July 6, 2020Peter Francis
BMW has a tagline that says, “the ultimate driving machine.” Indeed, their automobiles are usually highly rated in car magazines. So, what does this have to do with selling a lab service?
Managers of successful salespeople may refer to their superstars as “machines” due to their consistent positive achievements. These sales reps have acquired a foundational selling competency called situational fluency, which refers to a combination of knowledge and skills. These two constituents establish an effective salesperson due to his/her ability to easily and professionally transition within conversations under different circumstances. Training is another key component to the success of salespeople, who must diligently review taught concepts, document specific strategies for each competitor, and hone their tactical skills by role-playing with a colleague.
When it comes to hiring a sales rep, labs typically favor candidates with the following backgrounds: (a) lab sales experience, (b) medical sales experience, or (c) experience in a non-sales role within the health care sector. But as important as it may seem, the candidate’s background does not matter as much as having the right knowledge, skills, and training.
There are two types of knowledge that are relevant to sales: situational knowledge and capability knowledge.
Situational knowledge is the awareness of everything about a client: hospital ownership ties, industry trends, decision-makers and influencers, their competitors, competing labs, preferred provider lab insurance contracts, tests of interest/common diseases, draw/no-draw, lab connectivity, and their in-house testing capabilities. Lab field employees who do not understand the client’s business reduce their status to mere vendors—not the valued and collaborative support people they should be.
Capability knowledge entails a sophisticated understanding of the rep’s lab operations, including in-house test capabilities, test names and methodologies, connectivity solutions, logistics, supplies, billing, client-specific monthly reports, and marketing materials. It also involves learning as many of these details as possible about each competitor—an on-going pursuit. The value of this lies in the fact that we humans intrinsically make decisions based on differences. Therefore, selling requires expansive capability knowledge on both sides of the equation and coupling this information in front of clients and prospects with guiding questions and skillful presentations. This situation sits in contrast to someone who simply depicts his/her lab as a basic, transactional service.
There are two types of skills that are relevant to sales: selling skills and people skills.
Sales skills funnel down to three primary areas: (1) product knowledge, (2) questioning and (3) presentation. Author E.E. Cummings once said, “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” Everyone in the sales profession should carve this sentence in stone.
“Lab field employees who do not understand the client’s business reduce their status to mere vendors—not the valued and collaborative support people they should be.”
There are three overarching ways that salespeople may use questioning or probing: (1) to obtain general client background data (including personal opinions), (2) to allow the client to describe any issues they experience with their lab, and (3) to guide the conversation to specific differences the lab has over the competition. If the client mentions a specific problem, using implication questions allows the client to think more seriously about the effects on their business if no one corrects the problem.
People skills include the following three fundamental and vital components: (1) understanding yourself and how your behavior impacts others, (2) having a collaborative, professional, and empathetic attitude, and (3) the desire to build business relationships based on trust, respect, and productive interactions.
I have witnessed lab salespeople start their job having come from unrelated/non-health care industries yet still develop into very successful reps. They possessed an appetite to refine the sales process, and their company consistently offered training, coaching, and competitive analysis. I, myself, fashioned my 48-year career from this category: I was a music major in college, taught the subject for several years and had military experience. Who would have thought I would flourish in lab sales given that background?
Everyone, including those with previous lab and general sales experience, should have initial and recurring sales and operations training. Training serves to: (1) set a standard to follow, (2) push trainees to take a proactive approach to sales, (3) provides a safe environment to practice sales techniques, and (4) creates a positive company culture and reputation.
Training efforts aim to shift the prospect from stating, “Our lab is fine—I’m not experiencing any issues,” to, “Huh, I see what you’re talking about—this is something to consider.” It is the primary responsibility of the salesperson to adjust the customer’s opinion of a simple pick-up and delivery transactional lab by outlining their lab’s culture of high service levels and specific examples of value for its clients and their patients.
Field reps need to continually endeavor to advance in the situational fluency elements via self-improvement and through their employer’s tutelage. In short, it comes down to maturing into an ultimate lab sales machine: a person that markets value and circumvents promoting a lab with simple, basic amenities. These reps live by the motto: “Our clients repay us with loyalty because we teach them something they value rather than try to sell them something they already know.”