Get out there …

Friday, December 31, 2004

We hear individuals in our industry every day express disappointment and anger at their plight. They consider their position in the business and wonder why they bother. Some outsiders might, at first blush, agree. They cite overall sales growth in the industry as being low (about 10-12% over the past few years, which is actually quite good when compared to many other businesses) and profits as inadequate for the risk they take in operating a business. Pressure and stress are high, collections are problematic and CMS keeps changing the rules. In fact, a significant number of providers lose money and go out of business each year. So, they say: Why aren’t we doing something else?

Our answer to these cries of despair is - put as nicely as we can say it - Quit complaining, get off your butt and sell something. This is NOT a bad business to be in for most people. More than half of the providers have annual volume growth of more than 10% and almost one-quarter have growth that exceeds 20%. A sizable percentage of providers have profits that exceed 20% of sales and these are usually the same companies that are growing. Even if you ignore the very important fact that as HME providers they are supplying a vital community health service and employing people who need to work to support their families, this business is still a good one to be in and offers plenty of opportunity to those willing to exert the effort to be top performers.

So, what’s the difference between the nearly-out-of-business-and-not-making-any-money companies and the high-growth / adequate-profit companies? It usually comes down to that dirty word that makes many people uneasy - selling.

Top performers don’t wait for the phone to ring. They spend their time filling their “tool chest” with powerful sales enhancers. They then use them on everyone they can get out to see. They make appointments, but don’t wait around the office if they can’t get them. They try to see physicians and if they can’t they see nurses or spend some quality time with the all-important receptionists. They have attractive Web sites and marketing materials. They speak at any AARP, AMVET or Lions meeting that will put them on the agenda. They write letters to their local paper on disability related issues. They attend grand openings and other community events that might have a dozen people in attendance. They participate in every community group they can become a member of. They don’t worry as much about making a few mistakes as they do about not doing enough to ever make any. They are willing to try most anything to sell themselves and their company.

So use employee/customer focus groups and networking to generate marketing ideas. Networking skills are critical to get lots of ideas, and you can always discard those that won’t work for you. If you get burned out for a day or two, spend it training or studying new gee-whiz equipment to wow future customers and referral sources. Winners get out there and stay out there.

Poor performers find plenty of reasons for their problems. They develop a tunnel vision and focus on things they can’t control. Instead, they need to look in the mirror and work on things they can control.

Poor performers think that staff should take care of sales and don’t care about things like sales literature and Web sites (after all those things cost money!). They would never consider doing a cable TV spot or short radio advertisement even if the costs were low. They don’t try new products or ever consider using a “loss leader” to get attention from referral sources. They just wait for the phone to ring and bemoan their fate.

So, my advice is to get out there and sell, sell, sell. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Set a goal, a deadline, define responsibilities and get started! This is a great business to be in, and if you’re going to be in the business anyway, why not be the best?

- Van Miller is CEO of the VGM Group in Waterloo, Iowa.