GPO and Vendor Reps: Different but Alike

Edition: April 2002 - Vol 10 Number 04
Article#: 1200
Author: Repertoire

Ask any GPO rep what distinguishes him or her from other vendor sales reps, and the answer will almost always be the same: GPO reps are consultants to the people they call on, not salespeople. But the fact is, their jobs closely parallel those of many Repertoire readers. They're out in the field most of the time, talking to providers about healthcare products and services.

Like distributor and manufacturer reps, GPO reps seek to understand their customers' needs and how best to meet them. Unlike vendor reps, though, GPO ''consultants'' act as liaisons between their customers and various distributors.

Repertoire spoke with several GPO reps about their job. Here's what they had to say.

Becky Maclin Bryant, Shared Services Healthcare
''We probably should be called account executives,'' says Becky Maclin Bryant, a regional vice president for Shared Services Healthcare, Atlanta. ''We're the liaison between the hospital and vendor. Our hospitals don't view us as sales reps per se. Our role is to find them money-saving opportunities via our manufacturers.''

Maclin Bryant, a VP for Shared Services these past five years, following stints with Chicago-based Premier and Charlotte, NC-based Sunhealth, has worked as a GPO rep for most of her career. And she can't think of anything else she'd prefer doing. ''This job is challenging, ever-changing and multi-faceted,'' says Maclin Bryant. ''Every hospital's needs are different, depending on whether they belong to Novation, Premier or another GPO. The job involves so many product lines, with lots of diversity. And, I enjoy working with all of the manufacturer reps,'' she adds.

Maclin Bryant was asked to join Shared Services soon after her former GPO, Premier, merged with SunHealth. Most of Premier's marketing division was wiped out by the merger, notes Maclin Bryant, including herself. ''After I lost my job, I thought about taking some time off,'' she says. ''But the position with Shared Services was appealing. I immediately fell in love with the corporate culture, which is very customer intimate.''

Today, Maclin Bryant's territory includes Tennessee, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, and North Carolina as far east as Raleigh. She calls primarily on hospitals and some surgery centers; nursing homes, long-term-care facilities and pharmacies comprise about 15 percent of her customers. Within the hospitals she visits, Maclin Bryant – like most GPO reps – meets with CEOs, CFOs, sometimes a COO, materials managers, and directors of pharmacy, radiology, purchasing, lab, and food/nutrition.

''My work calls for a balancing act,'' she says. ''For the most part, I'm working with Shared Services customers to show them opportunities.'' But, there are always prospective new customers to sign on board, she adds.

Ideally, Maclin Bryant has one office day a week, leaving four days for meetings with customers or manufacturers. ''If I'm meeting with every department in the hospital, I can only meet with one hospital in a day,'' she says. And, because some of her accounts are so spread out, one hospital in a day is plenty, she adds. Like distributor and manufacturer reps, Maclin Bryant fills out reports following calls on customers. Her reports typically include information on hospital staffing changes, requests for contracts and new leads. Her salary includes a base, with bonuses contingent on meeting objectives. ''When the objectives are met, the bonuses are paid,'' she says.

GPO reps may play a distinctly different role from distributor and manufacturer reps, says Maclin Bryant, but at the same time they must have a strong partnership with distributors and manufacturers. ''We're working as a middle person between the hospital and the vendor,'' she explains. ''Strong partnerships allow us to pass leads on to the vendors. They, in turn, can pass along leads to us.''

Ray High, Shared Services Healthcare

Ray High, also a regional vice president at Shared Services Healthcare, agrees with his colleague, Maclin Bryant. High regards himself as a ''go-between,'' between hospital and vendor. ''I have sales attributes,'' he says, ''but I play more of a consultative role. I help identify opportunities for my hospitals, bringing them the most value for their money. I look for the best deals and contracts in order to point my customers in the right direction.''

This is why his title is ''regional vice president'' as opposed to ''sales rep,'' notes High, referring to GPOs' holdfast tendency to avoid the image of sales rep in providers' minds. ''I view what I do as consultative sales,'' he says.

High, whose territory includes the whole state of South Carolina, the eastern half of North Carolina and Augusta, GA, calls primarily on the acute care market, spending only 10 percent of his time on nursing homes and long-term-care. Within the hospitals, High meets with CEOs, CFOs and materials managers, as well as directors of lab, pharmacy, radiology, patient accounts, plant services and environmental services. His work is a balance of recruiting new members, along with ensuring that current members remain active. ''We're a bit different from some GPOs in that we're voluntary,'' says High. ''We have no compliance rules for our hospitals. So, my job is to get our current customers to use more of our contracts.''

Prior to joining a GPO, High worked in different hospitals, first as a director of continuous improvement and then as a materials manager. He never considered leaving his hospital career until he was approached by Sandra Green, CEO of Shared Services Healthcare. The new job was appealing, says High, with much diversity and a range of challenges. ''We carry 550 contracts,'' he says. ''We must know something about everything, from food distribution to pharmacy and IVs.''

''When I visit a member, the dynamics of one hospital differ from another,'' High continues. ''I face different challenges every day. And, because I worked for many years in hospital administration, I enjoy dealing with all aspects of hospitals.''

Ann Pentz, AmeriNetCentral
Ann Pentz, assistant director of IDN services for AmeriNetCentral (Warrendale, PA) for the past 21/2 years, made a career choice similar to High's when she left her hospital roles as director of materials management and nutrition/food services to join a GPO.

''I was a longtime GPO member and very involved with AmeriNetCentral for about 16 years prior to making the transition,'' says Pentz. ''I wanted an opportunity to work with larger systems.'' She cites the complexity of her job, inherent in her role as a consultant, as a big career plus. And, she enjoys the travel – an especially good thing since her IDN team is responsible for 13 states in the Midwest.

Pentz meets primarily with large network corporate directors and some vice presidents. Like other GPO reps, she views her role as consultative rather than sales-oriented, and holds her customers responsible for this perception: ''I think this is the customers' point of view. It's not the label I place on myself.''

''I see my role as helping facilities accomplish their goals. I bring them the resources to make it happen,'' Pentz continues. ''I'm not selling one or two products. I look at the issues a system is facing and put together the right package. We bring solutions to our members or help them operationalize solutions.''

''In fact,'' notes Pentz, ''because I'm with my clients so regularly, I'm almost a part of their staff. One customer actually set me up with an office, a desk and a support system!''

Perry Davis, AmeriNetCentral
Perry Davis, a regional manager for AmeriNetCentral for the past four years, concurs with Pentz that GPO reps are first and foremost consultants. ''I do not consider myself a vendor,'' he stresses. ''I am a consulting and service person for the hospitals I work with.''

Davis, whose territory includes southwest and south central Pennsylvania, finds that in addition to meeting with clinical or purchasing directors, he spends a good deal of time with CEOs trying to forecast the bigger picture. ''CEOs don't talk about bandages and tape,'' notes Davis. ''They're looking for consulting and services. I let (my customers) know we're here for service and to help them find the best money-saving contracts that can help them run more efficiently,'' he continues.

Davis' role as consultant vs. vendor is reflected in the AmeriNetCentral service philosophy. ''We're not here to push products,'' he emphasizes. ''Our members appreciate this.'' Hence, AmeriNetCentral does not commission its reps, but keeps them strictly salaried. After all, an incentive plan is unnecessary for consultants.

Jim Pardee, Vector
Jim Pardee, a region manager for Vector (Providence, RI) for almost three years, left a manufacturer's rep job to join his GPO. ''The new job looked like an interesting challenge,'' Pardee says. ''You need to be both generalist and specialist and solve every problem every time. There are so many facets to a hospital, as well as a new generation of technology,'' he says. ''Every day I realize how little I know.''

Pardee, whose territory includes Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, speaks of the importance of service. ''Service seems to be highly valued by my customers,'' he says. ''They want to know: 'What do I get for my money?'

Like other GPO reps, Pardee may meet with the CEO or CFO, or with directors of various departments, including nursing, lab, pharmacy, or materials management. ''I may start with the materials manager, who can coordinate my efforts with the rest of the hospital. But, the materials manager doesn't necessarily look at different brands. At that point, I must meet with, say, the director of lab or X-ray to present the different possibilities Vector can offer.''

''GPO reps share a lot in common with vendors,'' says Pardee. ''We're both looking for a selling point, and in my case, that point is value – the most important point to bring to the customer's table.''

''We offer our customers a choice of vendors,'' notes Pardee. ''On the other hand, we encourage them to make their own choices. We need to discover what's on the customers' minds. What is their need, direction or goal? By getting the customer to talk more, you can learn how to fill his or her needs.''

Susan Ensminger, Vector
Susan Ensminger has been a regional manager for Vector for only a little over a year, but she is by no means a fledgling GPO rep. Prior to joining Vector, Ensminger worked for another GPO for 13 years. Ensminger, whose territory includes eastern New York, excluding the metro area, calls on everyone from the hospital CFO, CEO or COO to the directors of the OR, lab, food services and pharmacy.

Like other GPO reps, Ensminger stresses that she does not sell products. ''Rather, we sell a concept,'' she says. ''And that concept is group purchasing.''


Becky Maclin Bryant,
Shared Services Healthcare
• Age: 36.
• Time with current GPO: Five years.
• Background: Management consulting and GPO rep.
• Territory: Tennessee, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, North Carolina as far east as Raleigh.
• Market: Primarily acute care. About 15 percent of time is focused on nursing homes, long-term-care facilities and pharmacy.


Ray High, Shared Services Healthcare
• Age: 37.
• Time with current GPO: 41/2 years.
• Background: Director of continuous improvement and materials management for various hospitals.
• Territory: South Carolina, eastern half of North Carolina, Augusta, GA.
• Market: Primarily acute care. Nursing homes and long-term-care comprise about 10 percent of customers.


Ann Pentz, AmeriNetCentral
• Age: 44.
• Time with current GPO: 21/2 years.
• Background: Director of material management and nutrition/food services for community hospital.
• Territory: 13 states in the Midwest.
• Market: Large hospital networks.


Perry Davis, AmeriNetCentral
• Age: 46.
• Time with current GPO: Four years.
• Background: Respiratory therapist in hospital. Later worked in various management positions, including assistant administrator of a hospital.
• Territory: Southwest and south central Pennsylvania.
• Market: Acute care.


Jim Pardee, Vector

• Age: Early 30s.
• Time with current GPO: Three years.
• Background: Manufacturer rep.
• Territory: Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.
• Market: Acute care.


Susan Ensminger, Vector
• Age: 47.
• Time with current GPO: Over a year.
• Background: Originally a medical assistant. Then worked as a GPO rep for 13 years before joining Vector.
• Territory: Eastern New York (excluding metro area).
• Market: Primarily acute care. Small amount of time devoted to physician offices and nursing homes.