Road Warriors

From March 1997 until May 2004, I had the pleasure of working in various business development capacities for a large medical equipment manufacturer. This was truly one of the more enjoyable times of my professional life. I met some great people -- both colleagues and customers -- while enjoying success in driving sales and revenue. As my successes did not happen overnight, but rather with a lot of planning and patience, I wanted to offer some suggestions to the many road warriors who are most likely entertaining the same issues and concerns that I did. Whether you are a manufacturers' rep or working in a sales capacity for a dealer, you can use some of the ideas listed below to increase your long-term sales and revenue. Please keep in mind that the following is a brief description of strategies and tactics that have proved beneficial to me over the years.

Develop an attitude for success.

It is vital that you mentally prepare yourself for each sales call. Take a few moments to remind yourself why you are visiting with this account. One should make a practice of writing down key points you wish to discuss with each customer. Please be advised to clear your head where as the only thing you are thinking about is how to win that account over. It is my experience that reminding myself to check my ego at the door, as well as to always be relaxed and in control was quite helpful. While this might be construed as arrogant, I always believed that I was offering something to my customer that would change their life for the better and I was always so excited to get in and tell them about it.

Be prepared for the meeting or sales call.

The following are some suggestions as your sales meeting is just getting underway:

  • Pay attention to the pace of the meeting and adapt as it changes.

  • Eye contact is key as it lets the client know you are interested and also allows you to observe the reaction of your client.

  • Notice your surroundings: If you can notice any personal affects, it might give you a better idea of the type of person you are working with.

    You have two ears, two hands, and one mouth so listen and take great notes.


    While it is important to cater to existing accounts that have remained loyal, it is obviously vital to work with new customers in order to grow.

    Create a selling atmosphere.

    Please be reminded that the most important goal of any rep, is to ensure that your client or potential client is at ease and comfortable. With that said, please refer to the following suggestions:

  • You are not there to sell, but to consult and help to fill a need.
  • Appeal to the heart and emotions.
  • Do not use confrontational words. Get in the habit of using terms such as: available for, agreement, proposal, own, obtain, acquire, approve, authorize, involved with, worked with, relationship, partnership or investment. If you are about to use a word or term that reminds someone that they are going to buy something or that you are selling something, stop yourself, and use a different word. An example of this might be, "I have had the pleasure of working with John at ABC Medical, and I believe he would tell you he has received a great value for his investment over the years."
  • We are all consumers at some point in our lives, so just honestly think how you want to be treated.
  • Try and arrive at even the smallest of yes's. With this said, it is up to you to ensure that the question you ask will result in a response of yes. Begin your questions with phrases such as; don?t you agree, isn't that right and don't you think? Perhaps asking a dealer a question such as, "Wouldn't you agree that it is important to work with a manufacturer who offers a strong warranty and product support?"
  • Prepare to make cold calls.

    While it is important to cater to existing accounts that have remained loyal, it is obviously vital to work with new customers in order to grow. I always looked forward to visiting a new dealer as I looked into the future and imagined how the both of us could work together and mutually benefit. With that in mind, here are some cold calling suggestions:

  • Remind yourself to be casual, relaxed and perhaps use a bit of light humor.
  • Whatever information is given to you, write it down.
  • There typically will always be a gatekeeper. It is vital that you treat the gatekeeper as well, if not better, than you would treat the decision-maker. By the way, it always is a good move to send the gatekeeper a thank you note.
  • Get to the point.
  • Explain what you offer in terms of adding value to their business.
  • Anyone who gave you the time of day should get a thank you note. You can either buy generic thank you notes or have specific cards made with your company name and logo.
  • For overlooked or lost accounts, it is quite conceivable that there is a specific reason why you are not working with an account. Do not just assume that an account will continue to not work with you. As was the case with some of my best customers, our relationship took time to grow. I happily think back to a customer, who after 18 months, finally started to work with me. I just would not give up, and he became one of my better accounts in my territory. Remember, each time you release a new product, or come out with special promotions, do not assume that a customer is not interested.
  • Utilize publications and trade journals.
  • Build relationships with reps in the health care industry that are not in competition with you. If you represent mobility products, perhaps build a relationship with those who represent respiratory products.
  • Look in the Yellow Pages. Do not assume because a dealer does not have a big advertisement that they do not have a viable business. It is quite reasonable that a dealer has contracts with various insurance companies and does not rely on retail business.
  • Ask existing accounts for referrals. Some of the better new accounts that I opened up were referred to me by a current customer.
  • Use the phone as a tool.

    The phone can be a very useful tool, especially when prospecting. Here are some ideas that have always been helpful to me:

  • Speak with energy and enthusiasm.
  • Be genuinely happy to hear from whoever calls.
  • Make it a point to introduce yourself when you call.
  • Do not keep someone on hold for along period of time, if at all.
  • Find out the name of who you are speaking to.
  • Make frequent use of the name of the person with whom you are speaking.
  • If you hear their other line ring, encourage them to answer it.
  • Always confirm what you discussed before ending the conversation.
  • Make sure you have relevant information to make any follow- up calls.
  • If you have to leave a message, offer a reason why they will want to call you back.
  • Remember that you are not ruining anyone's day by calling.
  • Qualify the customer.

    To me, this is one of the most important parts of any conversation or meeting you have with a customer or perspective customer. It is very difficult, near impossible, to offer suggestions to a customer without knowing their needs. With that said, the following questions should help you learn more about their needs.

  • What products or services are you currently using? Make sure you get a lot of details such as model type.
  • What do you like or enjoy about working with this company?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improvements?
  • What criteria do you have for engaging in a business partnership?
  • It is vital that for each criteria they offer to you, that you ask that customer to clearly define exactly what they mean. If a potential customer tells you that they require good pricing or good terms, or prompt service, that is not enough information. You need to make sure you obtain more information. Don't walk away without getting more detail. Misunderstanding can occur when your idea and their idea of good pricing, terms and service might be dramatically different. If a potential customer tells you that in order to earn their business they require good terms, you must ask them how they define good terms.

  • Make sure that once a fair and reasonable price has been agreed to, that your business partnership can commence. This gives the customer the opportunity to voice any last minute concerns.
  • You also want to learn about purchase patterns, delivery needs and payment practices.
  • You also might want to ask yourself if this customer has a genuine need for your products or services. If what you are offering does not really meet their needs, you will gain a lot of credibility by saying so. Think six months down the road when you might have a product or service that will meet their needs. That customer will remember your honesty and integrity and be happy to meet with you.
  • Know how to negotiate.

  • Leave yourself some room to make future concessions.
  • Offer an exact figure.
  • Never argue.
  • Be prepared to walk away -- part friends, don't walk away upset.
  • Always get a trade off?better price for more quantity is an example.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Have your proposal in writing.
  • Do not agree to all customer demands all at once.
  • Be as gracious when you win as when you lose.
  • Make sure your client feels at ease and comfortable.
  • Communicate that your pain is their pain. Example: the slightly higher pricing enables us to provide quicker shipping, better warranty, and marketing assistance.
  • Be cognizant of how much time, energy, money and emotion each party has invested into the negotiation.
  • Flinch every now and then.
  • Not only negotiate major details, but minor details as well.
  • Overcome the concept of objections.

    Welcome objections as they typically mean that the customer is listening and is interested in what you are saying. In other words, objections are an opportunity to do business. With that said, please keep the following in mind:

  • Have a good idea of the more common objections before walking into any meeting.
  • If someone says no, ask them why.
  • Allow the customer to convince themselves.
  • Let the customer tell you their issues. Once they do, repeat what you think they said and meant so there are not any misunderstandings.
  • Inquire as to why they have a particular opinion.
  • Once you have clearly addressed the issues, make sure the customer believes the issues are resolved.
  • Ask the customer how they would resolve any issue at hand. If you do use their suggestion, send a thank you note to the customer.
  • Have the customer explain to you how they envision your product or service being of benefit to them.
  • If this is a potential new customer, find out who they worked with before starting a relationship with their current vendor. This shows that they are open to making a change if it will help their business.
  • Know the common objections in advance: not in the budget, need further approval, happy with current vendor, want to shop around, will call back in the future or do not have a need for your product.
  • Confirm that only the mentioned issues are what is holding them back and confirm once again that those issues are resolved to their satisfaction.
  • I hope these tips will help you drive your sales and revenue for your business.

    This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of HME Business.

    About the Authors

    Patrick Stevens is Vice President of Engineering at ADS. He has thirteen years of experience with ADS and over thirty years of professional experience in the field of collection systems engineering. Stevens has worked with numerous cities and engineering consultants to develop and deliver innovative flow monitoring programs for design, modeling, and rehabilitation of sanitary and combined sewers. Pat holds a BS in aeronautical engineering and an MS in environmental engineering from Purdue University. He can be reached at (256) 430-3366.

    Mike McKillip is the Product Manager for HealthTrainU. Mike has over 23 years of experience in the DME industry, with more than 12 years focusing on employee education. He can be reached via email at mmckillip@achc.org.

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