Managing Editor

Monday, December 31, 2001

Do your part: Help Arnie make the cut
When it comes to sales and marketing, few would venture to mention the HME dealer in the same breath as P.T. Barnum.

That includes adopting the Internet as a tool to boost sales as well as following up on manufacturers leads. In a front page story this month, Electric Mobility President Michael Flowers, in explaining his company's decision to cut out the dealer and go direct with certain product lines, complained that dealers seldom follow up on sales leads EM generated for them. Another manufacturer fumed that "dealers are not good marketers and sit back and wait for business."

Indeed, when it comes to selling over the Internet, some providers seem to be quaking in their boots. A number of these large providers have pressured manufacturers to drop efforts to make it easier for consumers to buy product on line (see HME News story, 12/15/01). Whatever happened to freedom of choice?

It's hard to say how deep these problems run throughout the industry. But such attitudes along with downward pricing pressures, may ultimately discourage new manufacturers from entering the market, and who could blame them? Unfortunately, the result will be less choice for providers.

When it comes to sales, Electric Mobility took a hit last year when an Inside Edition expose chronicled its high pressure techniques (Flowers claims EM has since softened its tactics). Watching the EM sales rep, sitting in an older women's living room, practically refusing to leave and offering one "drop close" after another conjured up the image of an unscrupulous used car dealer, funny and repulsive at the same time.

But if this is one sales extreme, failing to follow up on a manufacturer's lead or hampering efforts to increase Internet sales is another, and, in its own way, equally unthinkable.

As we have heard countless times, with the "graying of America" the HME industry is destined to grow. Manufacturers are all too aware of this and doing everything they can to insinuate themselves into the mainstream consciousness, by designing attractive products and enlisting high profile spokespeople like Arnold Palmer (Invacare) and Evel Knievel (Pride Mobility Products).

Granted providers face myriad challenges, from HIPAA to Medicare reimbursement, but those who fail to adopt mainstream sales and marketing techniques will make it tough for even Arnold Palmer to make the cut. HME