Soft Sell

Edition: December 2003 - Vol 11 Number 12
Article#: 1730
Author: Repertoire

The GE-PSS agreement may test how far reps can and should go in selling software solutions.

You don’t have to be an IT expert to sell digital technologies. But you do have to understand how your offering will affect your customer’s business.

“The rules for selling anything are the same,” says Dick Moorman, Midmark vice president of sales, speaking about selling Midmark Diagnostics’ Diagnostics Workstation Software to physicians. The software allows the doctor to digitally acquire, store and display a number of diagnostic tests for their patients. “It really doesn’t matter if you’re selling widgets or nuclear reactors.

“It starts with knowing your product and, more important, knowing what problems your product will solve for the customer. After that, it’s simply a matter of understanding the steps of a sale.”

Adds Don Abbey, general manager of Welch Allyn’s cardiopulmonary business, speaking about selling that company’s newly acquired line of PC-based cardiology products, “We don’t expect [distributor reps] to be experts in this technology. The key is for them to understand workflow and a solutions-oriented sale. Is the ability to move and manage data more of a benefit to one doctor than another? If so, you can steer them toward a product that’s geared toward that.”

GE, PSS Agreement

PSS’s recently signed agreement with General Electric Medical Systems Information Technologies may push the limits as to how far medical products reps can go in selling straight software.

In September, GE Medical Systems IT and PSS announced that PSS reps would begin selling GE’s Centricity Physician Office Practice Management and Centricity Physician Office EMR, or electronic medical record.

Although PSS reps aren’t expected to become IT experts, they’ll have to adopt a broad view of what they can offer a clinic or physician’s office.

The product offerings fit well into GE’s strategy to offer a total solution to physicians. “Centricity EMR is the tool that connects myriad clinical systems to the physician,” says Jim Dhein, director of distribution sales for GE Medical Systems Information Technologies. “And the EMR provides all relevant data to physicians when, where and how they need it.”

Up until now, the electronic medical system had been sold on a direct basis, while the practice management system was sold on a direct basis as well as through value-added resellers, or VARs – who are to the software industry what medical products distributors are to the medical products industry.

“There were really several decisions to be made,” says Dhein. “First, was our product ready for mass market distribution? Second, did we have the support mechanisms in place to support this channel? And third, was the market ready to accept a strategy like this? In all cases, the answer was a solid ‘yes.’”

Track Record

Centricity has a proven track record and a well-established sales team, says Dhein. Already installed in 3,000 office-based physician practices, the practice management system (which GE Medical Systems acquired as a result of its acquisition of Carrollton, Texas-based Millbrook Corp. in January 2003) allows physicians to automate such administrative functions as scheduling, patient information, billing, insurance claim processing, accounts receivable and collections, and inventory control. The electronic medical record (formerly Logician from MedicaLogic) allows physicians to integrate their patients’ medical information into a single electronic record that moves with them even into the hospital.

The logic of selling Centricity through GE Medical Systems Infor-mation Technologies and PSS – two companies who are well known to many physicians’ offices – was overwhelming.

“We believe that the market is ready for exactly this type of purchase scenario for their IT solutions,” says Dhein. “It gives the clinic the ability to make a very strategic purchase from two companies they know will be with them for the long haul and with whom they have a strong relationship.”

Accounts can have confidence that their salesperson won’t disappear after the sale has been made. “They know they’ll see their PSS rep every week or every two weeks, so there’s accountability,” says Dhein. “It will make them comfortable with the decision to move forward.”

That’s not to say that VARS – many of whom are local companies – have been ineffective selling and supporting the GE Medical Systems IT products, says Dhein. In fact, GE will continue to rely on some of them for sales of the Centricity products.

Reps’ Training

The success (or failure) of the new sales strategy depends to a large extent on how well PSS reps can take the sale of Centricity products “out of an individual product sale and into a clinic strategy,” says Dhein. They will need to understand the power of electronic medical records and practice management systems – in other words, an understanding of GE Medical Systems’ “total solution” for the physician office.

Step One in the new sales strategy has been to get the PSS reps up to speed on the Centricity products. At press time, the GE Medical Systems IT sales team had presented Centricity to all of PSS’s branch locations, and both GE and PSS were preparing to roll them out at PSS’s national sales meeting in November.

“The goal is not to create 750 Centricity sales reps, but to demonstrate the power of this strategy to grow our mutual business,” says Dhein.

The plan calls for PSS reps to identify potential sales, then call in the GE Medical Systems IT sales group. “Without a good communication process or channel, this could get messy in the eyes of the customer,” says Dhein. “But now, the process is working smoothly.

“We identify the lead person in the eyes of the customer, and the team works under the direction of that person. If the PSS rep is driving the process, that’s OK. But if the PSS rep prefers that our account executive drive it, that’s OK with us, too.”