I had just finished speaking to about 650 executives and sales people at a posh resort in Florida. It was an enthusiastic group and the company had done extremely well this year, as evidenced by record sales. I had been asked to discuss healthcare reform and what I felt the future held for providers and companies, and healthcare in general.
The presentation seemed to go well and after I finished a number of sales people came up to me and congratulated me on my remarks. One sales person in particular asked if he could visit with me later on in the day as he was having difficulty seeing the "right people." I suggested we get together for coffee later in the morning, which we did. He told me that getting to the right person—the one who made buying decisions—had been a problem for him since he started with the company two years ago. He said he had made his numbers, but felt he could do a better job of covering people at a "higher level." It was a good discussion and I enjoyed the attitude of the young man who was filled with enthusiasm and determination.
I asked him who the "right people" were he was having trouble seeing and that's when he shared that management was pushing him and his colleagues to see more c-suite executives. I've heard this any number of times from sales people over the past few years and have found it troubling.
The reason I bring this up is because I recently had lunch with a senior executive at a major healthcare supplier. We chatted quite a bit about the industry and the things that she dealing with in her job. She told me she had been put in charge of working with the company’s sales organization and re-orienting the sales people about who they should be calling on. She told me that not too long ago, her company encouraged its people to see as many c-suite execs as they could because they “handle the money.” However, the company was now changing all of that and she had been given the responsibility of reorienting the sales force as to whom they really should be seeing.
She went on to say that her company recognizes that most c-suite execs are involved in too many other things they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis to be concerned about various products and services that are being sold to their organizations. In short, they are making sure their sales people concentrate on those individuals who have the responsibility for purchasing and not waste their time trying to get to c-suite execs who have too many other things on their plate.
So, to bring this full circle, I told the young sales person who met with me that he should concentrate on the people who have the responsibility for buying in any hospital or health system and forget about the c-suite entirely. He seemed receptive to my advice and from then on we talked about attitude and perseverance and discipline. I told him that I felt selling was a most honorable profession and that I had been in the business of selling for most of my career.
I also told him that without a positive attitude, it is virtually impossible to be successful in the selling profession. Sure, a lot of people like the idea of being called sales people but they aren't willing to pay the price that success requires. I told him that selling is a fulltime, 24/7 business and that anyone in the business who doesn't think so is certainly not going to be very successful. I suggested he look around him at the sales people in his organization who have enjoyed success and learn from them. Pick their brains and listen to their advice.
In too many cases today, selling and customer service is mediocre. Many of the people I talk to say that most of the people who call on them don't do a very good job of selling their products. One buyer told me that the sales people who call on him seem to be in too much of a hurry to sell him something without listening to what his needs are. He went on to say that they don't ask the questions they should. By and large they are an intelligent bunch and they are persistent, he said, but they spend so much time selling me that they forget that what they are selling me might not be what is needed. I was surprised by these comments from a major purchaser of medical products and I told him so. He responded by telling me that every company should give their sales people a good course on listening. He also suggested that companies should give their sales people a course on good manners because he can’t believe how often he is interrupted when he speaks to sales people.
Selling is a great profession, but when I ask supply chain professionals about the quality of the selling they encounter, they often tell me that it is mediocre. That shouldn't be the case. Just maybe, a lot of companies should get back to the basics like listening, good manners and not going over people's heads to make a sale. In the end, everyone likes to be sold, but they like to be treated with dignity and respect. Selling is neither for the faint of heart nor for fast buck operators!
What it does demand is patience, persistence, professionalism and a willingness to give customers superior products and service. Sounds simple, but it takes great intellect and intestinal fortitude to make it happen.
So to the young man I talked to after I spoke at the sales meeting in Florida, I say give every day 110%, never but never give up and listen more than you speak! It is the way to success!