Okay, You Need Some Work: The Drive For Quality
widgets are on backorder."
"We shipped sponges instead of syringes."
"We delivered Dr. Doe's order to Dr. Smith."
"I work my tail off all day and all you have to do is
fill the orders and you mess it up!'
"How do you expect me to compete with such bad service?"
familiar? If you haven't offered that complaint to operations
you haven't been in medical supply sales. Mistakes are the
bane of sales-"sales prevention" at its most virulent.
It's the reason why we don't sell more, right? Our competitor
never makes these kinds of errors, or at least not as often
as we do. Who hasn't heard or spoken all of those refrains?
easy to spot errors. They are the "hassles" that
lose customers, prevent prompt payment, and basically make
a salesperson's life miserable. What causes these mistakes?
Inattention, nonperformance of tasks, poor training, incompetence,
lack of organization-each of these could be part of the reason.
Most companies use initiatives such as TQM (Total Quality
Management), CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement), or another
one of the dozen or so programs designed to improve quality.
These programs set standards or benchmarks and develop processes
for training and "error cause removal." Companies
set goals to measure progress against those benchmarks. They
develop comparisons, internally or externally, to the "best
of the best" practices.
are easy to quantify and fit well into quality improvement
initiatives, but the sales side of the business is a different
story. How can you determine what business was not gained
or what business was lost from the sales side? It is impossible
to quantify missed opportunities. When we lose a customer
from sales rep error, most times we never know it.
a company, quality must be driven from the top down, but sales
reps must drive it for themselves. How do we define quality
in a sales representative?
Is Consistency Of Performance
We can quantify and measure mistakes in picking or packing
or shipping. We can measure how many customers receive busy
signals, and measure their wait time to speak to customer
service. But there is no measurement criteria for how many
sales calls are not made, how many customer calls are not
returned promptly by the sales representative, how many bids
are lost due to errors in preparation or pricing.
define quality as "doing the right thing, on time, every
time." The concept of "quality" is not a moral
issue, but it is the conformance to requirements. When you
are critiquing your own or someone else's performance, the
issue is whether requirements are met or exceeded-not whether
the person is "good" or "bad" (it is not
personal at all).
Customers Demand Quality Performance
It's no surprise that many customers now ask questions about
response time as part of their request for proposals (RFPs).
They want to know the time it will take for their sales representative
to respond to their questions or needs. I've found two primary
reasons for this: bad experience in getting response from
sales representatives, and difficulty in quickly accessing
customer service to get answers.
recommend that sales reps take the initiative and proactively
address whether the customer asks the question or not. An
example might be "I usually answer all telephone messages
within 24 hours." The customer will usually indicate
whether that is adequate, or will tell you that they require
response in X amount of time. Either way you've set an expectation
that they can measure.
consistent and persistent are your primary responsibilities
as a rep in the physician market. You can establish this pattern
and expectation from your first visit when you announce, "I
will be here every other Tuesday," or, "I am usually
in this area every other Tuesday, but could be here on Wednesday
mornings also. Which is more convenient for you?"
you have just done is address two critical issues to the practice:
when they can expect you, and how long it will take you to
respond if they have a need at a time other than on your call
schedule. Consistency builds trust.
you establish criteria, you must meet or exceed that standard
every time. Just as you can't be "a little bit pregnant,"
you can't be "sometimes consistent." The goal of
a sales rep boils down to developing trust. People buy for
many reasons, but one of the most important is trust. They
trust the brand name, they trust the store, they trust the
sales rep. Consistency of performance develops trust. The
cliche image of the used car salesman is the archetype of
not trusting someone.
You A Typical Sales Person?
A hospital asked me to give a short seminar about sales to
their marketing department. I asked how many of them considered
themselves to be "typical" sales representative
types and no one raised their hands. I then asked how many
had an image of a guy in a bright, plaid suit with sleazy
ethics and many raised their hands. Why didn't they consider
themselves typical sales people? They felt that their customers
could trust them.
had another customer emergency and couldn't make it to Dr.
Doe's office. He'll understand." Sure he will, but he
will also have established the first chink of weakness in
your credibility. Call the office and explain that you won't
be able to make your usual visit, or ask customer service
to do so on your behalf. A commitment of time is an implied
contract and when you start breaking your own rules you damage
your own credibility.
"The practice is too busy and they don't want to see
me every two weeks." That's fine. Determine when they
do want to see you and keep that schedule. If they determine
it is an "as needed" basis you should still make
sure you visit on a routine basis. Never let a month pass
without poking your head in the door and just saying hello.
Every visit does not have to be lengthy, but it shows your
interest and accessibility to that customer.
Maintenance Equals Goodbye
"They're a low maintenance account." Well my friends,
I have seen more low maintenance accounts lost than high maintenance
accounts. Why? They're easy to work with. We ignore them and
assume they don't have the same basic needs as others. That
's simply not true. I think the phrase "low maintenance"
and its implications should be banished forever from a sales
may be a low maintenance account to you may be a high priority
account to your competitor. Once your competitor breaches
the gates, they can then use their own weapons to out-gun
you. What starts as "John is responsive; I see John whenever
I need him" becomes "Well, as long as you are here,
I do need a widget or two and I am not sure exactly what I
worse, "I'm not sure if John's company carries that chemistry
analyzer/stress system/pulse oximeter, [fill in the blank]
and, now that you've mentioned it, here's the order"
hasn't gone into an account where they have "all of the
business" to find that they have acquired something new
from another source? Is there a worse feeling? One common
reaction is "I didn't even know you were looking for
that product, " to which the customer replies, "I
didn't even know you carried it."
bottom line: Consistency builds trust and trust builds loyalty.
Ignore accounts at your own peril no matter how easily maintained
Okay, you say. Things can't always be perfect. But if the
world operated at 99.9% efficiency the following would occur:
million documents would be lost by the IRS annually.
checks would be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in
the next hour.
babies would be given the to the wrong parents each day.
incorrect medical procedures would be performed by the end
pieces of mail would be delivered incorrectly in the next
pairs of mismatched shoes would be shipped this year.
quality service to your customers means doing the right thing,
every time, on time. It's your responsibility as a professional