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Selling To The New Business Manager - For Fun and Profit, Try Business Partnering With Your Accounts
By Dr. Sheila Dunn

Medical practice consolidation combined with pressure from health care providers to reduce costs pose a new set of challenges for distributors. To maintain and grow their territories, distributor representatives must call on more sophisticated buyers who ask difficult questions and demand deep discounts. Some distributor reps find themselves unprepared to deal with these challenges. More importantly, some find that their companies lack the infrastructure to support their expanded roles.

Health care facilities are learning that to grow and prosper in a managed care market, they must be run like businesses. A growing trend is to hire business managers to cut costs and increase revenues. These people are likely college graduates or MBAs that have one thing on their mind: reducing costs. But many don't know a hill of beans about how medicine is practiced. This is where you come in-and you can reap the rewards from helping them do it.

Update Your Selling Approach
Although it may have been an adequate selling strategy in the past, a recitation of features and benefits alone don't cut it anymore. F & B's are great for those who care, like the "techies" in a practice, but business managers, on the other hand, don't.

Likewise, showing only how products will generate revenue also won't suffice for most accounts, especially capitated ones. Why? Because in a capitated system every product used or service provided takes money directly out of the doctor's pocket.

Assume that reducing your prices isn't an option and that you want the business at a fair price. How can you justify your prices to a business manager who just wants to cherry-pick distributors for the best price? By demonstrating how you and your company will be a better option in the long run.

You're Worth More Than You May Think!
One intangible any experienced distributor salesperson has to offer is his or her knowledge of medical products and how the best quality ones contribute to lowered costs by:

  • Making patients better faster
  • Keeping the staff safe and healthy, i.e., minimizing costly risk
  • Making patients more satisfied
  • Making the practice more efficient, i.e., saving time = saving money

The products you spend valuable selling time on should somehow contribute to lowered cost for the account. The manufacturer of the product should provide you with a selling strategy that demonstrates this; however, some manufacturers don't do a great job taking their products beyond features and benefits. Regardless, before you show a product, be well-versed on not just features and benefits, but also on how it can either generate revenue, improve patient outcomes, minimize staff risk, or save the practice time and money.

Get Into Other People's Business: Partnering Strategies
Distributor pros must show business managers that they are long-term players who are willing to partner with them to help them achieve their goals. Consider implementing some or all of the following ideas as "value-addeds."

  • Crunch their supply numbers to derive the cost-per-patient visit.
  • Hold quarterly business meetings to discuss how you can work with them to decrease their cost-per- patient visit.
  • Offer to substitute/standardize products to save money.
  • Provide "white-glove" service (unpack and put away supplies) in exchange for control of ALL the business.
  • Improve cash flow by increasing inventory turns.
  • Conduct customer satisfaction surveys to improve service.
  • Keep an error log (including how problems were solved) and discuss it at the quarterly business meeting.
  • Provide electronic order entry.
  • Provide value-added products/services (OSHA compliance, seminars, educational materials, etc.).

Even if your territory is in an early stage of managed care, you're undoubtedly under pressure from some accounts that want to cut costs. Consider implementing some of these suggestions to lay the groundwork for less "sophisticated" accounts that will soon take the plunge to professional management.

If your company doesn't currently offer any of these as a formal program, work with your manager to create one. Then get ready for the next series of changes.....then the next.....


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