Excellence in Sales: Paul Lilly

Edition: November 2012 - Vol 20 Number 11
Article#: 4108
Author: Repertoire

Paul Lilly’s idea of a good time: Working hand in hand with a practice administrator and/or doctor to help propel their business. He enjoys other things, of course. First and foremost, his family. And coaching soccer, basketball and baseball. Attending University of Alabama football games in the fall and basketball games in the winter are more good times. But from a professional point of view, it’s helping his customers succeed. Lilly, sales account manager for McKesson Medical Surgical in Birmingham, Ala., is the winner of this year’s Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for a distributor.

Prior to joining McKesson in July 2006, Lilly had been a high school history teacher and coach. In that sense, he followed in the footsteps of his father, who taught high school government and economics for 36 years. Not only did the younger Lilly teach, but he got heavily involved in coaching high school boys’ basketball. He recalls a six-year stretch during which the junior varsity and varsity boys’ basketball teams won over 20 games each season, including one trip to the high school state Final Four. Lilly himself enjoyed success on the court at Hewitt-Trussville High School in Trussville, Ala., and he played for two years at Bevill State Community College in Fayette, Ala., before completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

His dual roles as teacher and coach were, it turns out, perfect training ground for a career in medical sales.

“I was lucky enough during that nine-year span to work with some people who taught me how to have an attention to detail in whatever portion of my job I was working on,” he says. “During that time I also came to embrace long work hours within the coaching ranks and finding ways to time-manage when preparing to be in the classroom as well.

“While employed in education, I was always exposed to different personalities with my students and players. I had to learn to adjust my techniques when dealing with these individuals, and I feel these skills are transferable to any industry. Just as every student or player differs in the way they think, learn, or react, [so do] the customers we encounter.”

Lilly built some long-standing relationships with his fellow coaches and his players. “A handful of [those players] are currently in medical school,” he says. “So who knows, maybe one day they’ll be customers of mine.”

Change of plans

Although he had envisioned a lifelong career in education, he discovered that, after nine years, he needed a new challenge. The parent of one of his high school basketball players put him in touch with McKesson sales manager Jay Keene, and in July 2006, Lilly began a new career.

He considers himself lucky to have fallen in with Keene, whom he has found to be encouraging as well as skillful in coaching and motivating. “Jay and I had an instant connection, and I was able to learn from his advice on how to properly conduct yourself in the field when working with customers, manufacturers, and those within our own organization.”

Lilly also considers himself lucky to work with a strong sales team, who taught him the ins and outs of the industry. “Three colleagues specifically – Bobby Kahn, Charlie Watson, and David Songy – were willing to spend an extraordinary amount of time with me on the phone and in person,” he says. “The time spent with these veteran reps helped give me knowledge and develop strategies that led to an increased amount of confidence when calling on potential customers.”

The training helped. Lilly was named McKesson Medical Surgical’s Rookie of the Year in 2007.

“With all of this said, the biggest impact [has come] from my wife, Meg Lilly. Without her encouragement and support, I wouldn’t have been able to go out every morning and call on customers throughout the day and spend the evenings quoting and planning.” He considers his family – 8-year-old Stephen, 6-year-old Langston and 4-year-old Carson to be his biggest support system. “[They] keep me motivated.”

No substitute

Reflecting on his six years in the field, Lilly says, “I would like to say that I have found the key to managing all that we are required to do for our customers, but that would be untrue.” In fact, one of his favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, who said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

“At the end of the day, regardless of what task you are trying to complete, there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty and working hard,” he says. Customers respect a rep’s hard work and dedication to the success of their practice. If they see a rep delivering on that, they are more willing to entrust that rep in assisting them with the business decisions for their facilities.

“I would tell new reps in this industry the first step of working hard is putting yourself in front of your customers on a frequent basis,” he says. “You are unable to build the ever important personal relationship with the customer if you do not have ‘face time’ with them.

“Additionally, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so be prepared on each call. You never know which visit to an account will land you in front of the decision-maker. When the opportunity presents itself, it is your time to shine. Take pride in the task, regardless of how small it may be, and follow through. My father has served as a great role model for treating people the way you would like to be treated. I admire the way he touched those he encountered throughout his life, and I have attempted to duplicate his behavior and actions in my everyday life.”

A few years of experience in the field helps. “What does become easier [over the years] is that the issues you encounter aren’t necessarily as overwhelming as they are the first time around. Learning to handle these situations in a professional and timely way is critical to building trust with your customers. Having the ability to ensure that the products they order get from our distribution centers to their office is one thing, but handling the challenges that arise is what helps the customer realize they can focus on seeing their patients, and their issues will be taken care of.”


Today, Lilly coaches his kids in soccer, basketball and baseball. “I can honestly say that I am now much more calm and relaxed than I was when I started coaching high school sports in my early twenties,” he says. “I feel that I can now see the games as how they were meant to be, and that is fun. I have absolutely zero preconceived notions of any of my children in athletics, and find a lot of joy in just watching them learning how to play and compete.”

He likes to get out and play basketball himself once in awhile, and has played adult kickball for the last couple of years. But knee surgery in April 2009 curtailed some of his outdoor activities. “The days of training for half or full marathons are over,” he says.

Almost 10 years ago, Lilly and his wife, along with two other couples, started an adult Sunday school class at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham. “We have built some longstanding friendships in the class, and I find the preparation and teaching each week to be extremely fulfilling,” he says. “Also, when we have the time to perform outreach activities for those who are less fortunate than us, it really helps in keeping us grounded and thankful for the blessings we have.”

A leader

“Paul not only makes the peers on our team better, but he motivates and makes me a better manager,” says Keene, senior sales manager, MidSouth team.

“Although he had no formal sales training skills [before joining McKesson Medical Surgical], he has a natural like-ability,” says Keene. “On top of that, he is what all coaches like to say – coachable. He listens, absorbs, practices and applies what the manufacturer reps, peers and yes, even every now and then, what I say, better than anyone I have ever known.

“Paul and I talk at least once a day, he is a leader among his peers. He leads by example and pushes himself on every call to be the best he can for his customers. He is normally on the road and in an account before 8 a.m., and calls me on his way home usually around 5:30 p.m.

“A couple of years ago, when the deadly tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Paul loaded up his car with bottled water, various sundry items and when need be, drove to our distribution facility and picked up items in the middle of the night for customers.”

Says Mimi Hobson, senior territory manager, Terumo Medical: “Paul has the ability to bring clinical value to end users while balancing multiple accounts and manufacturer relationships. He creates an environment where all of his customers feel they get ‘first-in-line’ service, no matter the day or time. While managing marriage and three young children, he can e-mail an opportunity at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, speak to a doctor at 9 p.m. about a piece of equipment, or help a staff set up a new clinic on Sunday afternoon. It is difficult to cite specific examples of all the value Paul brings to his customers and manufacturers, since it is a daily routine. He is the true definition of a partner.”

Adds Dee Chapman, account executive, Alere Physician Diagnostic Group: “[Paul] is the consummate professional and customer advocate. The relationships that he develops with his accounts go above and beyond the extraordinary. When his accounts were affected by the tornadoes that swept through the area, Paul was the first person there to offer a helping hand. I know that if I send him an e-mail, or text, there will be a response within two hours.”

Good for business

By Laura Gossett

Six years ago this month, my staff told me that a gentleman named Paul Lilly was at the front desk to speak with me, and that he represented a medical supply company. New to this practice as business manager and knowing that to this point they had one medical supply representative that…walked in every week and took all orders, no exception, I met with Paul briefly. I told him what he was up against and what a tough job he had ahead of him, but it was time for a change, and competition is always good for business.

In less than one year, Paul Lilly had reduced our overall medical supply expenses, won over 80 percent of the medical staff and brought new and innovative products to our practice. From what I have been told, others had tried but failed, why did Paul succeed?

Paul has the innate ability to become a part of your team, almost a prized employee. He becomes your friend in a very professional yet familiar manner. He quickly saw the vision that I had for the practice and became my partner in making my clinical goals happen.

He was instrumental in implementing our independent lab and updating our equipment overall, and he is currently equipping our new 15,000-square-foot expansion. He is always available, night or day, answers texts at 11 p.m. when I panic about a forgotten order, and passes along ideas he sees that are successful at other practices like ours. He works Saturdays to assemble equipment, deliver needed supplies and provide cost breakdowns on proposed projects, often communicating all weekend to make sure he has the information needed to get me my reports by a Monday morning meeting deadline.

In a nutshell he always gives our practice 110 percent, he makes my staff feel like we are his number one priority, and is considered a good friend to most.

And yes, he won over the other 20 percent as well.

Laura Gossett is business manager for Northside Medical Associates, Pell City, Ala.