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Difference Between Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales

Thinking about making a transition into the healthcare sales field?

One of the questions that we hear a lot of candidates is “What is the Difference Between Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales?” Note that there are always exceptions to the below and the information in this article is certainly not meant to serve as the “end all” in your research. Rather the goal here is to shed some light on the two types of sales and how they typically differ as you begin looking at new opportunities.

Pharmaceutical Sales


Detailing begins by initiating dialogue with a physician – you sell your product in terms of its efficacy and benefits to the doctor and patient and then close for the business, that is a commitment you write a script for patients.

Market Share Driven # of Scripts

Most companies base their reps goals a % increase in market share or # of scripts written.

Typically Team Selling

Especially with larger pharmaceutical companies, reps are given a territory and have 2 to 5 people per team. This means that all of the reps may have some crossover and are calling on the same physicians. With this in mind, the bonus or payout is often based on the whole team meeting their goal. This type of sale can be a great fit for someone that thrives in a truly team based environment.

Note: Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the above. For example, many specialty positions allow you to have your own territory in contrast to being on a team. The same goes from smaller pharmaceutical companies that are looking to penetrate the market.

High Base Salary

Most pharmaceutical companies do provide their reps with a higher base salary,in comparison to some of the medical companies. This is one of the biggest challenges that reps face when they decide to transition into a medical sale. Mentally, it feels strange for anyone to transition into a sales opportunity where the base is likely to be lower.

Quarterly Bonuses

Most incentive payouts are on a quarterly basis and are often capped.

Medical Sales

Revenue/unit Driven

Medical sales reps typically strive to drive units or revenue in their territory.

Closing the Sale

This is probably the biggest difference between pharmaceutical and medical sales. In Medical sales, there is a true close. With pharmaceutical sales, the reps’ job is to convince their doctors to prescribe their product when they have a patient that could benefit from it.

Individual Territory

Reps in medical sales typically do not crossover into other reps territories. Where there is one territory, there is usually only one rep.

Monthly Commission Payout

Commissions are typically paid out on a monthly basis.

Lower Base, Higher Commission Payout

While your base salary may be lower than in pharmaceutical sales, usually the upside is higher. Pharmaceutical comp plans usually pay quarterly bonuses while medical sales companies usually pay an uncapped monthly commission.

As you can see from above, there are major differences between these two types of sales.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at:
[email protected].