E-Vent-What's Your Approach to Selling?

Edition: October 2001 - Vol 9 Number 10
Article#: 1091
Author: Repertoire

Some questions are just too tricky to be answered with a ''yes'' or ''no.'' Still, just thinking about them can help us sort out our thoughts on a subject. Such was the case with this month's E-Vent question, which dealt with selling. Here's what we asked, followed by a sampling of your responses:


Some believe that sales reps can and must own the relationship with their customers. ''They [that is, customers] don't care how much you know until they know how much you care,'' they say. In other words, if customers know you care about them, they'll buy from you.


Meanwhile, others advise reps to give it up. We're in the age of the Internet, and our products and services are getting commoditized faster than ever, they say. And no matter what you do for them, your customers are gonna ask for lower prices anyway.


How about you? Do you believe in ''owning the relationship?'' Or do you believe it's time to ''drop the value-added and focus only on providing the customer what he or she will pay for?'' Why? And how do you sell?



Distributors


I think it is harder for a customer to move business away from a distributor they see face to face vs. someone at the other end of the phone line.


As a small regional distributor, ''owning the relationship'' is critical. Everybody sells product. We are all competitively priced, so the bottom line is the relationship you build with that customer.


My response to this depends on…the customer in the various markets we address. The acute care market is becoming more of a commodity market for the single-use product….This scenario changes when more expensive equipment is involved and end user relationships plus product and technical service come into play. The LTC market is similar, but the doc/clinic market is moving more and more towards ''best price wins,'' because in most instances, the distributor hasn't successfully differentiated his/her company or products.


You never own a relationship; you earn the right for extra consideration!


The name of the game is still sales…. If you can't sell yourself, how do you expect to really ever penetrate an account?


Who wants to be the guy that walks in, takes an order and then leaves? Relationship is the key to our selling success…. We are trained to evaluate a practice, and then make recommendations that will enhance practice revenues and profitability while also improving patient care.


One way to combat [the] price game is to charge higher prices for ''value added'' services provided to your customers who buy on price only. This puts a real value on ''value added.''


Since my company does not participate in most major GPOs because we are regional, I depend on customer relationships and value-added sales. My customers have built up a trust in my product knowledge and concern for rising prices. This can never be achieved with electronic marketing.


I would be hard pressed to believe sales reps own the relationship. I believe the company that performs as a whole owns the relationship.


I believe in owning the relationship because that is what all customers want in the end. They want someone who's willing to jump through hoops for them, and the guy with the lower price is just not going to be there for them when they need it most.


What Internet company is going to help put a scale together, or fix a small mechanical problem that a seasoned sales rep has seen over the years and can complete in an office visit? Price is only an issue when you don't supply the added value service.


Owning the relationship allows me to hear of opportunities before the requests-for-quote are released. I then have the time to research my lowest cost alternatives and perhaps sell a different product than what the customer originally specified, thus increasing my margin and creating additional savings for my customer.


In the physician's market…if you don't offer value-added solutions, you not only are not helping yourself financially, you're not helping your client.


Being able to provide new or pre-owned equipment as well as excellent product education has given me insight into customers' and prospects' purchasing behaviors during the past few years. These guys could care less about what we (myself and other sales representatives) know, what our companies have to offer, our abilities to provide not only a product, but also clinical education and application resources. If the cost is right, they will buy it! …The question being asked here today is directed towards medical distribution companies specifically selling NEW equipment and supplies. We have news for these people: Physicians are shopping and shopping hard!


The most difficult part of the sales process is getting the customer to recognize the fact that YOU provide value and a service. THIS is what he's buying. It's not any different from paying a stockbroker a commission; he's the expert, and you pay for his assistance.


Price will always be a large part of the equation. That being said, if there is no ''owning of the relationship,'' you will always be open to someone coming in and taking your business based on price alone.


I believe customers are more apt to ''shop around'' for the lowest price on equipment purchases, but if a sales rep has the core supply business based on a relationship over time, he is still more likely to be asked if he can match any competitive pricing the customer may have found on their own through the Internet or by phone.


I had a customer tell me, ''I will pay 5 percent more from you because you are worth it.'' If I had tried to take advantage of the relationship by pricing my business more than that, I think I would have lost my customers' trust.


I had a physician tell me one time that a company that did everything over the phone guaranteed him a savings of $2,000 a year. My reply was, ''Don't you think the things I do here are worth $2,000 a year?'' He said ''You're right,'' and that was the end of it.


Manufacturers


For many products, the purchase/don't purchase decision is not in the hands of the customer; it's dictated by a large national contract. In this case, the sales rep still has the duty to serve the customer and make them happy so as to help ensure the renewing of that contract.


Although I agree that our products are becoming more commoditized, it is our job to provide the means to differentiate them. The salesman is an integral part of that process….


The Internet provides the sales rep a tremendous new tool to support the customer, [but] it can never replace the person who provides the human touch and support that makes the whole supply chain work.


You must add value beyond price, but caring about the customer is not as important as understanding and meeting the customer's needs.


If you are competitively priced, (not cheaper!) and your customers have confidence in you, then you will win a fair share of the business.


A salesperson, well trained, armed with quality products and a willingness to service their clients and build relationships, will succeed in time. As for pricing, it must be reasonable and at the same time profitable.


If you sell the value (above and beyond price) of your product, company, and yourself, you can develop a long-term customer that can withstand a price threat.


Customers buy from reps who help make their jobs easier - be it problem solving, quick response time, fair pricing, improved quality. Once the customer sees they can depend on you and that you try to work with them to solve their issues, they will buy from you if you have a reliable product.


If people do not want to buy from you, they will find a way not to, mandatory group contract or not!


By creating a broader relationship with the account and a deeper understanding of their issues, you are better able to meet their needs with your products and services, or create services that do meet the needs.


The reality is that we do business both ways, but enjoy building the relationships. That's what keeps us going. It's part of the challenge; it's competing; it's making your product more than a commodity; it's having fun while you ''work'' rather than just making a living quoting prices.


Maybe I'm old school, but I believe sales reps still need to press the flesh. It is human nature to make interpersonal decisions based on relationships.


Technology should only help both parties find each other. If you cannot find someone to pay the price, your price is too high or the market is not ready for the value you have assigned the product.


When all things are equal, customers buy from the people with whom they have a relationship built on trust. But things are rarely equal in the mind of the customer. Market research indicates that less then 25 percent of the time, price is the determining factor in a buying decision. However that same research indicates that customers use that excuse more than 70 percent of the time in order to let the ''other guy'' down easy.


When your customers are your friends, they buy from you no matter who or what price comes through the door.


Yes, some customers only want the lowest price, but what if you aren't the lowest? I would rather be competitive and have value-added services and annual dividends that I can promote and influence the customer with. The services and dividend may be small, but it gives you something to sell besides lowest price.


You can own the relationship, but product knowledge still carries a huge value in the eyes of the customer. Being visible and reachable still carries a lot of weight in making purchasing decisions.


Manufacturers Reps


What the relationship does is get you in the game by letting you have at least a chance for the business before the customer goes to the Internet.


There aren't many of us who can sell on relationship and higher prices all the time. That tends to break the relationship once your customer thinks you have been taking advantage of them.


Owning the relationship is still the bottom line. Does that mean that you can automatically set the price? No, but you have the right to meet the price or again explain why you are worth the price you have asked.


Persons buying on price alone show how shallow and shortsighted they are, and aren't worth the time or energy for maintaining a substantial relationship anyway. But their PO still feels good.


In reality, ''owning the relationship'' never existed. The customer always compares, as they should. However, once an overall trust is developed over time, it is more likely that the customer will lean in the direction of their proven provider. But they are not going to pay more for that trust, just give you the business at a fair and competitive price.


One can't qualify as a salesperson if you don't ''own'' your clients. They are MY people. I know birthdays, kids' names, hobbies, religion, you name it -- and I give service. If I decided to be lazy and forget the value-added -- the personal touch -- I may have it easier, and who knows, I might make more money (jury still out on that one). But one thing I do know for sure -- I wouldn't be as happy.


GPOs


Anyone who says the Internet can replace relationships probably still works for a dot-com that has yet to see a profit.


Being a nice person and someone who is easy to talk to and fun to be around may get you the appointment, but will it get you the sale? Now if you take all that and add to it someone who makes the customer's life easier, offers a quality product at a competitive price and always does what is promised, you stand a better chance to make a sale.


The personal contact and the frequency of it tells me how engaged the salesperson is and how interested they are in gaining/retaining my business. The sales rep who only calls on me once a year will get little attention from me when it comes time to make a competitive product decision.


To concentrate solely on price is to do your customer no favors at all. To offer to work collaboratively, creatively and honestly and to share expertise on driving out costs and increase clinical performance, is the better business model.


…The salesman who lets his customer know he cares by extra attention and follow-ups will be the winner every time.


Others


Too often, salespeople are taught that relationship selling is an outdated form of business. But after a quick review of most long-term clients, one will find that at some level, a relationship has been established to ensure that the business [is] maintained. [Consultant]


If a rep gives up their relationship, it won't be long before the rep's company gives him/her up. If price is the only criterion, why does the company need a rep?


I believe in owning the relationship. Health care facilities need assistance with managing their supply chain and making informed product decisions. Placing orders on the Internet is a small part of the supply chain expense to a facility. The real need is for managing the standardization process in making sure the products purchased are adding value to the health care being provided by the facility. Are the products used effectively to increase the desired clinical outcomes? How do I correct shipping errors on the Internet? Am I really getting the best-contracted price on all my purchases? Are there product alternatives that advantage the facility? All these questions can be answered by a committed sales rep.


Some things never change, but buying practices have, especially in the health care industry. If the supplier ''owns the relationship,'' what happens when the sales rep leaves the supplier's employment? Does the supplier lose the customer? Only questionably managed companies put such exclusive dependence on individual sales reps. A wiser strategy for suppliers is to produce products that have superior performance and meet customer needs better than others. Then suppliers are not so vulnerable, and in fact develop healthy businesses. [Consultant]


We need to cut the bottom line wherever possible and the supply end is where administrators continually ask for cutbacks…. Cut out all the frills and generally unwanted services and bundling of products, and give us reasonable prices. [Hospital]


Maybe we, as providers, are too stupid, as most in the med/surg supply business think, to grasp the value of what you offer anyway. So drop the value-adds and focus on lowering our prices. That we can understand.


As a provider, I desire both service and price. Electronic capability is great for ordering supplies and maintaining the ongoing day-to-day needs. However, the relationships are necessary [for me] to keep up-to-date on new products and promotions that a company has to offer.


For me, the interaction with a client is what makes the job worthwhile. I think that if selling is a career, and not just a stopgap, interim job on your way to something else, then first you must sell yourself before you sell the product….People buy from people, not companies. [Former pharmaceutical rep]


If I am interested in my own needs, I can be nothing but a peddler of stuff, no better than the hucksters of the early last century. If I am interested in making my customers' life better, easier, more comfortable, and making him look good, then I become a professional problem solver, consultant and close friend.


I believe in open and honest relationships in all areas of life. I want to give reps all the info so that they can provide me with the best product with the best value. I, in turn expect them to be open and honest with pricing and the quality of their goods and services. Owning a relationship indicates that someone has more power in the relationship, and I am not into power trips; life is too short.