2004 Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Awards

Edition: October 2004 - Vol 12 Number 10
Article#: 1957
Author: Repertoire

I’s that time of year autumn in the medical-surgical sales industry. With the brisk fall weathercomes the HIDA conference and trade show. And with the HIDA show comes the announcement in Repertoire magazine of the annual Excellence in Sales Award winners. That’s right: this year there’s more than one winner.

Significant changes to the awards process have been made to strengthen the Excellence in Sales Award. Rather than just acknowledging a distributor sales rep, we also decided to add a manufacturers sales rep, given the importance of the relationship between the two. What’s more, as discussed by Chris Kelly in his publisher’s letter on page 6, we also changed the nomination process. The result: more than 300 nominations!

Repertoire and HIDA are proud to present this year’s winners and runners-up. As you read their stories on the following pages, you’re likely to pick up some tips that you can put to use in your own territories.

Winner: Excellence in Sales Award for Distributor Sales Reps Denise Hassler Consummate People Person

Were it not for a long commute, Denise Hassler might not be a sales rep today. But she is, calling on physicians and labs in the metropolitan New York area for Caligor, a division of Henry Schein. And she is the recipient of this year’s Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for Distributor Sales Reps.

Hassler first got into medical products distribution more than 20 years ago, working for ANR Diagnostics, a small family-owned distributor in Sea Cliff, Long Island. After the partners split up, Hassler helped one of them – Noelle Haft – rebuild the company. (Today Haft owns Mercedes Medical in Sarasota, Fla.)

“I learned every aspect of the business customer service, purchasing, accounting,” recalls Hassler. “I even did some shipping.” Later, ANR was purchased by a company called TotalMed, which itself was acquired shortly thereafter by Caligor. By this time, Hassler was general manager of the company.

Eventually, the company outgrew its Sea Cliff location, so it relocated to the Bronx. “But after making that trip [from her home in Suffolk County] for one year, I said ‘no way.’ It was taking me forever. It was either leave the company or go into sales.” She went into sales in 1990 (while pregnant with her first child). Today, the “Queen of Caligor,” as she is called, was most recently honored from among more than 600 sales consultants as Henry Schein Medical Group’s sales consultant of the year. Although Hassler hadn’t done any outside sales with ANR, she knew the accounts and she knew the products. For a while at least, it was simply a matter of arranging face-to-face meetings with the people she had been communicating with via phone or mail. Soon enough, though, she began expanding her territory and customer base.

The sales profession suited her, she found out. “I like the freedom to pick up and go out and speak with people,” she says. “It’s a challenge. And my personality matches sales.”

Indeed, Hassler’s success in the field can be attributed at least in part to four strong personality characteristics:

• Energy.

• Good organizational skills.

• A sense of fun.

• The willingness to delegate to others on the team.

In many ways, they all boil down to people skills.

Energetic and Fun

By her own admission, Hassler is “energetic” (to be distinguished from “hyper”).“The president at Emjay [a Henry Schein-owned company for which she worked briefly in the mid-90s] used to crack up, because I would have two or three phones going at the same time,” she says.

If energy propelled her forward, a keen sense of organization kept her on track and still does today. The mother of a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old, she carries a calendar that is smothered in color-coded highlights. It lets her know where she has to be at any time of day. Her husband, John, who owns his own business, helps out too.

There’s a third element she brings to her job: fun.

“Denise possesses a terrific personality, which makes doing business with her fun,” says Art Moran, Northeast vice president of sales for Caligor. “Customers enjoy doing business with her because of her obvious passion for her job.”

Adds Caligor Northeast Director of Sales Frank Rivas, “Denise is always laughing and genuinely enjoying her job, and it is this enjoyment that provides her success with both her many customers and all her fellow sales representatives and management. To put it bluntly, I am sure Denise doesn’t see her job as work, but as something she does every day that provides her much enjoyment and hence much financial reward.”

Letting Go

Energy, organizational skills and a sense of fun can carry a sales rep far, as Hassler has proven. Yet a rep who generated $4.8 million in sales and more than $1 million in profit last year needs something more a strong supporting team. And Hassler isn’t shy about using it.

“Our business didn’t get to be where it is just because of me,” she says. “Caligor is a huge organization. We have good people. You have to learn how to use them.” And she has.

“It’s way too stressful to try to do sales, customer service and the warehouse,” she says. In the end, the rep who tries to do it all ends up spending less and less time selling. “You need to let go, cut the cord, and rely on other people.”

If there’s a problem with an order, Hassler is the first to get on the phone to call the warehouse. Ditto with accounts payable problems, and so forth.

She credits her hands-on experience as general manager of a small distributor with heightening her knowledge of everything besides sales that goes into making a successful distribution company. But it isn’t one’s knowledge that determines his or her success in this regard, she says. Rather, it’s the ability and willingness to get to know all the people in the organization, and the willingness to call them or visit them when you need help. Good salesmanship simply demands it, she says.

“You don’t want to leave your customers stranded. When I say I’ll get back to someone, I do it in a timely manner. I won’t make people wait for me to get back an e-mail. I pick up the phone and ask questions. Sometimes the answer isn’t great, but at least I’m able to give that person an answer.”

Hassler has put her trust in the team on the line several times. For example, she orchestrated a tour of Caligor’s Reno, Nev.-based distribution center for a national laboratory client. “To fully understand what their needs were, and for them to understand how we worked, they needed to see the facility,” she says. So she traveled to Reno, helped out with the tour, and let the customers voice their concerns and questions to the people at the facility.

“Being in front of a person and actually hearing what they want, as opposed to e-mailing them, is more productive,” says Hassler. “I love technology, but sometimes you just need to be there.”

“Her efforts have led the customer to see the corporation as a total entity, and not just Denise as the only person who can help in times of trouble,” says Moran. “By ensuring that the customer understands Caligor, Denise can continuously pursue new opportunities and let the Caligor army of support people do their job, and build on our relationship with the customer. Denise becomes the facilitator of how to work with Caligor, and she gets quick solutions for her customers’ issues.”

It Comes Down to People

That Hassler would elect to conduct a face-to-face tour, even if it meant flying a couple of thousand miles to do so, speaks to her consummate people skills.

“I’m not just a face that walks into my customers’ accounts,” she says. “They know me. They know about my kids. There’s always something to talk about. We’re all the same.”

Hassler is a firm believer in the saying, “People buy from people they like,” and she believes in the power of honesty. “If you mess up, you mess up. It happens. Just provide the best service you can.”

Winner: Excellence in Sales Award for Manufacturers Sales Reps Jeff Daner Gets Everybody into the Act

Jeff Daner is one of those guys who’s doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was young. (Never mind the fact that at 28, he’s still young.) In fact, he’s one of those guys who not only knew what they wanted to do, but who they wanted to do it for while still in college.

Daner is a sales representative for Midmark Corp. and recipient of the Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for Manufacturers Sales Reps.

Salesmanship is in his blood. Both his father and stepfather have successful sales careers. By example, they taught him an important lesson, namely, that everyone is important in the sales process – not just the sales rep, but the customer service reps, the technical people, the truck drivers and the warehouse people.

It’s a lesson that Daner takes to heart. “Everyone is important in my company and in the distributors I service,” he says. “I try to take care of them all.”

Good Fit.

Born in Boston, Daner moved to St. Louis when he was a kid. He still considers that city his hometown.

It was during his junior year at Ohio University in Athens – where he was pursuing a double major in marketing and management – that Daner met some of the Midmark folks at a job fair.

“I was attracted to Midmark, because the culture was what I wanted,” he says. “I wanted to be with a market leader and a company that has fun. I talked with several Midmark reps, who told me that my opinion would matter, even as a rookie sales rep. That’s unique in any profession.”

Daner interviewed with and was offered a job by the company during his senior year. He graduated from school on a Saturday; hopped in his car with a mattress, TV and some clothes, and was in Versailles, Ohio (Midmark’s headquarters), on Monday. That was 1999.

Daner’s first territory was western New York, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A year later, he and his fiancé, Megan, loaded up the U-Haul and moved to Dallas, from where Daner services distributors and end-users in north Texas, Oklahoma and western Arkansas. The couple now has an 8-month-old son, Dillon Charles, who was born Dec. 21, 2003.

He’s There

Greg Cressman, PSS Dallas sales leader, says about Daner: “I am consistently asked the question by manufacturers, ‘How can I interact with your sales force more effectively?’ The greatest thing about Jeff Daner is, he’s never had to ask the question. He is one of those rare manufacturer reps who ‘gets it.’ He realizes that his performance professionally and personally will drive his results.”

“This is a huge relationship business,” says Daner. Simply being available to those who need him is a big part of his strategy. “My cell phone rings constantly,” he says. “It drives my wife nuts.

“The reps I work with know that if they absolutely have to have me there [for a demo, for example], I will be there.” This makes for some long nights on the road. “But it’s rewarding, after a long travel or drive, to get the order on the spot,” he says.

For those situations when he absolutely cannot be at the customer’s site, Daner makes sure that the distributor has the tools needed to close the sale. “In return, I’m accessible seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he says.

More than Reps

Daner believes that relationships are built on loyalty. “When a distributor rep calls me with a lead, it’s their lead; I don’t share it with anyone else,” he says. “And if that rep takes the time to get me in front of a customer, I owe it to them to help in any way I can. Their leads are their livelihood. They know I’ll work as hard as I can for the sale.”

He also believes that building strong relationships with distributors involves many more people than just the sales reps.

“Jeff makes sure he knows everyone at the dealer branch, and they know him,” says Phil Childrey, Midmark’s regional sales manager. “Jeff has taken the time to connect in some way with everyone in the building. He puts together promotions, so that the entire dealer branch will benefit from a good result.”

“Jeff understands that it is a total team effort to get his product delivered,” adds Scott Nall, operations leader for PSS Tulsa. “It is not uncommon to find him on the side of the warehouse cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for our delivery drivers.”

Adds Kenneth Mason, who works for Henry Schein Medical in the telesales division in Reno, Nev.: “In all my years of dealing with Jeff Daner, he has always treated me as if I was a field sales representative. Frankly, not every other manufacturers representative does the same.”

Cultivating relationships with everyone at a distribution center is a sound strategy, says Daner. For example, suppose a customer calls the distributor’s customer service department with a problem with a Midmark product. The distributor rep might be unavailable, but if that customer service rep knows Daner, he or she can get him on the phone right away and get the problem fixed. “Instead of making the problem worse, we’re already resolving it,” he says.

And doesn’t it make sense to build ties with the delivery guys? You want that guy to be on your side as he carries a 600-pound table in 100-degree heat to the physician’s office, Daner believes.

A couple of years ago, Daner ran a promotion with a dealer in Tulsa. Believing that everyone in the branch contributes toward a successful promotion, he bought tickets for a Dallas Cowboys/Washington Redskins game. “I told everyone, here’s the number we have to hit,” says Daner. “We blew it out.”

Midmark brought everyone to Dallas and sponsored the tailgate party to end all tailgate parties. “Two years later, I still get asked, ‘Jeff, let’s do that again,’” says Daner. At press time, he was working on it.

“My relationship with the reps is one thing, but there’s no way I can forget all those other folks who help me.”


Daner makes a point of staying upbeat, an attribute that those within Midmark as well as among his customers pick up on.

“I think my enthusiasm is contagious,” he says. “I truly believe in our products and the company I work for. I’m enthusiastic all the time. Even on bad days, I’m able to pick myself up, because I know there are people behind me.

“Does it come naturally? It does, because I believe in what I do.”

Excellence in Sales Award for Distributor Sales Reps
Vic Tolbert Outside-the-Box Thinker

Nineteen years after becoming a sales rep for Owens & Minor in the Florida Panhandle and South Georgia, Vic Tolbert is still thinking of new ways to service his customers. He is, literally, thinking outside the box.

“Vic’s ability to think creatively and not give up until he finds the right answer is why he is so successful and has such credibility with his customers,” says Dan Kooperman, area vice president for Owens & Minor. “This is really the formula that very successful people use to keep their customers long-term.”

Tolbert was named runner-up for the Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for Distributor Sales Reps.

The son of an OR director and a forms salesman, Tolbert was first exposed to medical sales while still a student at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. During summers, he worked in the warehouse for Adler Instrument Co., a surgical instrument manufacturer in Atlanta.

“The sales reps were a bunch of old V. Mueller guys,” he recalls. “They were pretty sharp folks, and I thought that [medical sales] was something I might want to do.”

In 1985, he applied for a job as a customer service representative in Atlanta for Owens & Minor, which at the time was a strong regional player not the national company it is today. Instead of the customer service position, the company offered him a sales territory in Northwest Florida and South Georgia.

Market Demands Creativity

Although he’s been there ever since, Tolbert is far from rusty. That’s something that the changing hospital environment simply won’t tolerate.

“Twenty years ago, hospitals relied on their distributor reps to give them product information, and to work with manufacturers on specific products and pricing,” he says. A typical day might have seen the distributor rep and manufacturer rep calling on a hospital infection control practitioner to discuss glove quality, and a materials manager about price.

But today, hospitals understand the term “supply chain” differently than they did 20 years ago, when it was synonymous with “price.”

“Today, they’re looking at the overall delivered cost of supplies all the way from my dock to their patients,” says Tolbert. Hospital administrators have turned their attention to the supply chain as well. “I have relationships with CEOs and CFOs that I never would have had before,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, you didn’t have to have those relationships. Today, I have to.”

Today’s hospital customers count on their distributors to bring the most efficient manufacturers to the table, in the hopes of sharing the advantages of that efficiency in the form of lower prices. But hospitals have other demands of their suppliers. “[They’re concerned] about the availability of their products and even clinical resources that can help them address patient outcomes,” says Tolbert.

Customers’ Best Interests

Tolbert considers himself fortunate to work for a company that has given him the skills to adjust to his customers’ changing needs.

“[Owens & Minor] promotes and trains us to have the hospital’s interest in mind,” he says. “Through OM University [the company’s training program] and through our area managers, we are encouraged to try to meet the hospital’s needs, and to discover what we can do to help the hospital be better at what it does.”

Tolbert paraphrases Owens & Minor CEO Gil Minor, who advises his people to gauge the company’s success not by looking at the company’s annual reports, but rather, at those of its customers. “That’s what I’m here for,” says Tolbert. “To help my customers succeed.”

That attitude leads Tolbert to search for creative and sometimes unorthodox solutions for his customers. For example, last year, the Florida area team received training on teambuilding. Tolbert soaked up the training, and came up with an idea.

“It just resonated inside me that my hospitals could really benefit from the training that we were getting,” he says. “As I look at my customers, I see some silos. If those can be torn down, we’re talking about shortening the amount of time it takes to make decisions, to build consensus and to get people behind a decision.”

Some time later, he approached Kooperman about the possibility of offering the training to customers. “Dan said, ‘If you find a hospital that’s willing to look at it, we’ll make it happen.’” Tolbert got in touch with Mark O’Bryant, the new CEO of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, who said that yes, he was interested.

Several weeks later, after hours of homework, Tolbert and Kooperman were in O’Bryant’s office making a flip chart presentation on the concept. On hand were other executives of the hospital, including its senior vice president of organizational development. Ultimately, O’Bryant and staff decided that Tallahassee Memorial’s newly created case management department could benefit from the teambuilding training.

“This was a department that had to work together, to communicate and build consensus around what was the best way to handle that patient as he came through the hospital’s door,” says Tolbert. “It was an ideal group for what we were talking about.

“This was something we were convinced would help them,” he continues. “And it had nothing to do with the catheters I ship to them. In fact, the majority of case workers didn’t even know who Owens & Minor was.”

The session was a tremendous success, and another is being planned.

Company Culture

“This story is not a reflection on me,” says Tolbert. “Most companies would have said, ‘No, we don’t do this.’ But [Owens & Minor’s] culture encourages me to do things like this. My area management team backs me all the way, and I am dealing with a hospital CEO who’s willing to invest in his people to make them better at what they do, which ultimately makes things better for their patients.”

Owens & Minor takes training seriously as well, says Tolbert, who is a “professor” at OM University in Richmond. Although he resisted the idea at first (“I was obviously too important to my customers, who couldn’t live without me.”), Tolbert has changed his tune after delivering sales training to more than 100 company reps.

“I can honestly tell you that I have learned more by facilitating training classes than the people in the classes,” he says. And that, in turn, has helped him service his customers even better.

And that’s one more reason why Vic Tolbert remains as energetic about his job today as he did in 1985.

Excellence in Sales Award for Manufacturers Sales Reps
Mike Lonnemann Success Starts with the “Little Things”

He believes that when the little things are taken care of, the bigger ones fall into place. It’s a lesson Mike Lonnemann learned as an officer in the Marine Corps, and one that he exercises daily as a territory sales representative for Welch Allyn.

Lonnemann was named runner-up for the Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for Manufacturers’ Sales Reps.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lonnemann attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on an ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

As a Marine, Lonnemann was sent to Liberia in 1990 to help patrol the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia. A civil war was raging, and the embassy found itself in the crossfire. So did Lonnemann, who had some close encounters with bullets on the observation post. The takeaway: “If [a situation] is not life or death, then maybe it’s not worth getting too worked up over.”

Lonnemann resigned his commission in 1993, but remained in the Marine reserves for another four years, during which time he was promoted to major.

Photocopier Salesman

For two years after resigning his commission, Lonnemann sold Sharp photocopiers in the Cincinnati area. It meant making 20-plus cold calls a day, and generating a tickler file on which businesses had older equipment and which did not. Given the long turnaround time for businesses to buy new copiers, as well as the fact that he couldn’t generate any compensation for toner or paper, Lonnemann decided to look elsewhere for a position.

He found one with Rockwell International, manufacturer of heavy-duty parts for the automotive and trucking aftermarket. “I felt that if I could get my foot in the door, establish myself and build a good track record, other opportunities would develop,” he says. For five years, Lonnemann took on a variety of positions at Rockwell, including product manager, as well as leadership roles in customer service and shipping. But following some personnel changes, he sought more a more stable career.

So he spoke to his father-in-law, Pete Farwick, about medical products sales. It wasn’t the first time he had talked to Farwick, who had been a distributor sales rep for years for Cincinnati-based Crocker-Fels (which was acquired by PSS in 1996). But the time seemed right to get serious about the move into medical sales.

Farwick told Lonnemann that Welch Allyn was looking for a rep in the territory. “I thought about it and decided the baby boomer population is aging, and they’ll need and more healthcare,” says Lonnemann. So he pursued the opportunity and landed the job.

Different Sell

Selling medical equipment was different from selling photocopiers. For one thing, there were far fewer cold calls. “These were folks who had expressed some interest in our products,” says Lonnemann. Representing Welch Allyn, which enjoyed a good reputation among doctors, didn’t hurt, he adds.

Another thing that was different was working with distributor sales reps. Doing so demanded that he draw on the interpersonal and organizational skills he had acquired throughout his life.

As a troop leader, for example, he had learned a lot about people. “I realized people want to be taken care of. They want people to look out for their best interests. I was able to parlay some of that background toward developing strong distributor relationships, and toward putting people at ease when I met them and worked with them.”

He had learned another lesson from the Marine Corps: Leadership rests on respect.

“To earn people’s respect, you don’t expect them to do anything you would not do,” he says. “You lead by example. You lead from the front. You take care of your troops, and they take care of you.

“When you take care of the little things, the big things tend to fall in place. By ‘little things’ I mean making sure [your troops] are taken care of, their families are taken care of, they’re fed. It’s making sure that if they need medical attention, they get it; and if they have questions, you help them find the answers.

“Then, when it comes time to execute a mission, everyone is on track, pulling in the same direction, because they know the support is there, and that they’ll be taken care of.”

“Little things” in the world of medical sales can mean something as simple as promptly returning phone calls, he says. “I’ve had so many distributor reps tell me, ‘You’re great; you call me back right away.’ And I’m scratching my head thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I? You’re calling me with business, and I wouldn’t call you back?’

“If you take care of things, including problems, then when people have to select a vendor, they’ll think, ‘This guy is always on top of things,’ or ‘He always gets right back to me if I ask him to take care of something.’

Reliability Is Key

“Mike makes our reps much more effective because of his product knowledge, reliability and attention to detail,” says Alan Grogan of Grogan’s Healthcare in Lexington, Ky. “Our people never have to monitor his follow-up. They can count on him to do what he is supposed to do, what he is asked to do, when he is asked to do it.”

“Mike’s always there for you, whether you need him to cover for someone who can’t make a demo or even fill in for a hospital rep who needs assistance,” says Bill Nedvidek, Welch Allyn’s regional manager. “He shows up prepared, works hard and delivers results.”

“I can say that there are probably five manufacturer reps that I feel total confidence in, that when I leave a message, I know I am going to get the response I need, know that I will get the information I need,” says Troy Kuhl, a field sales rep for PSS in Shelbyville, Ky.

“He stands good on his word,” adds Pam Siders, a field sales rep for McKesson Medical-Surgical in Huntington, W.V. “He doesn’t try to pull anything on anyone. He always is very upfront and honest. You can count on him. If he says he’ll do it, it’s done. You don’t even have to worry about it.”

Says Lonnemann, “I pride myself on making sure my reputation is a good one, and that I treat anyone who calls me with the same level of response and respect. People know I’m straight with them. They know where I stand.”

In the eyes of those in the Kentucky and Ohio, Lonnemann stands tall.