A couple of years ago I read a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network by Joseph Grenny entitled “4 Ways Leaders Can Create a Candid Culture.” I believe that the most successful distribution reps use leadership skills instead of the typical sales tactics to achieve and maintain their level of success. That led me to consider the four action steps in Grenny’s post in terms of creating a candid environment in the practices in your territory. So, let me pass my observations on again for your consideration.
My research has shown the best distribution reps have more successful practices than the average rep. That doesn’t happen by accident. Those reps actively engage in helping their hospitals become more successful, and that doesn’t occur without individuals within that practice going above and beyond the norm.
There are many opportunities for the rep to acknowledge, in a very public way, when someone in that practice has done something that improved the practice and aided in the success of that rep. Letting that person know you appreciate their efforts is nice, but doing it publically, at a lunch-and-learn or in front of their peers, is nicer still.
Prime the pump
Too often in our interactions we seek only positive feedback and attempt to avoid the negatives. This may sound strange, but giving your customers permission to complain does in fact create a comfortable relationship that leads to a sustainable competitive advantage.
A prime example might be the inevitable backorder situations. Acknowledging both the current production shortages and the rationing of any available product is a good start, but even better is to acknowledge the accompanying emotion, i.e. “That’s frustrating for everyone.” The average rep is going into a call hoping the client doesn’t ask, while the most successful reps are encouraging that discussion. Real empathy is a powerful tool.
Lead by teaching
Animal health manufacturers and many reps seem to believe that teaching is limited to a recitation of the features (what it is) and the functions (what it does or does better). While that is an important and essential part of education, the real payoff in teaching is when you describe the benefits (what I will have) of a new product or service.
The most successful reps always mention the fact and the feeling when teaching a client about the benefits, i.e. “So this new pet care plan will create higher compliance rates and give you the satisfaction that you are doing the very best for both the animal and its owner.”
Sacrifice your ego
The most successful distribution reps I know have a very well-developed ego, which is necessary to deal with all the rejection, but still press ahead with a positive attitude. But that ego is in check on their calls. Whether it is the receptionist, the technician, the practice manager or the hospital owner, the most successful reps make that person feel as if they are the most important in the room at that point in time.
Remember that the receptionist is a decision maker in that he or she can open the door and provide access for that rep. Remember that the technician or practice manager is a decision maker in that they can influence the ultimate buyer. The most successful reps sacrifice their ego by seeing themselves as the decision-getter and their role as helping every decision-maker in the practice make the biggest committed decision they can handle today.
While Grenny’s intention was to help leaders create a more candid culture, I’m convinced these four tips will enable sales reps to create a candid environment in their practices and enhance their sustainable competitive advantage.
Of course, you are the ultimate decision maker. What do you think? The first person to send me their thoughts and mailing address will receive a free copy of our book “Cracking the Code to Leadership.”
Editor’s note: To read Joseph Grenny’s HBR blog, visit https://hbr.org/2014/07/4-ways-leaders-can-create-a-candid-culture