Keep Your Pipeline Full

January 2018

Smart Selling: Distributor Sales Strategies From HIDA

By Elizabeth Hilla
Senior Vice President, HIDA

Wouldn’t it be nice to grow your sales territory to the point where you didn’t need to prospect much? You’d have so many loyal customers buying regularly from you that you could devote most of your time just to keeping those customers happy (and maybe even squeeze in the occasional round of golf).

There may have been a time in the past when some experienced distributor reps achieved such an ideal state. Today, however, even your most loyal account could be gone next year or next month. The physician practice that’s been buying from you for 10 years could get acquired by a hospital. Or new management could come in at your best surgery center account and demand a change in purchasing practices.

Customer turnover is inevitable, and you should work to minimize it by taking great care of your customers. But that may not be enough if the facility’s ownership changes. That’s why it’s imperative to build and manage your prospect pipeline actively.

Building your prospect pipeline
Here are a few ideas for building your prospect pipeline, and ultimately growing your account base:

  • Ask loyal customers for referrals. “Hey Janet, you guys have really benefited from your expanded in-office lab. Do you know folks at other practices that I should be talking to about this?”
  • Look for more of the types of customers that love you the most. For instance, if you have done well with ob/gyn customers, actively search for similar practices in your area.
  • Experiment with social media (particularly LinkedIn). I’ve found that a short, not-pushy InMail message can often get a positive response that leads to an introductory phone call. My message is often just a single qualifying question: “Hi Jim, does XYZ Manufacturer sell through distributors?”
  • Actively participate in local provider groups, such as your local or state AHRMM or AHCA chapter.

Once you’ve built your pipeline, there are more tools than ever to help you manage prospects – contact management software, email marketing tools, LinkedIn, and many others. But they only work if you actively and regularly use them.

You can easily find yourself with an empty pipeline if you’re too focused on taking care of urgent requests from current customers. The best way to avoid this is by setting up regular times on your daily or weekly calendar for prospecting activities.

Make sure your plan includes time for:

  • Identifying prospects: Constantly work to expand and update your prospect lists. If you see that a current LinkedIn contact has a new job, for instance, record that change right away.
  • Calling on prospects: Make sure you’re spending time every day or every week picking up the phone and/or knocking on doors to reach your prospect accounts. Warming up your cold calls with advance contact via email is fine if it works for you, but you won’t win new business until you have live contact with a prospect.
  • Following up on opportunities: When you reach an interested customer, follow up with requested information right away. Then set and follow a timeline for continued follow-up.

If you’re not prospecting, your account base will almost certainly shrink because of inevitable customer turnover. Actively managing your prospect pipeline can help you recover from potential losses, as well as continue to grow your accounts and future revenue.