14 Nov 2019

The “Ultimate Sales Machine”

By Peter Francis 

The Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) has a tag line 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 marketing reps have been trained not only well, but also consistently. They have diligently studied the taught concepts, documented strategies for each competitor, and honed their tactical skills by role-playing with a colleague. Unfortunately, in my experience, these conscientious marketers are few and far between.

When it comes to hiring a field rep, labs typically favor people with the following backgrounds: (a) lab
sales experience, (b) medical sales (e.g., pharmaceutical, reagent/analyzer manufacturer, etc.) or (c)
no sales experience but experience within the healthcare sector (e.g., nurse, office manager, lab
technician, etc.). Interestingly, and as incongruent as it may seem, the person’s background does not
matter as much as someone with inherent abilities. As a side point, this author was a music major in
college and taught the subject for several years prior to entering laboratory sales. Success distills
down to good training, practicing, and possessing certain intrinsic qualities that help evolve someone
into a productive lab sales rep.

Developing Situational Fluency

Clients and prospective customers appreciate a rep who (1) understands the healthcare and lab
business, (2) keeps the client current with relevant information, and (3) is effective in helping solve
lab-related problems. Users become irritated and subsequently avoid overly aggressive marketing
people who vigorously attempt to close a new account, demonstrating an everything-is-about-what-
I-want attitude. Equally frustrating are people that waste precious time in the office by not having
anything relevant to discuss relating to the customer’s needs. These situations are 180° from those
marketers that want to collaborate with clients.

Ultimate Sales Machine 

Collaboration requires marketing reps to possess a foundational selling competency called situational
fluency. This is an apt term that translates into an amalgamation of knowledge and skills—
constituents that make representatives very effective because of their ability to move easily and
professionally based on different circumstances.

Let’s examine the two primary areas of situational fluency, as well as their significant subparts.

1. Knowledge. This divides into situational knowledge and capability knowledge. Situational
knowledge decodes to the awareness of a client’s circumstances: hospital or personal political ties,
industry trends, key players, competition, challenges, clinical background, etc. Field marketers who
don’t understand the client’s business reduce themselves in status to mere vendors—not the valued
and collaborative support people they should be.

The second part, capability knowledge, entails having a sophisticated knowledge of their lab’s
operations. Naturally, this translates to multifarious topics: compliance, test names, methodologies,
connectivity, specimen processing, logistics, reports, supplies, billing, etc. To confound the subject
further, it also means understanding as many of these same details of each competitor as possible.
This helps in differentiating—and it pierces a client’s conventional thought: most labs are all the
same. A field rep’s major priority relates to how his/her lab transitions from Lab 1.0 (simple
transactional lab) to Lab 2.0 (emphasis on providing value). A representative’s capability
knowledge—and the effective presentation of connecting the dots for the client—can significantly
influence the buyer’s belief in a lab whose focus resides in adding value.

2. Skills. This separates into selling skills and people skills. Let’s first eliminate a common
phrase: “He/she is a born salesman.” Parents do not look adoringly at their sleeping newborn child
and whisper, “Just look at her—she’s so sweet. Mary’s going to be such a great salesperson when she
grows up.” Hah! No! On-going classroom training (strategy/tactics) and coaching contribute to
developing a great salesperson.

The second one, people skills, speaks for itself. The following are four basic—but vital— components:

A. They understand themselves and how their behavior impacts others.
B. They control their responses, are less impulsive, and think before acting.
C. They have a collaborative, professional, and empathetic attitude.
D. They want to build business relationships based on trust, respect, and productive

An excellent resource about people skills is a book from 1936: How to Win Friends and Influence
People by Dale Carnegie. It should be read and re-read once a year by all salespeople. It’s a terrific

Ultimate Sales Machine 

Preparing Reps

With the above situational fluency components in mind, it highlights the fact that everyone—
including those with previous lab sales experience—should have both initial and yearly (or bi-yearly)
classroom training. By doing this, you:

1. Set a standard for your expectations
2. Take a proactive approach
3. Provide a safe environment to practice
4. Create a company culture that demonstrates a willingness to develop professional,
prepared and productive employees

Reflect, for a moment, on the other side of the coin if a lab decides to ignore classroom instruction vis à
vis the above points.

Today, most professions—financial planners, pilots, lawyers, healthcare providers, etc.—have
mandatory continuing education because they found that, without it, people would not keep current
with necessary industry information and trends; they couldn’t sharpen their tools of the trade and
be accepted as a professional in their respective field. In the lab industry, laboratories provide sales
reps with an initial onboarding exercise by introducing them to lab supervisors and reviewing
sales forms, test menus, methodologies, logistics, EMR reporting, transport supplies, etc. This is vital
internal instruction and falls under “capability knowledge.” However, many companies mistakenly
assume (especially with reps that have had sales experience) that the newly hired salesperson arrives
with an encyclopedic mind of how best to market a lab service. Don’t bet the ranch on it. John
Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, said it best: “It’s what you learn after you know it all
that counts.” The person who worked for another lab may have attained some questionable (and/or
not very effective) selling traits. Reps that sold devices or pharmaceutical products may have enjoyed
success in the past, but they are typically unprepared for the vicissitudes of the lab testing industry.
Murphy’s Law very easily raises its nasty head along with the specimen collection, logistics, testing,
resulting, and billing corridor.

After a year or so in the field, lab management may subconsciously feel their field person has self-improved
by experience alone, and they don’t see the need for any sales training. The question is,
however, should salespeople get short shrift and be forced to remember—and do—what was taught
(sometimes years) before?

The bottom-line truth to all of this is, that all professionals—to remain at the top of their game—require
ongoing and systematic opportunities to learn, review, and practice. Labs that support a positive
culture of continually refining their reps’ situational fluency components expect their lab’s reputation
and revenues to grow—due, in part, to their Ultimate Sales Machine(s).

Peter Francis is president of Clinical Laboratory Sales Training, LLC, a unique training and development company dedicated to helping laboratories increase their revenues and reputation through prepared, professional, and productive representatives. Visit the company’s website at www.clinlabsales.com for a complete listing of services.


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