect of customers and peers, and being the “new guy” doesn’t help. But, these reps have been happily surprised. “As a younger rep, I do feel I have to prove myself to gain my customers’ respect,” says Johnston. “But, on the whole, they have been very tolerant. They see I have the energy to find answers to their questions.” She adds, “The older reps I work with have been a wonderful help. They have provided me with a great market knowledge and advice, and have been strong in helping me get my business going.” Johnston says her more experienced coworkers have coached her on the logistics of being a rep, including who to visit and how to acquire new techniques or styles.

“As the youngest and the newest, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to prove myself,” says Theil, who has taken steps to prepare himself in his new career. “I think the other reps respect that I recently took communications and anatomy courses,” he says. “Also, I’m a member of Toastmasters,” a professional speaking course.

Lipson says he hasn’t felt much pressure to prove himself to his clients or coworkers. “I deal with nurses who range in age from 21 to 50, so age is not an inhibitor,” he says. “I feel I have a good gauge of people and can talk to any age range.” He credits his positive interpersonal communication skills to the way his parents raised him.

Lipson describes the intergenerational support he sees among the reps at Caligor. “The younger reps have had an easier time learning computers, since we had training in high school and college. I think the older ones respect us for the help we can offer here.” Similarly, he is grateful for the advice offered him by his older cohorts. “They’ve taught me not to take everything to heart,” he says. “If a deal goes sour, move ahead to the next opportunity. Stick with it, because the next opportunity could be bigger and better.”

Looking Ahead

Being young isn’t only about being new. With youth comes a high energy level, a healthy amount of confidence, and a positive outlook for tomorrow. All three reps are eager to grow their customer base, and they believe the healthcare market will be conducive to this goal.

“I aim to go from zero market share to a significant market share,” say Theil. “I want the competition to know I’m out there.” Given the demand for new products and tools, Theil believes the healthcare industry is a good one in which to pursue this goal. Adds Johnston, “I look forward to further developing my territory, expanding my customer base, and increasing my product knowledge.” She believes future doctor shortages will make reps increasingly valuable. “Doctors won’t have time to research products in the future,” she says. “They will value in-servicing by reps.”

Lipson plans to continue to please his customers “so that in the future they can refer me to other customers.” From there, he hopes to expand his client base to include labs and surgery centers. “I think healthcare will get bigger and better in the future,” says Lipson. “Being a part of Caligor and Henry Schein is such good positioning in the market – I know we’ll continue to grow with the industry.”

Perhaps the greatest force propelling this generation of reps is their ability to know when to stop work. In short, they take care of themselves. Sure, sometimes they have to make a sacrifice and help a customer on a Saturday afternoon, Lipson admits. But, in the long run, if reps can learn to balance work and personal life, they will be doing themselves a big favor. “On Friday, at 5:00 p.m., you have to say, I’m done with work and need time with my family now. You actually have to discipline yourself to set work aside and relax.”

“I love my job, but in the final evaluation, I hope to be able to say I excelled on the job as well as a mother and wife,” says Johnston. “My company supports this. The Stevens Company clearly values family relationships.”

“You need to pay equal attention to both your career and personal life,” says Theil. “I’m presently training for the Toronto Marathon, taking drum lessons, and I enjoy sports. I look forward to these things. If I didn’t have these outlets, the stress of work would become a burden.”

As Lipson points out, as important as careers and work are, we all have to learn that some things can wait.