Any Which Way You Can

Edition: May 2003 - Vol 11 Number 05
Article#: 1537
Author: Mark Thill

If variety is the spice of life, it’s also the spice of training.

Sales reps have more training options at their disposal today than ever before. And new ones are being presented to them all the time.

As they have for years, new reps travel with experienced ones, and spend a day or two with the folks in accounts receivable, the warehouse and customer service to see what their corner of the world looks like. Rookies and experienced reps alike continue to rely on manufacturers to help them hone their product knowledge.

Some distributors offer their reps the HIDA ADVANCE sales training program, which offers reps accreditation in medical sales as well as a growing number of master’s-level courses. (See “Sales Training Program Enhanced,” April 2003 Repertoire.) Others host one- or two-day vendor events, where reps rotate among manufacturers to learn about their products and promotional programs. Still others pay for their reps to attend off-site classes, sponsored by a manufacturer, distributor co-op or professional training organization.

And some manufacturers and distributors offer convenient on-line courses for today’s busy, computer-savvy sales professionals.

Opportunities for Independents

Co-ops such as Nashville, Tenn.-based NDC and Daytona Beach, Fla.-based IMCO are proving to be valuable conduits for providing first-class training to their members, few of whom can fund their own training departments.

NDC University celebrated its third anniversary last December with a program for rookie sales reps.

Since offering its first program (for rookies) in November 1999, NDC University has graduated 319 sales reps, says University dean (and StarLine Managing Director) Ron Fleitz. A total of 120 NDC companies have taken advantage of NDC University since its creation.

Fleitz is particularly proud of the fact that 83 percent of the 319 graduates remain with the distributors they were with at the time they attended NDC University.

Education has a way of doing that, says Fleitz. “It helps firm up a rep’s feeling that he’s part of a team,” he says. In the old days, young reps were given a catalog and told to conquer the world. Teamwork wasn’t a big part of the program, he says. “[Education] helps you fit in a little quicker.”

Faculty for the sales rep programs includes NDC’s Harvey Arnott, who focuses on territory management; Cindy Juhas of Hospital Associates, who covers the ABCs of sales (such as creating a business plan and prospecting); Fleitz who teaches time management; and others. Vendor rotations are part of the programs, as well as training on NDC programs that can help improve sales reps’ performance in the field, says Fleitz.

The University offered its first course in operations/purchasing in July 2002 and intends to offer a customer service course this year. The two-day purchasing/ops program, conducted by NDC’s Chuck Miller, focused on such issues as how to handle sales reps who don’t tell purchasing what they need, and how to handle returns.

Not to be forgotten, of course, are veteran sales reps. NDC University has programs targeted specifically at them. “We try to help them focus on the big picture,” says Fleitz. A lot of that has to do with gross profit management. “We say to them, ‘We’ll introduce you to products and manufacturers. But when you walk out these doors, you have to look at the big picture. That means acting as if you operated your own business. How are you going to keep your doors open?’ So literally, it’s about creating a business plan.”

Meanwhile, IMCO recently began offering basic sales training for its members’ reps, says Yates Farris of IMCO. Recently, the organization orchestrated “Basic Sales Training 101” in conjunction with Midmark in Phoenix. Reps were trained on sales basics, such as overcoming objections, presenting features and benefits, time and territory management, office setups, enhancing margins and sales leadership. They also got some hard-core product training. This month, IMCO is expected to hold a “Sales School for Champions” at Welch Allyn’s facility in Skaneateles Falls, N.Y. And this summer, the organi-zation intends to sponsor another training session at Midmark’s facility in Ohio.

“We’re just trying to find our place,” says Farris. “We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel.” Even so, IMCO intends to offer basic sales training courses once or twice a year at locations throughout the country.

“No sales training program is a cure-all,” says Farris. “It’s a continuing thing. It’s product knowledge as well as well as the mechanics of the sale, and all the other things that go into sales.”


Terry Burris, president of United Medical Supply in Greensboro, N.C., is a proponent of offsite (and onsite) continuing education. His company, which focuses on the physician market, has participated in every NDC University class since 1999. One of his reps attended the University on his very first day on the job. In addition, Burris routinely sends all of his reps to the annual StarLine meeting to attend the training sessions and visit vendors’ booths.

“I don’t believe the experience can be evaluated with dollars,” says Burris. “I believe the return in sales and profit dollars is far greater than the cost of them being absent from their territories and the actual cost of attending.

“Plus, it builds rapport among the reps and shows our commitment to them,” he adds.

Burris believes in mixing training with fun. Last year, he took all of United’s reps to Green Bay to tour the manufacturing and distribution facility of Graham Medical. While there, they enjoyed a Green Bay Packers’ football game.

“I very much believe in training,” says Burris, who began his medical sales career with Roane Baker (now Caligor). “Mr. Roane was very committed to HIDA and the sales training methods they used,” he says. “I still have my sales training manuals. There used to be a school in the Adirondacks, and I was sent to that. It gave me a taste for what training could do for you. That’s the way I was brought into the industry, so that’s how I want to bring our folks in.”

The Online Option

One of the newest training options – in healthcare sales, at least – comes via the Internet. More than 4,500 distributor sales reps are enrolled in EOL (a division of MDSI, publisher of Repertoire), an online product-training program.

“With the consolidation of the industry, we saw that product training was taking a huge hit,” says EOL President Brian Taylor. “Manufacturers are scrambling to figure out how to teach reps about their products.”

EOL consists of Web-accessible training modules, consisting of graphics and text, which demonstrate the salient points of particular devices and pieces of equipment. Approximately 30 healthcare manufacturers participate in EOL, says Taylor. Participating distributors include McKesson Medical-Surgical, PSS, Henry Schein/Caligor, Cardinal and a number of NDC and IMCO members.

Distributor reps log on, study the module, take a test and get their test scores immediately. Their managers – and the manufacturer involved – can see who has taken the test and view the results.

One of EOL’s benefits, says Taylor, is that it allows manufacturers to get hundreds of reps trained on new products in a few days. “With today’s shorter life cycles, that’s vital,” he says. What’s more, it means quicker and more sales, he adds.

“It’s been tough to get people to change their concept of education,” says Taylor. EOL went live in December 2000. “But it’s gaining traction now. Manufacturers and distributors both want accountability.”

Aaron Medical, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based manufacturer of electrosurgical generators and cauteries, is an early adopter of EOL. Modules for three of its products – the 900, 950 and 1250 electrosurgery generators - are available on EOL.

"Given the size and magnitude of our company, it's impossible for us to get out to train thousands of reps," says Aaron President Rob Saron. EOL can fill that void.

But for online learning of any kind to work, the reps viewing the material and taking the tests have to want to learn, says Saron. "All you can hope is that those who want to learn will go in and learn a little bit about your product, so that the next time a doctor asks a question, that rep will be a little more educated. It doesn't take much to help you know way more than anyone else - with EOL or any other method. You can always get back and get more information."

When the Trained become trainers

What’s a well-trained distributor rep supposed to do with all that training? Well, make a lot of sales, for one. But just as important, he or she is equipped to go out and train others – not only new reps, but customers as well. It’s what many companies call “consultative selling.”

“If we can prove to be of value to someone, to be a consultant to them, business will follow,” says Ernest Thomas, owner of Eastern Medical and Surgical in Summerville, S.C.

Once a year, Eastern formalizes its role as consultant by sponsoring a day-long educational session for its customers. Recent programs have featured speakers from OSHA, who discussed bloodborne pathogens, safety products and the law. Eastern has also provided compliance training for the new HIPAA privacy ruling.

But consultative selling takes place on an informal, daily basis as well, says Thomas. “We communicate [to customers] what’s going on in the marketplace, and what we can provide of benefit to them. We tell them, ‘If you consolidate your purchases, we can put a package together that can save you money.’”

HIDA Consultative Selling Tools

Since 2001, the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) has produced a series of one- and two-page “consultative selling tools” for reps to read and to hand out to their customers. These brochures contain easy-to-understand information about important topics affecting providers’ practices or businesses.

For example, one selling tool on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides hospitals, physicians and long-term care administrators the basic information they need to comply with HIPAA regulations, says Mike Ford, HIDA’s vice president of distributor services. “With this tool, distributors will have valuable reference material to disseminate to customers, enabling healthcare providers to make informed decisions regarding their internal practices and compliance strategies.”

Meanwhile, the consultative selling tool on osteoporosis highlights the need for comprehensive osteoporosis testing and recommends that clinicians invest in testing equipment that will help identify the disease in its early stages, says Ford. Using the tool, distributors can stress the need for testing equipment in order to prevent patients from succumbing to bone fractures, which are major causes of morbidity and mortality among the nation’s elderly population. The tool also outlines treatment options and the need for physicians to help patients reduce their risk of fractures.

HIDA has produced the following consultative selling tools:

• Safe Needles: It’s the Law

• Needlestick Safety & Prevention Act: Overview and Enforcement Fact Sheet

• Flu Facts 2001

• Flu Facts FAQs 2001

• U.S. Emergency Federal Support Timeline

• Common Signs of Poor Nutritional Health

• Colorectal Cancer Awareness

• Influenza Disease Management Reduces Costs,

Improves Outcomes

• HIPAA: A Call to Action

• Osteoporosis Management: A Wake Up Call

• The Right Glove for the Right Job

• NEW CDC Hand-Hygiene Guideline to be released

• CDC Guidelines: Multidisciplinary Care Prevents CRBSIs

• Medical-Surgical Supply Formulary by Disaster Scenario

Ford says that HIDA intends to produce 10 to 13 more consultative selling tools this year on such topics as infection control, hand health and cervical cancer screening. The tools - which are sponsored by manufacturers - are available to HIDA members only.