Have you ever wondered how doctors and other healthcare providers stay current with the latest developments in therapies, medications, and medical devices? A lot of that information is conveyed through pharmaceutical sales representatives. A lot of you might not consider pharmaceutical sales as a healthcare career in itself, but the job entails a lot more than just making a hard sell. It is a sales representative’s job as well to educate healthcare providers on how their product can potentially help their patients. In this episode, Dr. Richard Marn brings in a friend of his to share about this and other aspects of the medical sales profession that we seldom hear about. Derek Corson is the Regional Sales Director for Dendreon’s North Atlantic arm. Before that, he spent the last 20 years hopping from pharmaceutical to medical device and then back again to pharmaceutical – all in search for a niche where he can make the most impact. Listen in and see if pharmaceutical sales and sales leadership could be one of the things on your list as a potential healthcare career.
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Beyond The Dollars – Towards A Meaningful Career In Pharmaceutical Sales With Pharmaceutical Sales Representative & Director, Derek Corson
Have you ever wondered how doctors and other healthcare providers know about new therapies, medications and devices? How do they get access to the information? How do they know what’s the most relevant or interesting things that are happening out there that could help their patients? Providers and doctors stay current with some of the information out there through research and scientific journals, as well as attending conferences. Information is also conveyed through sales representatives that are educating such providers as physicians and nurses about how their product could potentially help patients.
When sales and pharmaceutical representatives do reach out or connect with physicians and other healthcare providers, that allows them to take a deep dive into how their therapy, product or service could help those health care providers’ patients. A provider then makes an educated and valued decision on whether this product, service or drug is appropriate for their patients. We’re going to talk with the pharmaceutical representative. He’s also a Sales Director of a pharmaceutical company. We’re going to learn how his job can profoundly affect patients in positive ways. As a previous sales rep and now Sales Director, we will learn how he prepares his team to properly educate providers on how to best utilize their product, service and medications. In many ways, as a sales rep, you are educators but also become consultants to healthcare providers.
Our guest is Mr. Derek Corson. He’s a friend of mine. I appreciate that he’s on this episode. He went to Millersville University in Pennsylvania where he got a degree in Speech Communication and Theater. He also played college hockey. He’s quite the Renaissance man. Since graduating from college, he’s had several positions with several different companies working his way up from a health insurance agent at Aetna to becoming a sales rep at Merck. He then progressed to become the Operations Manager with CCS Medical and also worked for AngioDynamics where he was a Vascular Sales Specialist. He then started learning about heart monitoring, health management and telemetry with BioTelemetry, where he is the Director of National Accounts as well as Regional Sales Director. His position has taken him to become the Regional Sales Director with Dendreon based out of California, where he tries to educate providers on the usefulness of the medication used for men with metastatic prostate cancer.
How are you doing, Derek?
I’m doing very well. Thank you.
Thanks a lot for joining us. Derek and I belong to a community that we socialize at on occasion and we got to know each other. I’m happy that you’re coming on.
I appreciate you having me, Rich. We have our little slice of hidden gem up there in Pennsylvania Mountain. It’s pretty fun to get out and be able to disconnect from work.
What do you do and what are your responsibilities?
I’m a Regional Sales Director at an immunotherapy company that works specifically with patients who live with prostate cancer. My responsibilities as a Sales Director is I have 8 or 9 geographies through the Northeast, about 11 or 12 states, depending on how things are carved within the organization. We have representatives, both on the clinical side and business side, overlapping in those geographies. My role is to best understand the business opportunity within those geographies. I motivate a group of sales professionals to be able to work with providers, whether it be a urologist or an oncologist, in this scenario, based on the disease state, to help those folks make the best consultation for their patients who have advanced cancer, advanced disease.
You work with the sales representatives that work in the same company as you and you find doctors who could use your services and your product.
We have doctors that are utilizing the service, but they’re also facilitating that through the nursing staff that’s within the practice, as well as any other group of folks that work within the practice. We’re not only talking to doctors. In many cases, we’re talking to the providers. We’re talking with the nurses who are very much in touch. I’m sure your readers know the nurse at their doctor’s office is often more so maybe than their provider, their doctor themselves. Those folks are advocates of that patient’s care along with, sometimes, the person who’s setting up the schedule.
In order to facilitate the sale or facilitate the product to be delivered, you need more than the provider saying, “Bill, let’s get you a dose of this product.” That’s something that is always readily available because there are different things to the treatment. The treatment that we’re working with doesn’t require it. It’s not a pill. It’s immunotherapy. It requires the patient to have multiple infusions, as well as multiple apheresis. We’re removing the patient’s blood to help better make this product because it’s a customized, personalized medicine. It’s a unique product and it has many layers.
What does your product do for patients? Who are they designed for?
They’re designed for patients who have advanced prostate cancer, metastatic prostate cancer, and the product itself teaches the T cells, what we know as our fighter cells, the things that keep us healthy, and keep us from getting the cold that these folks have disease. It helps the body fight its prostate cancer and utilizing its own cells. It’s a unique therapy.
You go to different neurologists, most of them are male doctors, and you talk to their staff, whether it’s the nurses or the administrative personnel, and you educate them about what your company is providing and selling to these patients.
You’re selling them on the technology and the long-term benefits for the patient. You also have to help them find the right patient. Like any disease, there’s a very unique indication for where this fits for a patient’s journey and that patient has to be identified. Sales is a unique term. When I was younger, that’s what I thought a lot of sales was. In this scenario, it’s a lot more contemplative and partnering. You have to be a resource to the practice. There are not just the providers but there’s the front end of an office and there’s also the other players, including the business side of things where these folks have to make sure that they’re doing the best thing for both clinically as well as from a reimbursement perspective for the patient. You’re consulting with the group. If they think this is the right therapy they should bring to their patients, we need to make sure we find the right patient so it can also yield the most success.
Derek, are you ever dealing with patients directly in any capacity?
No. There are patient support events that we can maybe attend. In those events, we’re never discussing the product based on different guidelines unless the materials are approved. However, being part of the prostate cancer community, whether you have it or not, you’re part of it if you’re selling in that environment, I attend a lot of the fundraisers and nonprofit events. There are different associations for cancer. I’m sure all your readers know Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness to run and those events. Those events exist for all cancers.
Breast cancer is 1 in 8 women. Prostate cancer is 1 in 9 men. It’s understated that it’s so prevalent. They have their own race, it’s called zero, and it’s a Race for the Cure. Those events are where I get to interact with patients. Not necessarily patients that have used my product, but they’re people that are part of this fight and they’re living with this disease. Those are the meetings that keep you going in different ways to spawn off of that. At national conferences or quarterly conferences, we’ll have patients who have received our products. It’s a little bit more customized. They are coming to us as guests to talk about their journey. You meet people that are years out from receiving their product and you see the impact it has on them and their wife and potentially their kids. That’s the stuff that means a lot. It’s what you take home every day and that’s what’s exciting.
You have to learn about the product before you can teach others about it and let doctors, nurses and other providers know about it. How do you learn about that?
Any of the companies I’ve worked at, whether as a sales representative, we call it carrying a bag. You’re the person that is going in and out, meeting with the provider. Carry the bag is a common phrase in sales. Especially with the audience that we’re speaking to, you would not know what that meant. That would be someone who sold and then maybe was promoted or they have a history of selling within the industry. On leadership, there are leaders that have carried the bag and that’s their leadership style. They remember what it was like when you were in the trenches. They’re not just telling you, advising or pushing emails through.
Regardless of the role, we call it commercial or customer-facing, you have to go through pretty rigorous training at any organization. Some of them are different from others. In some cases, you’re always learning, you’re always training. As an example, Rich, you go through weeks of training at the corporate office, let’s say it’s two weeks. Prior to that, it could be multiple weeks of home study. Where we’re at, that’s focused on prostate cancer and how all of the products look in this disease state, how the patient progresses through the disease state. Those are the things that are part of the training. Also, what are the landmark trials that have existed for these products to even come to market? What are the benchmarks that are looked at?
Yes, you have to know where those things lie. Everyone has a different selling style. Some folks are critical and some folks are more looking at the business side of things. They’re taking that information and then putting that into their sales style if you will. You’re always learning. I’ve been with the company for a few years and one of the biggest pros that came out of the change in our world with COVID-19 was that we had many people that are usually on the field, they’re now at home because we were asked to be at home. We’re doing the right thing. What do we do? We ramped the training up dramatically because of the wonderful format of doing things virtually.
We are on training calls. You’d have folks that have been with the organization 5, 6 years and you’re training and constantly talking through different scenarios. A new drug comes to market and it changes how you, as a provider, could then treat the patient. It’s good for us as consumers, as patients, or any product, but we have to be prepared to talk and sell in those environments and not robotically saying the same things or going down the same path.
It’s important to highlight that when you’re in the industry of selling or marketing a product to help patients, you have to know the medication or drug or therapy that you’re recommending but you also have to know the history of it. You’re taught that. You’re also taught about some basic anatomy and physiology so that you can be on the same platform, the same page as the provider or urologist in this instance. You have to know about the product and the history behind it and all these other things because you have to anticipate questions that these urologists may ask or other people.
We speak about the urologist, but then we’re talking about cancer. There are oncologists as well that are treating these men. We’re looking at advanced disease depending on where your treatment path has gone. I bring that up because you’re not just learning about the product. This might be even strange to hear, but a urology practice runs differently. You would probably notice that a urology practice runs differently than an oncology practice. Their overall goal is the same. However, they operate differently. They’re trained differently. Urologists are trained surgeons. It’s different. You’re the decision-maker. The person you’re talking with sometimes has a different outlook on how they like treating patients, and that can vary not in the same practice but also to the specialties that you’re working in.
In the training, it’s not always about the product, it’s also about the selling environment you’re going to be talking to in many ways. The part of the entire sales process that in my role as a sales director, you have to be able to coach folks to better understand that so that they know and they’re listening appropriately to make sure that we’re bringing the right resources to the group. Everyone has different capabilities doing this, but we’re bringing the right resources to the group. We’re not just there to deliver our message and take things home.
What is the name of the product you’re selling?
The product is Provenge. Provenge is an autologous immunotherapy. It’s a unique product. It’s been around for years and it’s one of the original immunotherapies. Immunotherapy is very commonly discussed. Everyone looks at the number of commercials we see on immunotherapy and different new therapies out there, which is different. It’s an amazing product for men who have advanced metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer. It’s also men that have been diagnosed, in many cases, many years before prostate cancer. It’s is a manageable disease. This is part of their journey if utilized at the right time.Pharmaceutical sales are not always about the product but also about the selling environment. Click To Tweet
We’re in a post-COVID state. What’s your day like pre-COVID and how is it compared to what it is nowadays?
One thing that’s a common theme through this is that COVID has changed how we act in all of our daily life, regardless of what we do. We’re not talking about the flu. We’re talking about cancer. Cancer didn’t stop through COVID. I always say that because getting back to customer meetings in-person, they’ve happened sooner with selling a product for these folks with advanced prostate cancer than maybe other products. As a Regional Sales Director, my goal is to be with the folks that cover those doctors within the geography that I referenced the twelve states. More so myself than the sales representatives, I travel more than others because I’m with them going into hospitals and doctors’ offices for meetings that are either scheduled or sometimes not scheduled. We’re going in with an objective or an overall goal.
My day-to-day has always a lot of emails. There’s always a lot of follow up that’s necessary for conference calls. It starts early to kick things off. You’re reviewing sales numbers. You’re reviewing previous day results, previous month results, and benchmarking where you need to be. The day would start at 8:00 AM in someone’s passenger seat in many cases or with someone going through their business. I am a partner to my teammate. I feel like I work with folks and people don’t work for me in a way. We have our set meetings and we set out like any overall objective, get with the customers and try to do our best to identify more patients that we can help. The day closes down within those scenarios, recap and some advice in some ways or coaching to the representative. If I’m on the road, maybe we have a bite to eat together or get on to the next day or get onto a flight or train. That’s an overview of what 3 to 4 days of the week would look like and then the other day is a lot of office and administrative work.
In the COVID world, it changed things dramatically. A great analogy would be that on Sunday night, I was able to stay where you’re at in place up in Pennsylvania. I then go to Syracuse for meetings during the day. I was able to get back to Pennsylvania Monday evening. I’m in meetings in Pennsylvania in the morning, however, I was able to do virtual meetings with the providers again because that’s now becoming a common practice. These virtual interactions over Zoom, Microsoft, WebEx or whatever it is, our providers are meeting with us that way. For my role, it’s interesting because I can be in two states at once, which I never did pre-COVID.
You would never even think about that. Historically, it’s person-to-person in the same room.
The providers, in their day, are rarely sitting down at their desks. When they’re reviewing anything on a computer, it’s usually their electronic medical records and they’re doing charts. They’re not looking at somebody else on the screen. If we’re able to get those few minutes in their day and I’m able to join remotely, that’s a success. I was with a nurse navigator who’s someone who’s looking for patients within a specific practice in Pennsylvania. I was able to jump in my car, open up my computer, and deal with the provider in Syracuse and discuss things with him in Pennsylvania. That’s what post-COVID has brought on. I always joke around, I’m a luxury at the meeting. I don’t have to be there all the time. What concerned me coming out of COVID-19 is that, “How does my job change?” I’m the person that’s there to coach the representative that’s meeting with the doctor. I’m almost the third wheel in some way.
When you say representative, that’s the main sales contact person that interacts with the medical provider. You are coaching that representative, a third wheel, but you’re hopefully adding to that environment of that discussion with the medical provider.
I get to see multiple different areas and, through my career, see multiple different sales calls. My goal is if I can bring some light to any of the topics that are being discussed, I want to do my best to do that and also from a different perspective. Another set of ears or another set of eyes on anything is never necessarily bad. In an environment where we’re restricting the number of folks that we’re interacting with for the right reasons, they don’t want maybe two representatives from that company coming in. They may want and/or require or there’s a guideline only to have one. I would be the person left out in that. I had those concerns during those quiet months of March and April 2020. “What’s this going to look like? It’s been interesting to see how there’s still value there. It’s important. How do we bring people together?” My team has embraced it. Nationally, we’ve embraced it.
You mentioned the post-COVID role and I mentioned conference calls. Conference calls are a part of our day. We’re connecting on either sales numbers or training topics. Those were never done on video before or rarely. In my team, we have 8 or 9 representatives. They prefer to be on video than they would on call. In sales, you interact with tons of folks and it can be social in some ways. You’re always talking to people but it’s the difference between being in a field sales role where you’re a representative calling in a practice. There’s nobody to look over the cubicle and see what’s up. Your passenger seat is empty in many cases. You are nomadic and it can be lonely.
I found it funny that the teams have bonded because you’re physically seeing people’s homes. I would make it fun as much as I could outside of the business. After hours, I start doing team happy hours. I would have never done that. It would have never been received. We would’ve been like, “After hours, I want to be with my family and my friends. I don’t want to be doing this.” Now, it’s changed. 9:00 AM on a Monday, you’re going to have nine people on video, people parked in their cars, and they still want to be on video so that they can connect with others.
We also talked about training. It’s interesting to me that we will be able to do more effectively remotely than I ever thought. If you told me, “We’re going to do this awesome, new clinical content. We need to get everybody together to talk about this.” That would mean we would be getting together in a central location with advanced training and people would be sitting in proximity to one another. We successfully can roll that out remotely. If you asked me before, I would say, “There’s no way. We’re going to have to wait to launch this next level of training.” Now I’m thinking, “That’s not necessarily true.” There’s value to getting together and celebrating victories and learning from patients. There’s nothing like being in the patient’s presence and not video. We’ve had patients on video talking to 100 sales representatives. The impact is equally there. When someone’s talking about their journey through prostate cancer, it’s pretty amazing. That’s how the post-COVID world is impacting our field. We’re seeing where we can go, what offices are welcoming in-person, what offices are welcoming virtually, and we’re modifying that.
When does your day end usually?
At some days, later than others. By 6:00 we’re shutting things down. I worked for a company that’s based on the West Coast. The Pacific Standard Time is where the corporate office is. It’s not common but it’s not uncommon that there’s something that will be considered after hours on the East Coast. We’d be attending a call or responding to a text message that is relevant to the day’s work.
Do you think your work-life balance is pretty good?
I do. That takes a lot of time. I’ll use this as an analogy. I was never a guy who loved homework. You did it in school and you come home. When you work from home, it’s constant homework. The challenge for work-life balance is that your office is where you live. You can be doing work at a moment’s notice, there’s no commute. When you bring up work-life balance and we’re talking to a group of folks that would be considering these things, you have to truly train that. If you want to have a cup of coffee, you have to do that cup of coffee without the computer in front of you if you want to make it not about work.
Your phone has everything on it. You could be looking at social media, decompressing in one second and then reading an important email the next. Everyone has that. When it’s in sales, it can change how much you’re enjoying your downtime. You have to schedule that. I would have loved to know that earlier on. We could probably talk more about that. In sales, there’s a number that you need to get to. Sales go on a number. If you have that fire in your belly that you want to get to that, achieve that, and be recognized for that both financially as well as professionally, you could work nonstop to try to get to that. It’s not the most effective way. There are folks out there that feel like, “If I stopped working, the world will stop.” That’s the challenge of work-life balance. As a sales representative or a sales leadership role, there’s always something to do. It’s never like, “Everything has been done.” There’s no clocking out in many ways. You always can find something to get into.
You could take it to the other level. It may not be coaching. It may be picking up studies, reading studies, doing things to sharpen your skills so that you’re more effective the next day, the next week or next month. That part of it, you have to schedule it in some ways. Maybe you don’t, but I feel like it can be effective. You can schedule it, put it into your time and then make sure that you’re building that balance. I say that because if you’re getting into it early on, that same hard work and that tireless work can also be met with a lot of autonomy. If you’re the king of procrastination, you can get to something all the time, work can seem easy and you could be unsuccessful. That’s the other side of it. I remember being young and being able to go down to the beach a little earlier on a Friday because I didn’t have an office to go to, but that wasn’t necessarily the most successful way to do it. It felt good. It felt free. You felt like you could do things, but you want to make sure you stay focused when you need to be and that comes in time.
Derek, what misconceptions do people have about your career?
The biggest misconception is that it’s a bunch of entertainment and that we’re always taking folks out to dinner. That has been regulated and changed. That misconception is created because years ago, that was the case. If you work in the pharmaceutical industry, which this is a pharmaceutical industry, all you do is lunches and breakfasts and then your day is done. There is a phrase in the industry, “Tuesday to Thursday attended to.” It’s a joke. Those are the only hours you need to work. Those are the misconceptions. If that were the case, a lot more people would do it.
I offered someone a job and even in giving the job offer, I said, “You’ve had an incredible track record. You’re a rock star at what you’ve done. This is a hard job. There are going to be times we have to come together and work through it.” I know that in any interview, everyone’s like, “I got this. I’m going to be top-notch. I’m going to do all these.” The other misconception is we need to make sure we remind folks that this is difficult but not because of a poor product. It’s that the gentleman or lady in a white coat, they have a lot of decisions to make and we want to be respectful with their time. It’s a hard job. There are a lot of things that go into it. That’s some of the misconceptions that sales maybe is easy or the schedule is dictated for you, and maybe in some cases it is but not to my experience in years of doing it.
What is the most rewarding part of the job that you’re doing?
I didn’t know how much I value this but I value watching the folks I work with be successful. I didn’t know as a leader how much value I would get as to watching someone walk across the stage and accept an award when I was part of that journey. I’m coming up playing sports my whole life and being competitive, you think about you winning that award. When there’s a team of folks and you’re creating a culture within your little group of folks, I say a little because some organizations are larger than others. Someone within that team or multiple people are succeeding and they’re doing great for their family, I get a ton of value out of that, more so than I ever thought.
I can remember the day that it hit me and it was pretty wild to watch. Many, if not every company has an award ceremony for the top performers. This was 2015, and a representative on my team was the number one rep in the company out of 100-plus folks. I was sitting at my table with my team. I knew that she was going to win. She goes up, she’s winning this award. All the accolades are getting ready to do a speech. I was overcome with how amazing this to watch. She went through that year to achieve this goal and others did extremely well. It was a peer of mine who was like, “How good does this feel?” He came up right to my ear, one of my closest buds, and he’s like, “Is this not the best?” I was like, “That’s the feeling, this is the best. This is what it’s about.”
In turn, I know that success helped tons and tons of patients. There are all those other things that value that person’s work, but also my work has helped coach and develop these folks and keep them aligned for that. I probably knew it before that was the leadership before that but that example, to me, resonates with what I love doing each day. That’s what’s fun. A leadership role is to be able to get people to their professional goals, their financial goals. It’s not for everybody. It’s not always fun. Sometimes everyone doesn’t stay around. It’s not met with all smiles and rainbows. To me, that is what I get the most out of what I do, watching folks perform. They’ll get there when they get there. It’s pretty exciting.
Do you recommend this career either what you’re doing or as a sales representative in healthcare to students? If so, what students do you think best match in this type of field?
Where we have seen a lot of success in hiring is there are a lot of athletes that gravitate towards the sales role, in many cases. Companies often will look at that profile because of the competitive nature and because of the selling environment. That goes hand-in-hand. I absolutely would recommend it. I feel it’s a necessity and it’s going to evolve as it has before. I mentioned the entertaining and other things that are the misconceptions because that’s what existed many years ago. I did something with someone who was asking me questions for a project. Innovation is changing, so we’re talking about a lot of the things that are going to happen virtually.
Within healthcare, there are many changes to the landscape of how things are being paid for or how things are being regulated. The role is going to be someone who is truly a resource to a practice or a group and it’s going to be one person. Think of it as arms of folks that can help you with different specialties, maybe billing or maybe clinical, but it’s one person driving that ship and as a resource to the office and the providers. In many years past, multiple people are calling on providers with the same product, in some ways, and in the same office to gain what we call a share of voice. They want to continue to repeat the same message to help these providers make decisions. There’s an evolution.
Those folks out there that consider this role in sales or sales leadership, it’s going to be more complicated than it is now. You’re going to see people be more valuable resources to the practices. With the right product, they’re going to be able to make a significant impact utilizing those. They’re not going to have as many partners to help with the tide. It’s going to be one person running things for a group and there’s value to that. The healthcare industry is going that way in many ways.
You answered my next question. What do you think the future outlook is like for your profession?What's really fun about a sales leadership role is being able to get people to their professional and financial goals. Click To Tweet
It’s exciting. It’s going to be more challenging because you have different restrictions and there are different ways that things are being evaluated for treatment. One other factor to any treatment a patient gets is what is reimbursed and what is not, and what is considered maybe experimental and what is not. Those are the things that will change how the industry evolves, especially with cancer care or care of older individuals. We have a huge population of folks that are going to head into Medicare that will need care. They’re going to need treatment.
Derek, what were you like in high school and college? Were you thinking about getting to sales like this before?
I wasn’t necessarily a blockbuster student in high school or college. I had learned a ton. When I came out of college, it was about trying to find a way to make money. My degree is in Communications. I have a minor in Theater. I wasn’t fond of a lot of mentorship or advice. I didn’t have a lot of folks that could give me that direction. Out of college, get a job, you’ll find a job. You scramble and you figure out where you go to find a job and that’s when you need to network. I took a crazy path. I went and worked in American Express Financial Advisors.
After college, that’s where you went first?
After college, I thought about how to get into the film industry, which wasn’t a long thought process because there were very few avenues I had to get into. Like anyone in college, I wonder what the fad would be. Financial advisors were something that you knew someone or a friend of yours was in that path. I went and tried to learn a little bit about that. I’m talking about a couple of months. It wasn’t for me. However, I knew someone that I truly respected, that was a couple of years older than I was, and that was in healthcare but in a different way. They were working in health insurance. I was able to get an interview working with that, which is enormous. It was that and the US healthcare back then. I started in the healthcare industry that way. I got into health insurance, selling health insurance plans to either individuals or small groups. It was a great way to break into any sales role. I learned a ton that way and then that evolved into staying into the healthcare space.
That wasn’t intentional. Someone said, “Check this health insurance company out. Get a job.” The next thing you know, you’re in healthcare.
Healthcare then and then being a pharmaceutical sales representative was the goal. How do you get to that? It was a great paying job, all these perks that came with the job. That was the earlier view that I had that was given to me. You need to have certain sales experience to get that job. It was chicken or the egg. It was one of those things that was fun.
What’s the title of that job?
That was a pharmaceutical sales rep.
The idea was to get that.
That’s what I thought the goal was. It evolved into different things. I mentioned film so it’s not on my resume. I worked with a company for six months called 160over90. They’re incredibly successful but they were small. That was the film company where I wanted to get into. I went into a sales capacity. I was in that role. I was trying to drive business to the multimedia company that they were at the time. I learned a ton in that space because that was the relaxed nature. That is jeans and a T-shirt work and you’re working with a lot of creative folks. I completely signed on to something that I didn’t know what I was doing and had no idea what I was doing. I had to learn quickly if it’s going to be for me or not, and it wasn’t.
Through a lot of luck, networking, as well as doing some work through that company, I landed at Merck. We were working on a website for them. This is wild to think of this. They were starting a sales team that was thinking about now and this is many years ago. The sales team is going to be focused in-house and they’re going to be speaking with doctors virtually through video conference. They’re hiring eight individuals to do this for the nation and I was 1 of those 8. You had to learn every product that they sold. It was fourteen weeks of training. In that scenario, you’re fourteen weeks in a hotel. Maybe you go home every other weekend. There are people that you’re training with that have families. I didn’t. I was in my early twenties. It was wild to watch the sacrifice that folks make in some ways to do this. I did that for a couple of years.
The technology back then was on a T1 line and it’s incredibly costly. The company that set it up didn’t work because they ran out of money. That led me somewhat away from pharmaceuticals to more of what we would call device job, which is to sell medical devices and selling more for a sale on the dotted line. You’re not selling for a script. You’re selling someone that’s either ordering your services or patients buying the services if recommended by the provider. The journey went from that pharmaceutical space to the device type service sale to being back into a pharmaceutical treatment. It’s a wild evolution.
You’ve moved from different companies. Why is that?
Early on, it isn’t about going somewhere to make more money. Of course, that’s what we would want with our careers, we want to progress financially and succeed. If there’s another opportunity where a product is more interesting, we go and do that. I was working at Merck but I moved over to a company named CCS Medical, which was a distributor of diabetes supplies. Why did I do that? It was because the person who was my boss was a friend and there’s that internal networking. It was a much better financial opportunity for me based on how that sales model worked. I was successful there. What I didn’t know then when I was in my twenties was that the CEO and I became friends, but I also looked at him as a mentor. Many years later, he called me to come work for him again in a different company.
There are those decisions that you make changes. You find a valued mentor that you trust. He didn’t ask me to come. He asked me if I was looking for work and if I was looking to make a change. He offered me the opportunity to interview for my first regional sales director role and that was back in 2012. It was an amazing experience for me to be able to get into something like that and make a pretty good impact. The decisions that you change are not always money or motivated by a product. Sometimes you want to be part of an innovation that’s changing. The product is what drives you.
As a regional sales director, I got with a company named BioTelemetry and watched a ride that was amazing for five-plus years where the company was doing outpatient cardiac telemetry. You’re changing your specialty that you work in, your call points. I’m on the West Coast. I lived in San Francisco at the time. I managed a group of individuals doing that, and that was incredibly rewarding because the culture that was built within that sales team was remarkable. When I went to the company, they were not like they are now or were a few years ago. Their performance was not where it needed to be overall. They’re changing the landscape of their sales team and how they’re selling it. To be part of that build was a lot of fun and I learned a ton.
I’ve never made a decision to change roles as I did. I worked in cardiology for many years. I enjoyed cardiology electrophysiology. You’d go through this to help you find your path. My brother lost his wife to cancer. She was 34. My brother is a Philadelphia police officer. He’s got four children under the age of eight at the time. You’d go through this cancer experience that I never thought of. I’ve never seen someone young go through it. I did my best to support him, my mom, my dad, and her parents. You’d go through an experience and say, “What happens if I was selling a product that was in cancer? How would that work?” If you want to get behind something, if you believe in what you do, you can do anything. If you can get folks to believe in what you do, you can be incredibly successful in leadership. If I found a product that I truly could believe in that way, that’s how I landed. It was serendipitous in some ways because you network with different friends and there are people you work with over time.
The company I’m at, Dendreon, is looking for a representative in the Northeast. I was able to think about doing this for those men that need this product. I’m like, “I can get a team of folks to rally behind that.” I do good work in the sense that I’m rallying these folks around a disease utilizing my sister-in-law that I’ve lost and say, “She didn’t have the opportunity for this because it wasn’t available for her but these guys do. These men that live with advanced prostate cancer, not for her but in a way for these guys, let’s make sure that they’re aware of it.” That’s always been my mission since I came to Dendreon. I repeat it all the time because it keeps her in the forefront of my brain and my family’s brain, which is great, as well as, we know we’re helping people. I would say we make changes for different reasons and was unlike any change I’ve ever made. I’ve advanced my career in this company, BioTelemetry. I love what I do. I love the people here but there’s something else out there that could also be personally and financially rewarding for me.
That’s a personal story that you can relate to in the work that you’re doing.
You don’t always find that. I do feel lucky that I have that. Years ago, when I was selling or managing in diabetes, I didn’t have that connection. Folks living with diabetes, I got to understand what their struggle was like but I didn’t have that personal touch to that. This is a different balance. You have to also be able to lead that way and not seem cliché. You want to keep people focused. It’s easy to keep people focused when you’re talking about metastatic cancer. You’re talking about something pretty serious.
Derek, reflecting back, would you have done anything differently?
Early on, you need to understand what a mentor is, where to take advice and how to follow. Luckily, I feel like the world, with social media and other things, provides that. What I would have loved to know was how to better network in certain ways. I don’t think we all can be excellent at it, but I would love to improve that. Also, I would have probably pursued an additional degree or some advanced degrees earlier on, be it a Master’s in Business or a Master’s in Finance. If I had someone providing me some of that guidance, I would have done that rather than be thinking about that over the years, and I still haven’t done it because I have a life and you have a family and there are other responsibilities. There are finances involved in that as well and time.
It becomes harder to do that.
I learn better in person. To do any type of online learning, I already know for me and my learning and how I learned, it’s going to be a challenge. To travel 3 to 4 days a week and you have to do things remotely in a hotel, you already know you’re putting yourself in that challenge. That’s what I would do differently. Why? I’d be better positioned in five years when I want to do different things with my career. It would be better if I had some of that network as well as some of that experience at the time. If I was talking to a younger Derek, that’s what I would say. I probably would have debated with myself and not wanted to do it as well.
I’m going to shift gears here. This is a fun segment that I like to call Dr. Marn’s Lightning Round. It’s a short answer and let’s see how you do. Beaches or snow?
If you could travel back in time, what period would you go to?If you can get folks to believe in what you do, you can be incredibly successful in leadership. Click To Tweet
Who inspires you?
My initial answer is God. That’s truly how I view it. That’s the first thing on my head and I was trying not to say it. It would sound cliché but it truly is.
How often is it healthy to cry?
Multiple times a week.
Don’t start crying during this episode yet.
I already hit that requirement.
What type of milk do you like in your cereal?
I don’t drink milk.
Not at all?
No, but it would be 2% if I did.
LA or New York?
Can you tell me something about yourself that most people at your workplace would not know about you?
I directed a full-length play in college.
What was the name of the play? Do you remember?
Bitter Sauce by Eric Bogosian. It wasn’t long but it was fun.
Derek, if readers want to reach out to you and learn more about you, is there a way they can do that, either social media or other contact information or email?
We could put my LinkedIn, I would prefer that. It would be a good source for folks that have any questions. Go that route.
Derek, thanks a lot. I appreciate you joining me on this episode.
This is awesome. Thanks so much. I appreciate you inviting me.
To learn more about our guests or other past guests, check out my website, HealthCareersWithDrMarn.com or HCWithDrMarn.com. If you like what you’ve learned in this show, then please go to my website. Add your name and email to my email list, that way you can get the latest announcements and news as they arise. You can also find me on Instagram, @DrRichardMarn. Thank you so much for reading. I’ll catch you on the next episode.
About Derek Corson
Experienced in Leadership and Management Positions within High-Profile Companies such as Dendreon, BioTelemetry, AngioDynamics, CCS Medical and Aetna; Possess a strong aptitude for technical products and service-related operations; Portfolio of Achievements includes Multimillion-Dollar Revenue and Profit Gains, Innovative Staff Development and success and advancement to management in both mid-size and large organizations