In theory, the pharmaceutical industry should continue to thrive as long as people need medical treatment. By 2020, global spending on medicines will reach $1.4 trillion, an increase of 29-32% from 2015 according to the Global Use of Medicines report from IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. An aging population, the convergence of healthcare and technology, longer life expectancies, and the shift away from clinical treatment in hospitals are among a few of the factors spurring the growth of the pharmaceutical sector.
Often called ‘recession-proof,’ Henry “Hank” Newkirk from Indiana says careers in the medical field are so important, regardless of the state of the economy, to encourage the normal functioning of society. Consequently, pharmaceutical sales are seen as a highly stable profession, making it very attractive to recent graduates and individuals looking to change professions.
The primary role of a pharmaceutical sales rep (PSR) is to act as a liaison between drug manufacturers and healthcare professionals, to encourage providers to prescribe their brand of medicine. “PSRs sell technologically advanced products that are potentially life-saving, to medical experts in a highly professional setting,” explains Henry Newkirk, an executive sales specialist with several years of experience in the field.
Throughout his career, Newkirk has earned multiple achievements, with his greatest feat being the President’s Club award with Janssen Therapeutics. Today, Newkirk takes time out of his busy schedule to discuss what it takes to be a pharmaceutical sales rep.
1. You Love Selling
It is easier to have a long and successful career if you are passionate about what you do. Selling is a huge part of a medical rep’s job. PSRs meet with existing and prospective customers daily to introduce them to new treatments developed by their employers. “The best medical sales reps believe in their manufacturer’s products and care about their client’s needs,” says Henry Newkirk. In order to be effective salespeople, PSRs do extensive research to understand the specialization of each physician they meet and be able to anticipate their needs.
By doing so, reps can present decision-makers with products that are both relevant and useful to their patient’s needs. More often than not, PSRs need to overcome customer concerns by emphasizing the product’s credibility and showcasing its unique qualities.
Undoubtedly, the more refined your interpersonal skills are, the more effective you will be at conveying important messages and negotiating with providers. Reps may also create summaries, graphs, and other visual aids to strengthen their sales pitch. “Ultimately, if you focus on serving others, people will be naturally inclined to want to do business with you,” advises Newkirk.
2. You Enjoy Building Relationships
So, you like being social? Building relationships within the medical industry is just one of the many rewarding aspects of this job. According to Forbes, workplace relationships are one of the most important sources of workplace happiness. Not to mention, people that are satisfied with their job are more likely to be productive and successful. Fortunately, pharmaceutical reps have the opportunity to blend with colleagues and clients at numerous events, including trade shows, professional conferences, training programs, seminars, and symposiums.
When you first step into the world of pharmaceutical sales, you will have very few contacts and little selling experience, so attending as many industry events as possible will help you strengthen your network.
“Your contacts in the field are invaluable,” says Henry Newkirk. Essentially, nurturing relationships with fellow professionals can help you advance further and faster in your career, as well as open up many other opportunities.
For instance, over time, many high-performing sales reps often transition into managerial positions, marketing, corporate training, or are awarded control over a larger territory. Thus, if you are interested in a career that allows you to network and maintain relationships, then pharmaceutical sales may be a good fit for you.
3. You Want Job Satisfaction
The numbers don’t lie—and they show that medical sales reps love their job. According to a 2018 Medical Sales Salary Report, an astounding 80% of respondents said they are satisfied with their pay and with their job overall. As of March of 2020, the average salary of pharmaceutical sales rep was $67,040 per year in the United States and $20,000 in commission according to Indeed.
However, job satisfaction is not only linked to reps’ income. Irrespective of compensation, medical sales specialists have access to a wide number of perks. Firstly, PSRs are usually provided with short and long-term benefits, such as health insurance to help ease any medical expenses they incur.
Moreover, Henry Newkirk says since travel is a significant portion of the job, reps are typically given gas cards, an expense account, and a company car in order to be able to perform their job. The nature of the position often results in flexible work hours. Although PSRs need to clock many hours to increase their commission, they can build their schedule as they desire.
Finally, selling world-class, life-changing products also contributes to a rep’s job satisfaction. “Being able to introduce new and effective drugs to the public is one of the main reasons I have remained in this industry,” explains Newkirk. From financial perks to internal gratification, pharmaceutical sales offer several advantages to PSRs.
4. You’re Self-Motivated And Work Well Under Pressure
Sales reps must work hard if they want to reap the financial rewards of the job. Since PSRs have the opportunity to make a commission, they want to book as many meetings as possible with different hospitals, physicians’ offices, and pharmacies. “The more you put into the job, the more you get out of it,” exclaims Newkirk. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it may seem.
With doctors bogged down by a growing list of patients and increased administrative work, they don’t have time to sit down with sales reps. A rep-accessible physician is one that meets with more than 70% of the sales representatives that approach him/her.
Sadly, the number of rep-accessible doctors is declining each year. For instance, in 2008, there were 80% rep-accessible healthcare professionals (HCPs), compared to only 44% in 2017. Moreover, according to data, PSRs only have two minutes to make a case for their employer’s products.
Given the little amount of time reps have with HCPs, sales reps need to be self-motivated and work well under pressure. “The hardest challenge is remaining motivated,” says Newkirk. If PSRs want to thrive in this industry, they need to be just as excited on an evening call as they were when their shift first started.
5. You’re Interested In Medical Science
Although employers do not require a bachelor’s degree in science, having graduated from life sciences will help individuals prepare for an exciting career in pharmaceutical sales. Aspiring PSRs generally study biology, biochemistry, nutrition, physiology, or animal science. Some universities also offer ideal pharmaceutical science programs, which involve the development, delivery, administration, and utilization of therapeutic drugs.
Graduate-level programs allow for sophisticated research and specialization in different areas including, translational therapeutics, pharmacometrics, chemical biology, pharma engineering, and pharmaceutical policy. Students may also be able to gain valuable experience by interning with biotech companies or various global health placements worldwide.
“Candidates must be interested in continuous learning to prepare for industry advancements,” explains Henry Newkirk. Most sales reps will be subjected to comprehensive training periods that test their professional skills and knowledge. Not only will PSRs be tested during training, but as an on-going part of their job.
Consequently, a passion for science and education will help PSRs thrive in their position. Pharmaceutical sales in a highly competitive field thanks to its promising future. According to research by J.P. Morgan, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has approved 20-25 new drugs on average in the past two decades.
Moreover, in 2019, the FDA approved a whopping 48 novel drugs. The investment bank expects approvals to remain at this elevated level “for the foreseeable future,” resulting from advancements in several areas, including oncology, immunology, and gene therapy.
Consequently, the demand for pharmaceutical sales reps will continue to flourish with many growth opportunities. If your personality fits the criteria presented above, Henry Newkirk urges you to consider a rewarding career as a PSR.
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