Are You Bringing Innovation To Your Customers?

September 2017

Smart Selling: Distributor Sales Strategies From HIDA

By Elizabeth Hilla
Senior Vice President, HIDA

Let’s say you’re attending a distributor sales meeting and several vendors have been invited in for product training. Most of the manufacturers are your current partners, but one is brand new – a company you haven’t worked with before, offering a technology with which you’re unfamiliar.

Do you take a chance on the new product; learn how it works, who it’s for, and why customers would buy it; and then introduce it to appropriate customers? Or do you stick with the tried-and-true and what you know?

If you’re an experienced rep with an established territory, you might reasonably be cautious about embracing a brand-new product or vendor. You might be thinking something like:

  • This isn’t what I know well, or I don’t have time to learn this.
  • I have plenty of work to do just to sell the products I know already.
  • This isn’t the kind of thing we usually sell, so it’s not a fit for our business.
  • And most importantly: What if the product doesn’t work as promised? I could lose the trust of current customers.

I get it. If you’ve worked for years to build your territory, you don’t want to risk customer loyalty on an unproven solution. After all, your customers depend on you to vet new products and help them avoid possible duds.

But customers also depend on their trusted distributor rep to identify and share with them important product innovations. If you don’t, you create an opportunity for another rep to come in with an innovation – and your customer may wonder why you didn’t bring it.

What’s more, your customers are likely hearing and reading about new technologies from their colleagues, on websites, and through various media. If you’re not discussing those new products or applications, your customer may perceive that you don’t know or care about advances in care.

Here are some ideas for ways to bring innovation to your customers:

  • Always ask your vendors: What’s new? What’s coming? Be the person who’s always on top of the latest products and recent technology changes.

  • Set aside time on your calendar to learn about new products. Watch training videos, go on vendor websites – whatever it takes to make yourself comfortable with new solutions.

  • Solicit feedback. If you’re unsure how your customer base will react to a particular new product, ask those with whom you have great relationships to try it out first and give you their honest opinion. If they love it, run with it. If they aren’t impressed, you have your answer, plus customers typically appreciate when you ask for their opinion.

  • Seek innovations that address specific customer pain points. You might not be an expert in a new technology, but you understand your customer’s pain, and you can help connect the two.

  • Look for innovations that address specific quality metrics. If you sell to physicians, for example, study the list of quality metrics under the new MACRA system and seek out products that can help your customers improve their scores on measures for which they get evaluated. (You can find them here:

  • Take advantage of manufacturer expertise. If it’s a complicated product, see if you can schedule a ride-along so the vendor rep can show you how to sell the product. Or simply ask the rep to teach you qualifying questions to ask so you can schedule joint demos.

Finally, don’t be afraid to embrace products that replace profitable current business. I suspect that back when X-rays were done on film, reps selling X-ray film might have been reluctant to tell their customers about digital X-ray technology – and understandably so! After all, digital imaging wiped out the need for all kinds of film-related products. But if the innovation is better, your customer is going to find it. The question is whether or not you want them buying it from you.