In early 2020, we all started to hunker down in our home offices while healthcare facilities pivoted to take on the tsunami of COVID-19. The routine day of a sales rep was turned upside down when travel stopped and onsite client visits disappeared.
Sales reps often feel like customers are family, but suddenly there was a disconnection when “home” wasn’t accessible. Thankfully, six months or so into our brave new world, there are bright spots. Technology combined with sales rep savvy has not only come to the rescue – it’s taken many relationships to the next level.
In a session at HIDA’s virtual Streamlining Healthcare Expo & Business Exchange, four top supply chain sales experts talked about how they have learned to leverage technology to communicate and build relationships amid the pandemic. Here are some of their lessons learned:
Make sure your sales teams are comfortable on their meeting platform such as Zoom, WebEx, or Microsoft Teams. “If we’re not fully sold on communicating through this platform ourselves, how can we expect our customers to be,” notes Account Executive Tim Morris, McKesson Medical-Surgical. Don’t think of a virtual meeting as a sorry second chance, but as an opportunity to make an even stronger connection. “You can see into people’s home offices and their lives – ask questions that put people at ease and get customers into their comfort zone,” advises Claflin VP Alex Caldwell. Morris places a guitar he made with his young daughters in the background as a conversation starter.
Use social distancing to bring together decision makers – virtually. There’s an opportunity as a sales rep to bring together top people more easily. “We’re seeing an opportunity to service customers from a team approach,” says Stephen Milton, Sales & Training Development Director, PDI. “We can get a group of people together more effectively and easier than before by leveraging technology – and be more productive.
Be prepared. When Morris schedules a video meeting, he puts a couple of “teaser questions” in the meeting invite, asking that they be answered before the meeting. For example, “how are your PPE needs right now?” can be addressed prior to the conversation. “By ending my meeting invitation with questions, I’m addressing things that can easily derail a meeting before the meeting actually happens. It’s extremely important to set expectations,” he advises.
Caldwell agrees that you can’t “just request a meeting,” but need to offer content that will pique curiosity. “It’s really important to prep ahead of time.”
Milton’s team conducts mock sales calls designed to have connectivity problems. He recommends that a colleague provide backup on every real sales call with the slide deck. That way, if he loses video or audio, his partner can jump in. “If the clinical science liaison is on the call, I also make sure they have a copy of the slide deck so they can pick up if I drop off. It’s just providing good customer service,” he says.
Kevin Dixon, Senior Director, Commercial Contracting, Medtronic, noted that his company has made sure his team has the tools they need to reach out to customers digitally during this unprecedented time.
Caldwell says it’s important to explore product topics with your clinical team before pitching a meeting with a customer. “We’re trying to being in a lot more opportunities to our customers in addition to PPE.”
Be a resource. Customers ask a lot of questions about what’s going in in other parts of the country, notes Dixon, and “I can give them some insight on that.” Additionally, sales reps are supplied with educational materials that can help customers. For example, with the dramatic reduction in elective surgeries during the spring, offer clients tips and tools for how to help get patients back into a client’s care settings.
Embrace levity. Embrace the awkward. Even if you can’t connect in-person, show your personality by changing up your video settings with a fun background option like a beach scene. It may bring a smile to someone’s face. And if your dog is barking in the background, ask who’s a dog lover. “Sometimes you just have to embrace the awkward,” Morris says.