I have always taken great pride in being a salesman. To succeed in my profession, you need equal doses of courage, stamina and enthusiasm.
Studies find that more than 90% of all sales pitches are rejected. Most people can’t handle that, but good salespeople can. They know that pertinacity leads eventually to sales and a fine living. Good salespeople, in fact, thrive under the continuous pressure of meeting sales targets.
I love speaking to salespeople; they are always upbeat, high-energy and optimistic folks. They know what it takes to make a sale. They know their company’s products and services cold. More importantly, they understand that if they don't know enough about the needs of prospective clients, they will fall flat on their faces.
Today salespeople are taught to know more about the company they are selling to than some of the people who work there. You have to be willing to do the homework that is necessary to make sure that the products and services you are selling are worth it to the buyer. In healthcare, that means you need to have something that a hospital or health system needs to do a better job of taking care of patients.
It all sounds simple, doesn’t it? Trust me, it isn’t. The business of selling is all about relationships, and people generally are pretty complicated.
Probably one of the best books written on what it takes to be successful in sales was written in 1994 by a salesman named Byrd Baggett. His book, Satisfaction Guaranteed, is subtitled “236 ideas to make your customers feel like a million dollars.” Baggett was a senior sales executive with a company that specialized in office furniture and consumer products. (The book was sent to me by the top sales guru at a major healthcare manufacturing company because I wrote a lot about sales when I was publisher of Modern Healthcare.) Baggett’s book is a gem because it addresses the basics of selling and all the little things that are so important to closing a deal.
In the introduction he explains why he wrote the book. “If you’ve ever lost a customer, I wrote this book for you. For 21 years I have been in the business of satisfying customers. During this time I have pounded the streets, managed sales staffs, run my own business. I have seen both success and failure up close and have studied each carefully, and I have learned that the key to success – for individuals and for businesses – is satisfied customers. That is true whether a company sells groceries, cleans floors, or handles stock transactions. Satisfied customers are repeat customers.”
Throughout the book Baggett returns to customer service. That should be pretty basic to business, but look around you and count the number of companies that really deliver exceptional customer service every day. There are a few, but these days most businesses are rated as mediocre in this critical area by consumers.
Baggett likes pithy sayings, but the fact is that they reflect important truths. “Do what you said you were going to do, when you said you were going to do it, and how you said you were going to do it," is one. “Listen twice as much as you talk,” is another. Then there’s “under-promise, over-perform.”
Many successful companies can become arrogant, Baggett wrote. “Never think you or your company are more important than your customers,” he cautions. I agree; I’ve seen salespeople who become so enamored with their success that they forget what got them where they are and begin to take their customers for granted. That’s the ticket to failure.
Why do I recommend Baggett’s book to the IDN audience? For one thing, it contains lessons for anyone who has customers (patients). In the age of consumerism, healthcare providers need to learn how to provide a new level of customer service. Also, at this time in healthcare's history, a close relationship between suppliers and providers is essential if we are to improve the quality and cost-efficiency of care. That means suppliers need to think harder about how to tailor their products and services to the needs of the healthcare provider. Instead of focusing on contracts, think of it as a partnership.
In fact, everyone in healthcare needs to focus on working more closely with the other major stakeholders and treating them with dignity and respect. Baggett’s common-sense approach to selling and dealing with people really tells us how we all can do a better job of building and nurturing relationships. After all, isn’t healthcare at its core a people business?