Sales tricks of the trade you can use today

Use everyone in your agency to get the word out

(Editor’s note: In the first of a two-part series, Home Infusion Therapy Management looks at how you can supercharge your sales by turning both yourself and your entire staff into a selling machine. Next month, we’ll show you the best places to search for the top-notch salesperson and incentive programs that will motivate your entire staff.)

Competition is tough and getting more so every day. Is there a way that your agency, without emptying its coffers, can truly stand out and attract new business? With an adequately trained sales staff, the answer is a resounding yes.

Regardless of whether you’re a huge one-stop shop or a local provider of strictly home infusion, knowing how to approach sales is critical to your success. The first step in gauging you’re situation is often taking a look in the mirror.

"What a lot of people have to overcome is that they are clinicians who don’t have experience in a sales environment," says Michael Tortorici, RPh, MS, president of AlternaCare of America in Dayton, OH. "Also, they’re entrepreneurs trying to maintain their business and take care of patients, while at the same time trying to grow the business and develop relationships with their referral sources."

A clinician can make a good salesperson

That’s not to say that as a clinician and entrepreneur you can’t be an effective salesperson. The fact is, you very well may have what it takes. (See story on self-assessment, p. 120.) If you decide to give it a try, Tortorici suggests getting your feet wet first with a planned sales call to a current referral source.

"Go to them with an agenda, perhaps to thank them for business or discuss new therapies that can be done in the home," he says. "I’m also a firm believer in using patient satisfaction surveys. Going in with a good patient satisfaction survey certainly validates the physician’s decision to use the company. And if it is bad, talk about what was done to improve it."

By starting in "friendly" territory, you won’t have to ‘sell’ per se, and you can gauge how comfortable you are presenting the benefits of your agency to someone.

However, you may find yourself in the same boat as many other entrepreneurs or administrators: you simply don’t have the time or the desire to do all that is required of an effective salesperson. That brings up a second hurdle for many home infusion agencies.

"They’re often limited," notes Tortorici. "To go out and hire a good sales manager, expect to pay in the $75,000 per year range."

But there’s no need to aim that high unless you’re already a large company. Tortorici says that smaller companies are sometimes better off hiring one qualified salesperson as opposed to a high-powered sales manager. The fact is, you may not need all that firepower.

"Instead of hiring a $75,000 sales manager, I’ve assisted agencies in hiring a salesperson. Then I’ll mentor and work with the salesperson," he says. "The organization gets a salesperson and a sales manager without that fixed expense."

What if time is a factor?

But what if you’ve done the self-evaluation and think you’re the one who can bring in new business, yet you don’t have the time. Tortorici says there’s an answer to that problem as well.

"I’ve also seen small organizations bring on part-time clinicians, which affords the owner or entrepreneur the opportunity to promote his or her services," he says.

Zachary Tinkler, the director of marketing for Carter Health Care of Oklahoma City, OK, says there are numerous cost-effective steps even the smallest agency can take to improve sales. But one of the best ways is to turn everyone in your agency into a marketer.

"I’m talking about everybody from the home health aides and nurses to the delivery driver," says Tinkler. "Whoever it is, everybody turns into a marketer."

For example, Carter holds marketing meetings for all employees. But what if you’re a small agency and have just one or two individuals at your disposal? There’s still room to sell.

"If it were me and one other person, I would use all the resources in my organization for marketing," notes Tinkler. "I would make joint calls with one specialist and one generalist, with the marketer being the generalist and a nurse, respiratory therapist, or physical therapist being the specialist."

Such an approach isn’t good for just small agencies. Tortorici notes that the potential referral source will likely get a better impression of your agency with two individuals.

"I think it is very advantageous for the clinician on occasion to accompany the salesperson," he says. "The professional person has the proper approach, and when the final commitment comes from the owner of an organization, that certainly validates."

Keep in mind that successful sales calls rely on a favorable or unique service to sell — something even the smallest staff can provide.

"Name recognition and the service you provide is a big part of that," says Tinkler. By giving sales staff, whether that be yourself or a devoted salesperson, a quality product to sell, you’re making their job that much easier.

Turning even home health aides into marketers isn’t all that Carter does differently. Even as the 44th largest home health provider in the nation, Carter still takes a "small-town" approach to marketing.

"We don’t send sales reps out just to manage a territory," says Tinkler. "We send reps out after the right doctors with the right message. They aren’t just a sales rep to that physician. They become a home health consultant."

First, the company’s sales reps aren’t even called such. They’re referred to as professional service coordinators (PSCs). These PSCs meet with physicians and take a personal interest in each patient referred to Carter.

"After we get a referral, it’s mandatory they follow up with that physician with an updated history on how the patient’s doing." Tinkler adds that many times the PSC also will contact the family or patient, when applicable.

"PSCs take an active role in making calls and follow-up, and you can see that the doctors appreciate when they’re involved with the family," says Tinkler.

But even then, there should be sales on the PSC’s mind. By knowing a patient’s condition, it’s easy for the PSC to magnify all the services Carter provides that might be beneficial to that patient.

"It’s maximizing the sale," says Tinkler. "Medicare is the largest chunk of our business. But if we can go outside Medicare to the private duty side or things like that and make additional funds off of what will be beneficial to the patient, we’ll do that."

Tinkler notes that Carter has 13 PSCs, each of which are responsible for an average of seven patients per month. Creating such personal relationships is critical to your agency’s future.

"If you don’t have a relationship with somebody that is referring to you, you’re not going to have that business long," says Tinkler.

Tortorici agrees. "This is a relationship business," he says. "It’s maintaining and growing at the same time. A lot of people go for the new business and take referral sources for granted. But when you start taking a referral source for granted, you could lose them."

Keep in mind that such relationships don’t have to be with referral sources that refer exclusively to you. Sometimes, being runner-up is fine.

"I see managed care saying even to hospitals, ‘You can’t care for that patient; we have a contract with XYZ,’ so it really gets involved," says Tortorici. If you find your agency losing business to pre-existing contacts, aim for second fiddle on the MCO’s list.

"If you can’t be number one, you’ve got to be number two," says Tinkler. "There’s going to be something that we provide that we’re going to use as number two, so we want to be solely number two and not number two on a rotation basis with other companies."

Next month, we’ll look at places right under your nose in which you may be able to find your next super salesperson.

[Editor’s note: For more information on AlternaCare of America’s consulting on interim sales management and marketing strategies, call (800) 433-9503.]