Reducing the Speed Bumps; And Other Uncommon Yet Powerful Sales Methods

Four common methods to grow sales include increasing the man-hours available to sales by adding sales personnel and removing non-sales activity; increasing the effectiveness of the sales team with sales training, advertising, and motivation; expanding the market size by adding products and geographic coverage; and changing the competitive environment by changing prices (usually lower), hiring competitor's staff and even purchasing competing businesses. But you don't have to be common.

There are a few powerful methods that are more difficult for competitors to attack and have less risk than the methods cited above. The following include the five best methods I have seen.

Team Building

This is the place to start. A supplier with a great sales force and a poorly developed team overall is just another revolving door for customers and referral sources to enter and leave. On the other hand, a supplier with a poorly developed sales force and great office team is likely to see the great office team become complacent or leave.

The fastest growing companies we have seen spend a lot of effort on team building.
The fastest growing companies we have seen spend a lot of effort on team building.

One of the fundamental elements of building a team is shared vision. Your employees must see the vision of your company as being worth their effort and time. Take time to create and share a powerful vision.

Ownership of goals, strategies and tactics are a must. Suppliers that have involved their staff in the planning process, informed them of the business environment, listened to the solutions offered by the staff, and adopted their ideas are getting productivity greater than the industry and greater than their company has ever had before.

Finally, those who have built the best teams have selected the right players for the team. Jim Collins put it this way in his book Good To Great, "Get the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the bus."

Pick The Turf

One supplier I know collected every type of patient and referral source imaginable in a quest to grow sales. While studying an analysis of profits by payer source and service, it became clear that all markets are not created equal. This supplier decided to focus on certain payers and services. Looking back at this decision after about 18 months confirmed that picking the turf created better sales results and better profitability from each sale.

Another company decided to pursue payers that other suppliers didn't want and the company would adapt their business model to make it profitable. They have focused on acquiring capitated contracts from HMOs and have been very successful at it. Their sales have been growing at about 35 percent per year for more than three years and their profitability exceeds the industry norm by a factor greater than two.

What these companies did is not the same as finding and pursuing a niche.

Great companies show their employees how all tasks fit into the overall sales plan of the company.
However, establishing a niche is another powerful way to pick your turf. There are six steps to finding a niche:

*Identify all of the people and entities in your market on any given day.

*Identify the needs and problems of these people and entities.

*Identify your company's core competencies.

*Identify the products and services used by your core competencies.

*Match your competencies, products and services to the needs and problems of the market.

*Filter out those matches that have competitors, low profits and other undesirable characteristics.

Give Your Customers What They Want

Most businesses try to make the choice for their customers or patients. The supplier does so by selecting the products that they will carry, at the price points they think are right, with the features they believe are best. Then suppliers offer these products and services to their market. The offering includes all of the reasons that the selection of products and services is the best available. The supplier may be successful in their offering, but when all of the dust settles, it matters little what we think is best. The most successful businesses are those that give the customer what they think is best.

Ask customers what they want. I recently asked a crowd of about 75 suppliers to show their hands if they had spoken directly to a customer in the last week. Only about five claimed to be in touch with their customers. When I rephrased the question to ask how many had spoken directly to a customer in the last month, the show of hands doubled. It seems that a supplier that wants to be a real standout in their market need only to ask one or two patients per week what they want in products and services and then give it to them.

Make Sales Everyone's Job

There are two thoughts here. One, that everyone sells the company's products and services. And two, that everyone in the company has something to sell.

First, great companies don't live off their sales force alone. They have everyone in the company selling the company's products and services at every opportunity. They can do this because they have built a team that takes ownership of the company' results and their role in the results. Companies can do this because they are on a mission. These kinds of companies reward employees for the company's performance as well as the employee's performance in his or her own field.

Second, great companies teach everyone that they are selling authorizations, or selling the payer on cutting the check, or selling the discharge planner on the next referral. Great companies show their employees how all tasks fit into the overall sales plan of the company.

Get Ink

This is marketing speak for getting press. Get the news media in you market on your team. Media relations is an important part of growing your sales. The value of getting ink isn't limited to benefiting your sales force; it even goes to your team building efforts and the pride your employees take in your company and their roles in it.

Remember that being out of sight is out of mind. If you only can call on some of your referral sources once or twice a month, you should ask yourself who and what they are thinking about when you aren't in their presence.

Have someone in your organization get in the habit of looking for the opportunity to issue a press release. Good reasons for press releases include hiring an employee, promoting an employee, getting a new contract, adding a line, winning an award, attending a show and participating in a state or national association.

Learn who the media players are. Meet them and learn what they want to achieve and how you can help them achieve it.

Remove The Speed Bumps

For most of our businesses, the speed bumps come in the form of restrictions that we place on our people that prevent them from getting a task done as fast they could otherwise perform. Look around your organization and ask your people what policies and procedures slow them down. Find ways to remove or reduce the artificial hindrances to growing sales.

This article originally appeared in the May 2002 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Vaughan Harshman, PE, is a chemical engineer with more than 20 years experience in the wastewater odor control field. He is currently an odor control sales representative for USFilter, a Siemens company. Vaughan can be reached at (941) 355-2971.

Ronn Schuman is CEO of Connectyx Technologies Corp. Founded in March 2003, Connectyx provides business intelligent software, which incorporates technical excellence, innovation and performance. Visit


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