Staying Strong During The COVID Crisis

May 2020

Smart Selling: Distributor Sales Strategies From HIDA

By Elizabeth Hilla
Senior Vice President, HIDA

In sales, we often say that we put the customer’s needs first. The coronavirus crisis has forced us to really think about what this means.

For weeks, most distributor sales reps have been in maximum problem-solving mode. Their focus has been on getting scarce products to the customers that need them most. They haven’t had time to think about quotas or margins, only on managing high demand and short supply, and trying to ensure that providers have the PPE and other critical supplies.

On the other hand, for many of us, putting customer needs first has meant not contacting customers. If our customer is overwhelmed with current needs, and we don’t have an immediate solution, the best course has been to stay out of the way.

Other sales reps have been especially challenged, because their products address critical healthcare needs that are not coronavirus-related. For instance, chronic wounds haven’t disappeared during the epidemic, but reaching the right caregivers to discuss wound care solutions has become very difficult. In cases like these, putting customer needs first has meant rethinking how to get products to the patients who require them during unprecedented circumstances.

If there is a silver lining to such a devastating situation, I hope it is that we will emerge as better people – and better salespeople.

Compared to work life in the beginning of March:

  • We’re more human. We’ve all been on countless conference calls listening to crying babies, rowdy kids, barking dogs, and more. We know better than ever what it’s like to be worried, confused, and overwhelmed, and we are becoming more emotionally intelligent as a result.

  • Our empathy level is higher than ever. We understand how insensitive an ill-timed sales pitch can seem. We can use our new insights to better hone our outreach in the future.


  • We are more tuned-in than ever to our customers’ highest priority: taking care of patients. Some of us have recently been patients ourselves, or worried about loved ones who were sick or hospitalized. We wanted those caregivers to have exactly what they needed to care for patients, and only that.

  • We understand how valuable a few words of kindness or encouragement can mean when we’re stressed out or overwhelmed, and we’re more attuned to offer such words to others.

I emailed a member during the second week of work-from-home back in March. I apologized that I hadn’t been in touch about an issue. She not only told me not to worry about the slow response, but told me that I was doing a great job, that I was strong, and to keep at it. I saved that email, and have been trying to emulate her by encouraging others to stay strong.

Finally, this experience has taught us just how important we are. We are each a critical part of the healthcare supply chain. We are vital to helping clinicians take care of patients. We rise to the challenge and, that member said to me, we are strong.