David Evans of Grass Roots explains how the principles of targeted and customer-led selling apply to the medtech sector.
Selling to the NHS is no different from selling to any other group of buyers in principle, but it is special in practice – just as in all buying environments. Being able to gather and use the details of experience is fundamental to effective selling.
The mythology of selling includes the iconic figure of the salesman who could sell snow to Eskimos. (The vocabulary itself refers to a time of more simplistic assumptions about gender and ethnic groups.) Two things are certain.
Firstly, that such a salesman never existed.
Secondly, that if he had, he would have pitched his sales patter at a need that the Eskimos had not hitherto identified, in terms that appealed to their emotional as well as their rational side. His pile of snow would have remained unsold if he had simply recited its features.
The effective sales person does not overwhelm all customers with a universal magic spiel: they treat all customers as individuals, engaging them in a skilfully orchestrated conversation that does not feel like a sales pitch at all. Most of us generally feel uncomfortable when the seller is apparently more concerned with their own needs (hit target, make money, win holiday) than with ours.
The FAB sales model
Fashions in selling come and go, but the Features, Advantages and Benefits (FAB) sales model has stood the test of time. It can be summarised as:Feature
What is it?Advantage
What does it do?Benefit
What will it do for me?
Features and advantages are matters of fact: if my product can be supplied the next day (a feature), then orders can be delivered without delay (an advantage). But there is no benefit until this is translated into such personal terms as “you will save the cost of keeping a high inventory”, “You will be able to use your storage space more effectively” or “You will be able to react quickly if there is unforeseen high demand.” These may vary widely in importance and relevance.
Features and advantages can be determined independently by the provider, manufacturer or supplier, but benefits only come to light in the case of an individual customer. This leads to the crux of the matter: the seller needs to know and appreciate the professional and personal circumstances of the buyer before they can hope to describe and sell the benefits of what they are representing. And a sales pitch delivered without due regard for the person hearing it has the same chance of success as a random search for a needle in a haystack.
The words that count
Our company name, Grass Roots, reflects the fact that we concern ourselves with the people who are the foundation of any client organisation. We are able to work successfully in many different fields, markets and countries because, when all is said and done, people everywhere respond to similar stimuli.
And for many people, the most stimulating of all activities is talking about themselves. So although we will do some homework before we meet a potential new client, we always ask – and let them tell us – what it feels like to do their job. By careful listening and intelligent questioning, we gain insights into their work, their needs, their priorities and their vocabulary. Vocabulary is a key factor: different clients may use different terminology for the same things. The sooner we identify and adopt their expressions, the sooner they think of us as being on their side. We take care to find out what is important to the client, by listening and by inference.
In the NHS, this might include patient care, patient dignity and cost savings; the motor trade’s goals are more likely to include market share, customer retention and profit.
In both cases, the client will place a premium on good product performance and good supplier value. In every case, we need to communicate the benefits of what we have to offer.
The human factor
The golden rule is not to make assumptions. Our experience of the NHS has taught us two valuable lessons. The first is that although the NHS is an umbrella institution, it is not a homogenous one. The second is that staff groups in the NHS are very sensitive to comparisons with other staff groups, even though these may be counterparts. If you want to get a meeting off to a bad start, try saying: “I imagine that you are very similar to XYZ, who we visited last week.” You might feel the need for some of your own medical technologies later!
Although the NHS is an umbrella institution, it is not a homogenous one. Staff groups in the NHS are very sensitive to comparisons with other staff groups, even though these may be counterparts.
Experience suggests that the first time you meet a prospect, the best strategy is to play it safe; but the second encounter – if there is one – should draw on all the information gathered at the first. For example:
•If you see the same hospital receptionist, make sure they realise you have noticed.
•If the customer constantly allowed interruptions, have a plan to deal with this.
•Remember what form of address was established – was it Dr Smith, Mrs Smith or Joan?
•If you were not offered tea or coffee last time, have one beforehand!
Customer individuality is the keynote. The more calls you make, and the more people you see, the more work needs to go into keeping records. Oddly enough, people are more easily offended if you confuse them with someone else than if you forget about them altogether. Perhaps they read the subconscious message that you have relegated them down your pecking order of importance.
You also show respect for individuals by tailoring your pitch to the role of the person concerned. This involves finding out exactly what the role is – surgeons, nurses and paramedics are not interchangeable. Once you understand where they fit in and what is important to them personally (which could range from clinical evidence to availability or disposability), you can demonstrate that you have the answer.
Only you need to know all the facts about your product: any customer is probably only interested in some of them, and your skill lies in identifying and presenting what is important. Your credibility will suffer if you pitch either too high or too low, since people do not relish either being baffled or being patronised. Sales people who insist on airing all their product knowledge without fear, favour or finesse often find that buyers are unexpectedly ‘out’ whenever they subsequently call.
The skills required for success in medtech sales are not in themselves different from those that work well in other contexts – they just need to be applied sensitively, intelligently and specifically to make the best possible use of everyone’s time. If there is one word that sums it up it is empathy: imagining what it is like to be the buyer, and saying what they most want to hear.
David Evans is Chairman and Chief Executive of Grass Roots, one of Europe’s leading performance improvement companies. For more information, visit www.grg.com