Marketing in the medical device industry

Our Head of Sales & Marketing, Caroline Cowin, has had to get to know her colleagues and our distributors largely through MS Teams meetings. Fortunately, she started her new role with almost two decades of marketing experience in the stoma care industry. So, the fact that her start date was 6 weeks before the UK went into lockdown hasn’t stopped her from getting stuck in.

How did you get into sales and marketing?

“I’ve always been in marketing. I completed my BSc in Environmental Science, then did a Masters in Marketing and Product Management. My first job after that was at the Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS) in Manchester. From then I moved first to animal and then human pharmaceuticals.

In the 90s I gave up my role as European Business Manager with a pharmaceutical company to emigrate to Australia. Within weeks of landing I had a job as the Category Manager for Gastrointestinal Drugs with pharmaceutical manufacturer Sterling Winthrop. I remember my first sales meeting took me to Hawaii, which was pretty special!

What drew you to the medical device industry?

“It’s much, much more interesting than frozen foods! I did enjoy the challenge of pharmaceuticals, but the development time is very long and expensive. I felt medical devices would have some of the elements I liked about pharmaceuticals, specifically working with products that could have a positive impact on people’s quality of life, but with a speedier time to market.

“Also, there’s a big difference in marketing something people want or would like, to marketing something that people really don’t want, but need. When you speak to a customer who is crying tears of joy because they’ve found a product that has helped them get back part of their life, that makes the work worthwhile.

“You don’t get that with frozen chips.

“I don’t think you get that with many marketing jobs, in fact.

“I’ve also been terribly lucky that my marketing roles in this industry have taken me across the globe to lots of international nursing conferences. Although it’s not all glamour! When you arrive at the booth after you’ve travelled for 9 hours and the stand builder has made an error, your heart sinks knowing that you have just a few hours to get it fixed before your boss arrives and the show opens.”

What does your day-to-day role at Welland involve?

“Every day is completely different. That’s part of what I like about it. Today I’ve got a product development meeting to dial in to. Then I’m talking to a distributor in the Americas and I’ve got some market data to analyse. Tomorrow I might be involved in negotiating a new contract with a distributor, reviewing marketing materials for a product launch, or talking to stoma care nurses or ostomates as part of a customer research project. And I have the regular catch-ups with my sales account managers and marketing team.

“One of the great things about working in a medium-sized company is that you get a lot more exposure to the other areas in the company. This means you understand the detail of the business a lot more, which enables you to be more flexible and more effective in your work. You don’t get the variety of projects, the insight or that flexibility working in a sales or marketing team in a big organisation.

“In a smaller company you also get to do lots of jobs you would never imagine getting involved in. Like putting lettering on the side of a building, for example! I once found myself having a trackside meeting with Network Rail because the company signage on the side of the building needed a powered access lift with a lifting arm very close to the track and overhead power lines. You’ve got to keep learning new things. That gives me a kick. Again, you don’t get that in a big company.”

What personal trait do you think serves you well in your role?

“Tenacity! I believe there’s always another route around a problem. Sales and marketing for medical devices isn’t straightforward. Every market has different regulations, and they’re changing all the time. You have to be able to step up to these challenges. The variety stretches you, which I think is really nice. But you do have to be tenacious.

“Also, I’m an ideas person. Some of my ideas are different, but I can get them out on the table and work with them. They help you find those ways around problems. Creativity and problem-solving is what it’s all about, and that goes hand-in-hand with tenacity – never giving in.”

Where should someone start if they’re interested in a career in sales or marketing in medical devices?

“My most useful qualification was my Masters in Marketing and Product Management. However, over the years I’ve had a number of students do student placements in my team, and I think that to a certain extent you can learn the skills you need on the job.

“A science or a business degree would give you a good grounding, or an English degree could be put to use. Being successful in marketing is not as much about your qualifications as it is about your attitude and your mindset.”

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