Edition: July 2002 - Vol 10 Number 07
Author: Mark Thill
How can you sell something if you don't know its long-range financial impact on your customers? That's the question that Sheila Dunn raises in her primer on reimbursement in this month's issue.
For years, suppliers have been preaching the doctrine of total cost vs. acquisition price, where total cost embraces far more than price. Often it seems that sellers become frustrated with buyers for failing to see the bigger picture. Yet without fully understanding how a physician will get reimbursed for the procedure in which he or she will use that new device or piece of equipment, you the seller can't really address the issue of total cost intelligently.
It's not fun, this business of reimbursement. Sheila is the first to admit it. You've got your CPT codes, your ICD-9s, your HCPCS, and so forth. Yet if you make the effort to master it, your customers will respond. It's like being in a foreign country. If a visitor makes an attempt to address the natives in their own language, he or she will find they open up quickly to him or her. There's an instant bond.
Now, no one's saying that understanding reimbursement will create an instant bond with your physician office customers, their nurses and office staff, or hospital materials managers, for that matter. But you will stand out. They'll appreciate the effort, and they may begin looking at you as a resource. Instead of perceiving you as someone with their hand perpetually out, they just might see you as someone who can help put some money into their hands.
We talk and talk about the ''consultative rep.'' But what does that mean, really? It means taking the extra step to learn about what makes your customers tick, what makes the difference between their success and their failure. It means learning about reimbursement and sharing your knowledge with your customer. But that's just one opportunity to be the consultative rep. Think of how many other opportunities there are.
For example, you have a birds-eye view of offices around your region. You know how successful ones are set up, what kind of equipment they have, what kind of recordkeeping systems they employ, even what kind of people they hire. You should take notes and share your knowledge with your customers.
Recently I read an article about actor Tom Cruise. Cruise commented that he used to be surprised when directors would ask him about techniques other directors use in their movies. He wondered why they should have such questions, to which one director replied, ''We're islands. We don't get to see what others do. But you do.''
That's you the sales rep. Your customers are islands too. They don't have that many opportunities to walk into other offices and see how they run. But you do. So, take advantage of the resources you have at your disposal. Learn your customers' language. Before long, they'll start speaking yours.