COVID-19 Sales Rep

Q&A: COVID-19 and the life of the medical device sales representative

Beth Wingad, Specialist Marketer - Meditech, at FMC Global Talent
Beth Wingad, Specialist Marketer – Meditech, at FMC Global Talent

With Coronavirus changing many aspects of people’s lives this year, one of the key things many of our clients and candidates care about is how it’ll impact their roles going forward. Frankie Warder, an Account Manager in the Surgical team here at FMC Meditech, spoke to me about how she thinks the life of medical device sales reps may change as we move ahead.

Frankie Warder, Account Manager at FMC Global Talent
Frankie Warder, Account Manager at FMC Global Talent

Q. How has COVID-19 affected sales representatives in the medical devices space?

COVID-19 has changed 2020 for everyone. Throughout the duration of this pandemic, as a human race we have all had to adapt parts of our lives to fit the current climate. We’ve socially isolated ourselves from friends and family, we’ve followed one-way systems in supermarkets and we’ve dealt with cancellations of events like weddings (although fortunately not my own). As a specialist recruiter in the medical devices space, over the past few months I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to offer support to clients and candidates. I have had many conversations about how COVID-19 will impact the medical devices space and reps working within it as we move forward.

“What do you think the life of a medical device sales rep will be like after COVID?” is one of the biggest questions I’ve been asked over the last few months, and I wish I had a solid answer when people ask me this! The responsibilities and the day-to-day working life of a medical device sales representative have already changed and they will need to continue to adapt as we navigate this complex time.

Q. What was the life of a rep like before COVID-19?

Before COVID-19 the typical life of a sales rep (depending on their therapy area) consisted of 3-4 days a week in a hospital or theatre environment. They’d either be case covering, training staff on their product portfolio, or connecting with surgeons. Regular visits to accounts were encouraged and representatives often met with their customers face to face to offer support and to secure new business.

Q. How have their day-to-day responsibilities changed because of COVID-19?

Naturally, when the UK went into lockdown back in March, elective surgeries were off the cards and sales representatives were no longer able to visit hospital environments. This was obviously a hugely tricky time for sales reps but, on a positive note, we have started seeing a return of reps to these environments in July and are expecting this to carry on into August, even if this is a phased return.

Returning to work does require adapting, though! There are still strict measures that have been put in place by the NHS which have reduced the usual case coverings of 4-6 a week to 1-2. Less time is being spent in hospitals to reduce risk, and as a result there’s been a huge increase in digital communications, whether that’s email or video conferencing using platforms like MS Teams and Zoom.

Q. How do virtual meetings compare to face-to-face?

Whilst the days of knocking on the doors of surgeons in hospital corridors haven’t completely disappeared, there will likely be less of this in the future. They’ve basically gone from face-to-face to screen-to-screen! Virtual meeting technologies have been integrated into the life of the medical device sales rep. This isn’t inherently negative, though. Whilst face to face contact has its benefits, the move to a more virtual approach has them too. Surgeons have commented that this has freed them up to spend time with patients whilst still allowing them to have the important conversations with reps – it’s efficient for both parties! From the perspective of a sales rep, they are also finding it easier to get in contact with hard-to-reach surgeons or procurement as they can easily schedule this time in.

Fundamentally, relationship building (whether it’s face to face or via Zoom) is still at the core of a sales representative’s role, they’ll just need to adapt their methods to suit the kind of interactions they’re having.

Q. Will there also be a change to territories?

Pre-COVID the locations for sales representatives were very much a strategic decision and were influenced by a lot of factors, like the size of the organisation and the size of the territory too. This could really vary with some representatives covering, for example, the whole of the North, some the North West, and some as specific as Leeds and Manchester.

The future of territories is likely to remain fairly similar, but in some cases these territories are expanding due to reps travelling less across their regions. We’ve heard from some hiring managers that there might be restructures in sales teams to cover larger areas each. This will allow reps to have more contact time with a larger customer base and expand their prospects.

Q. What do you think the future looks like?

We can’t predict the future, but from conversations we’ve had in the market it does sound as if the life of a sales representative is likely to look a bit different after COVID compared to before. But it’s not doom and gloom! Whilst it’ll take some time to adapt, there are benefits to adopting these new ways of working.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you a sales representative who’s getting to grips with embracing virtual technologies in lieu of face to face meetings? Or is it almost business as usual? If you’re a hiring manager, how have your sales teams adapted?

If you want to talk in more detail about how the pandemic has affected the medical devices space, or want to chat about the future, feel free to get in touch on!