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Don't Be A Dinosaur
By Wayne Care

Dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have an opposable thumb and couldn't type.

Oh sure, there are scientists that talk about "earth cooling" and "asteroid" theories. But they know nothing about sales. Dinosaurs couldn't hold an order pad and didn't have access to computers.

You can hold an order pad…but do you avail yourself of the myriad of available computer tools and resources? If not, you may be unknowingly contributing to your own obsolescence.

When it comes to computer technology, many of your customers may be less sophisticated than they should be, but they're probably more savvy than you think. While fewer than 7% of physician practices order online, most of them realize that they need to make better decisions and be more in tune with current changes in the distribution of information.

Some predict that most offices will be Internet savvy and using this tool by 2002. Some of the more conservative prognosticators predict 2005. Whatever the case, each year we will see more customers looking for more sophistication in both ordering and information.

As evidence of change, check out your own customers. Ten or 15 years ago very few physician offices had professionally qualified office managers, but look at them now. It is not unheard of for the manager of a large practice to have an MBA or a master's degree in health care.

Word Processing
The day of a hand-scrawled quotation is over. If you're not using computer-based word processing for presenting quotes you should be. Even if your company doesn't provide you with the tools to make visually appealing, customized quotations, then you need to find a way to improve that task.

In addition, more and more quotes include services and value-added programs as part of the determining factors. Many customers now send out their RFPs (requests for proposals) on diskettes with pre-formatted columns for unit price and extensions.

Here are some tips on writing the proposal:

  • Typos always count! Use your spell check function and have someone else proofread it as well. The word "their" or "there" will be equally acceptable to the spell checker, so it is important to have someone proofread to make certain that the right word is used in the right context.

  • Invite "Miss Crabtree" to edit for content and also for grammar. Many word processing programs have features to identify grammatical errors or even syntax, but nothing will ever replace having a different pair of eyes read it over and offer comments.

  • Use active, not passive voice (e.g., "We shipped 400 lines," versus "400 lines were shipped.")

  • Be succinct. The only time more words count is in trying to write a 1000 word essay in high school.

  • If the questions in the RFP are in a certain order, answer them in that same order to make it easier for the customer to compare one RFP to another.

  • Use no more than two fonts, choosing a simple, easy-to-read typestyle such as Times Roman, Arial, Arial Narrow, etc. Use at least 10- or 11-point type size for readability.

  • Answer the questions completely and clearly. In the past three or four years, one question has been added to several proposals that I have responded to: conflict resolution. "If the customer has a problem, what are the steps and time lines to reach a satisfactory conclusion?"

  • Think in bullet points (or, in TV jargon, "sound bites"). Make your point in short, direct sentences.

Data is merely data. When you can manipulate it into a usable form, it becomes information. Spreadsheets give you the opportunity to present information that the practice can analyze and use for decision making. Sometimes this information can be imported into a spreadsheet from another source; other times it must be reentered. The most common spreadsheet programs are Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1,2,3.

Business reviews with your customer are the perfect time to produce spreadsheets and charts to provide information on performance. Most spreadsheet programs have simple methods for turning a spreadsheet into a bar chart, pie chart or other visual. For example, if you're providing information to a customer on ordering compliance products, they may want to see how well their members or facilities are embracing the program. A bar chart shows the data in an easy-to-see and dramatic fashion.

Numbers can say anything you want. Pick data that are important to the customer. What areas concern them? For some, it may be the fill rate. For others, it may be compliance in converting to a specific brand or product. Yet other customers may be concerned primarily with how much is spent per patient at each of their facilities.

Take the example of a customer with three sites who has recently converted to you from a competitor. Site A has the potential of $12,000 per quarter; Site B, $20,000; and Site C, $8,000. We are in the second quarter of the program and doing our business review. We'll do two charts.

The first chart easily illustrates the dollars spent by site for each of the two periods. From this simple chart the customer can see which sites have increased and how much. Which site is doing the best? Site B has increased by the most dollars and has the largest total.


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