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Medical firm seeks hot young blood

Published on Thursday, 31 May 2012
Rebecca Po, general manager at Medtronic International, says trainees need 200 per cent passion, and must always put patients ahead.
Photo: David Wong

In the eyes of some, the function of a frontline salesperson is nothing more than selling products, a job requiring not so much professionalism as sheer persistence and endurance.

This may perhaps be true for some industries and products, but definitely not at Medtronic International, one of the leading medical device providers, which established its reputation with its cardiac rhythm disease management (CRDM) devices such as pacemakers, among others.

“What we are offering are high-tech products that help doctors improve their therapies on the one hand, and minimise the pain of chronic-disease patients, on the other. So our frontline staff are required to possess a tremendous depth of product knowledge and technical expertise, and a thorough understanding of the therapies involved in order to partner with medical professionals. For example, they have to read clinical research papers on a regular basis, and in some cases, develop training programme with doctors for new therapies,” says Rebecca Po, general manager at Medtronic.

The firm’s sales representatives are required to have a degree in sciences, if not in medicine.

“All shortlisted applicants each year – mostly fresh graduates – are required to take part in a three-week trainee development camp at our Greater China headquarters [in Shanghai]. There, they will learn major product knowledge, processes and policies, salesmanship skills, communication, business etiquette, time management,” Po says.

“At the end of the camp, exams are set on all key product lines, with 80 marks the pass score. There is only one chance for them to retake it, and anyone who fails a second time must quit the programme.”

Just 1 per cent of applicants will receive an offer each year, she adds. Qualified candidates will then undertake one year of on-the-job training as sales trainees before becoming sales representatives in one of Medtronic’s business units – CRDM, cardio-vascular, neuromodulation, spinal, diabetes and surgical technologies.

“We assign each trainee one ‘coach’ to provide daily on-site coaching and help them accelerate their business competency development. The partnerships serve two purposes: turning trainees into qualified professionals in their first year, while coaches acquire leadership and coaching skills,” Po says.

Upon completion of the first-year training, the sales representatives are still not yet allowed to meet clients without the company of a supervisor or manager, and until they have gained a solid knowledge of the products. “Take our pacemaker, for example. They [salespersons] have to pass four [levels] of examinations for the product which normally takes two years to go through,” Po says.

Normally, it takes around two years for a sales representative to be promoted to senior sales representative, who will then need five to six years to become a sales supervisor. “Most managers [within the field] are over 35 years of age,” Po says, indicating the long learning curve for salespersons in the medical device industry.

To attract young talent, Medtronic offers not only a relatively higher total compensation package than the market median, but also tremendous job rotation and internal promotion opportunities, as well as talent programmes focusing on individual development needs.

“They [sales representatives] can be transferred to other departments within the company, such as marketing, research and development, medical education – whichever they find interesting and capable of doing,” Po says.

“To succeed, you need to have 200 per cent passion, and always put patients ahead of yourself. You are working in an industry that helps people – and this means a lot to me,” adds Po, a veteran in the field.

Medtronic currently employs a workforce of no less than 40,000 for its more than  200 offices in 140 countries, with 14 regional offices in the greater China region,  including Hong Kong and Taiwan. It ranked 28 in the 2012 Forbes list of the Most Reputable Companies in America.   

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