Making a favorable first impression with your accounts and laying the groundwork for a productive relationship is a key to success for any sales rep. These days, as companies, customers and territories change more quickly than ever before, it’s a skill that calls for constant honing.
Luckily, sales reps have resources to help them make that favorable first impression. But the most effective tools may be the most old-fashioned, common-sense, and timetested ones.
“I heard this a long time ago,” says Jeff Baker, recently named president and COO of MediVet Biologics, Lexington, Ky. “Be great at all those things that take no talent, and be great at them all the time.’” That means prepare, follow up, be consistent, work hard.
BEFORE THE CALL
“It’s extremely important to make a good first impression,” says Matt Bridges, regional manager, Henry Schein Animal Health. “A little planning on the front end goes a long way.” First, the rep should identify the veterinary practice’s busiest days (usually Monday and Friday afternoons) – and avoid them. “Don’t plan on coming in Monday afternoon at 4 and hope to make a good impression on someone you’ve never met before,” says Bridges, who started his veterinary career in 1979, as a delivery truck driver for W.A. Butler Co. (now Henry Schein Animal Health). “And chances are, you’ll never get to see the veterinarian then anyway. So pick a time that’s most opportunistic for the customer to make a nice visit.”
Todd Brodersen, president, Same Page Consulting, Omaha, Neb., and frequent Vet-Advantage contributor, advises reps to check the new account for any given history. “Mail an introduction of yourself to the clinic with all of your contact information and a brief bio. Take time to learn about the account from any internal or external resources that might be available.”
“The key to success on the first call is to practice the 5 Ps – previous planning prevents poor performance,” says Baker. “It’s important that a rep plan, and then plan and plan some more.”
“It is important to find out everything you can about that clinic – and with the Internet, why not?” he says. For example, most clinics have a website. The rep should visit it, study the practice’s mission statement and see how she can tie that mission statement into her own mission statement, her company and her products. The rep should know what kind of practice it is. She should learn the names of the doctors and staff, study their photos so she can identify them in the practice, and remember what schools they attended.
“The staff in the clinic don’t have the time to teach you about themselves,” says Baker, formerly vice president of sales for Patterson Veterinary Supply. “You need to know them better than they know themselves.” Given today’s technology, and consolidation among key veterinary manufacturers, it’s not difficult to find out whose products the practice favors, he says. “Call some manufacturer reps, let them know you’re the new rep and that you’re going to be calling on the doctor, and find out if there’s anything you should know about the clinic.”
FACE TO FACE
Your No. 1 goal for that first call should be to introduce yourself and make a good first impression – not to obtain an order, Baker advises reps. And it should be face-to-face, rather than over the phone.
“It should be a short call,” he continues. “Explain why you are there, that you’re excited to be there, and that you’re looking forward to being a great business partner. You never want to go in and say, ‘I’m looking forward to selling you something.’”
The rep should make a point of meeting as many people in the practice as possible. “You never know if the kennel help will become the office manager tomorrow. And you may not get to meet the doctor or office manager on that first visit, but that’s OK. Be gracious, ask everything and anything you can, listen to what they’re telling you, and thank them for their time.
“Do more listening than talking,” Baker continues. “One thing to remember: This is not about you. A common mistake is asking a question because you want to know how the answer will affect you and what you can sell the practice. If that’s the case, it’s the wrong question to ask. You want to learn what’s best for the clinic, not you. Later on, you can talk about what works for both of you. But on the first call, it’s all about them.”
The clinic may have warm – or sour – feelings for their prior rep. “If the subject comes up, remember Sales 101,” says Baker. “Never talk bad about the competition or co-workers. Your approach should be, ‘Let’s give this a chance to see how we can work together.’”
Finally, never leave the practice without some kind of follow-up, even if it’s simply asking the question, “When can I call you back?”
See Ten Steps Toward Making a Favorable First Impression - related sidebar
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CALL
Be mindful of time, cautions Bridges. That’s true for the first visit, and every visit. “Remember, you are encroaching on their space.” Managers differ on this point, but Bridges believes it’s poor etiquette to try to sell something on the first visit. “The first meeting is more of a business development call, the beginning of a conversation. If you [treat it as such], you will be seen as a resource rather than a nuisance who’s out of touch. It’s common sense, but it doesn’t happen enough. You’re creating value by demonstrating you’re willing to learn.”
Thank the customer for seeing you, and ask if he or she has any past issues that need resolving, he advises reps. “Let them tell you what’s on their mind and what their mindset is. At that point, you can take the conversation into a direction about what you can offer them. Show them that you’re there to create value – not to waste their time.”
Ask questions to stimulate dialogue, he continues. “Ask what problems they might be having in their business, for which you can serve as a resource. Ask what practice management software they use, and whether they like it. Are they looking to expand into new specialties, e.g., dentistry? Look for things that the account believes will help in the way of efficiency and revenue.”
See a Customer Perspective - related sidebar
LOOK FOR CLUES
The initial sales call should not be about making a sale, but rather, “identifying the customer and taking the time to let them know that you are interested in them and their practice,” advises Brodersen.
“Be aware of clues that can assist you with tailoring the conversation pace and style to best fit the customer. Do not make the call all about you via an introduction and background. Learn about them first and then see if there is interest in them learning about you.”
After that first encounter, the rep should follow up with a note thanking the manager or doctor for seeing him. Let the account know “how pleased you are to work with them, and offer any pertinent pieces of information that may be timely or of interest to the customer that you were not able to cover in the initial call. End with an invitation to speak again and your contact information.”
After making that first call with a new account, take a moment to reflect on what just occurred, says Bridges. As a territory rep, “I would evaluate myself. ‘How do I think that call went?’ ‘What could I have done better?’ ‘Was the owner or decision-maker engaged, or did they speak with me only because they felt they had to?’
“I would send them a thank-you card – not an email,” he continues. “Something to reaffirm the positive experience. Suggested verbiage: “Dr. Bridges, it was a pleasure to meet you. I know your time is very important; thank you for meeting with me. I look forward to being a trusted partner.” Respond quickly to any requests. “You’ll beat 90 percent of people just by doing that,” he says.
If the rep notices a particular manufacturer’s products on the practice’s shelves, ask the manufacturer for his or her take on the practice. “Ask what they like or don’t like. Ask how you can best position yourself with the practice.” By enlisting the help of the manufacturer rep, you’ve gained an ally, continues Bridges. The two of you can go back to the practice for a product demonstration or inservice, or a lunch-and-learn, or simply to educate the staff on veterinary topics, such as the lifecycle of a heartworm or flea.
“Even though you’re trying to sell them something, you are also approaching the practice as a resource,” he says. “You’re providing something while you’re asking for something.”
“The key to any sales call or any type of sales is the follow-up,” says Baker. “Send the account an email with your contact information, and a recap of what you discussed,” he advises reps. “Make it as short as possible.