Is being too young or too old an issue in medical sales? Only if you allow it to be.

People who sell in the world of health care have age hang-ups.  That should be no shock, as people have concerns about age in most areas of life, both in terms of being judged, as well as judging others.  Medical sales is no different.

Sales representatives speak to me about the age issue more frequently than I ever  imagined.  Usually it’s a baby-faced sales rep who was just hired out of college and fears that the health care professionals to whom he sells won’t take him seriously.  I have also had conversations with older sales representatives who fear some gray hair or laugh lines might make it harder to get past the gatekeeper or to be seen as relevant in a rapidly changing healthcare environment.

Do customers make judgments about medical salespeople based on how young or how old they look?  The answer is yes…if you let them.

Ronald Reagan’s age was a factor during his re-election campaign in 1984.  At age 73, he was the oldest presidential candidate in history.  When asked during a debate with his opponent, former Vice-President Walter Mondale, if Reagan thought he had the energy at his age to serve as President, Reagan retorted, “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Just like Reagan, your age won’t be a factor unless you allow it to be.  You get to decide how your customers see you at your first meeting.  If you stutter and stammer like an intimidated schoolboy in the principal’s office who is trying to explain why he is there, your youth and inexperience is what will be remembered.  Likewise, if you confidently engage the customer in a value-focused conversation that leaves her with a feeling that you can make a difference, she’ll remember your knowledge and professionalism.

Sales representatives are often heard to complain that they don’t have a good product to compete, or “I could hit quota if I only had what the customer wants.”  A sales manager’s usual response is to “Sell what you’ve got.”  That’s good advice for products and services, but it also applies to the age issue.  Sell “what you are” as a benefit!

If you’re on the left side of the age curve, by all means make sure you are adequately trained and certified to a level of competency before you get in front of customers.  Then sell the benefits of being young and new.  New sales reps are eager to learn, eager to please, energetic and hungry.  They are often willing to go the extra mile to satisfy a customer where a tenured sales rep is too busy or has trained his customers not to expect anything more than what he delivers.  Younger sales reps will usually subordinate their egos and position the healthcare customer as the expert, which is something that all sales reps should do.  Many healthcare professionals like to help new sales reps to get established when they show drive and initiative and focus on the customer and the patient instead of just trying to sell a product.

If you’re part of the medical sales demographic who fears that streaks of gray in your hair or a lack of youthful good-looks is holding you back, get over it!  While it is true that there are health care professionals who will allow a young and handsome or pretty sales rep into their office for nothing more than to admire him or her for a few minutes, it will never provide the basis for a purposeful business relationship.  Pretty might get you into the office, but it won’t keep you there for long.  Competency will.

Age does have the benefit of perceived experience.  My hair was completely gray by the time I was 30.  I never liked looking older than I was, but it provided many of my customers with a level of comfort.  Often, I would be in the operating room with a product manager as both the surgeon and I were learning a new surgical procedure.  The product manager was usually my age but I looked 10 years older.  The surgeon would often verify any advice from “the kid” by soliciting my thoughts based on “my experience.”  With hair dye or shaving my head as my only other options, I learned to position “experience” as one of the selling points of doing business with Mace and I studied my ass off to make sure I could back it up with technical competency.

Age is only a factor if you fail to differentiate yourself to your customers in more important ways.  Don’t add a touch of gray to your hair if you’re 22 and don’t think that a facelift will help you to hit quota if you’re 62.  Just “sell what you’ve got” but do it competently and effectively so that your customers think of you for the value that you bring instead of how you look.