How to Boost your Retail Sales Performance

With Round One of competitive bidding in place and Round Two coming; the removal of the first-month purchase option for standard power mobility; CMS’s pre- and post-payment auditing blitz; and the continuing dilemma of the 36-month rental cap for oxygen providers, driving new cash flow is a critical business necessity for many providers. And offering retail sales products for their patients is a key way they can do that

Even before some of these public polices were put into place, it was clear retail sales were going to be increasingly important to HMEs as Medicare funding’s position of primacy in their revenue stream started slipping. Cash has been on providers’ minds for some time because it simply makes sense. There are a wide range of patient groups that want certain types of DME that might not necessarily be funded, and a corresponding wide range of product offerings. Cash sales products cover a range of high-and low-price products across categories such as bath safety, auto access, compression and aids to daily living.

And cash sales have another appeal: There are many patients that might not have funding for a given piece of DME, but have the means and the will to pay for it on a retail basis. Likewise, there are many adult children of older patients willing to buy DME for their parents.

While cash has been viewed as important, providers are still at the base of a very steep retail learning curve. It is not what they are used to and it represents not just one new skill set, but a wide variety of skills they must acquire: merchandising, marketing, advertising, and sales skills. Let’s look at some ways providers can ramp up:

Adopt a selling attitude. Sales is a somewhat unfamiliar concept for HME provider businesses and their staff. It is too often unfairly viewed as trying to get the patient to buy something he or she doesn’t need. That is simply not the case. Sales, if anything, is the art of consulting with the customer. If staff can work with a client to better understand his or her needs, then staff can present the best solution for their needs. If management and staff can adopt that frame of mind, then they can position themselves for sales success.

Instill deep product knowledge. In the same way HME staff must understand their patients’ needs, they must also understand all the product options available so that they can provide expert advice and steer them toward a solution from which the patients will benefit and find value. This has multiple, lasting benefits. For starters, those patients will remember the satisfaction they derived from their experience and will return to that HME when they need something else. They will also tell their friends. And even if the HME provider and its staff aren’t able to make every sale, they will still establish the business as the best expert resource in its market place.

Shape your sales skills. Your staff might know their patients and their products cold, but can they put it together into a smooth verbal presentation? The ability to present well to customers (i.e., patients) does not come naturally. Even the best sales professionals take the time to polish their act. Work with your team to outline possible sales scenarios and act them out. Come up with answers to tough questions. Write out sample dialogues and exchanges and have your team practice them. It might seem a little silly at first, but once the team sees how much more successful their sales performance becomes as a result, they’ll take that practice very seriously indeed.

Build the right product mix. The key here is to start with your current expertise as a foundation. Look at your current crop of funding DME and research what other products would compliment that range as retail offerings. Would those products also appeal to your marketplace? Then those would serve as a solid starting point for expanding into retail.

Merchandise. It is critical to present your retail offerings in an easy-to-find and attractive way in your showroom. Ensure it is well lit, organized and has clear signage. Make sure to shelve products that complement one another next to each other (sheets next to support surfaces, for instance), and present your products in a way that encourages patients to interact with them.

Start marketing. Sales don’t take place in a bubble. You need to get the word out to your marketplace about how you can help local patients to drive them to your business. In the same way you probably energetically reach out to your referral partners, you must also speak to your local patients. Reach out to existing and past patients and let them know about your retail offerings as a start, and then start reaching our to new customers. Consider advertising specials on certain items to start driving interest. Also, contact your referral partners to let them know about your retail business. Study which campaigns and methods of marketing (newspaper, local TV, referral campaign, etc.) are the most effective and play on those strengths.

Consider your competitors. Chances are HMEs in your marketplace are expanding into retail, as well. Study what they are offering and to whom and determine if there are ways that you can gain market share from them and differentiate your business from them.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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