Sales force: 'Front line' of supporting providers

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

After hearing that some providers are receiving fewer visits and phone calls from manufacturer sales representatives, HME News called several manufacturers to get a response. While some companies declined to discuss their policies, Lou Slangen, Invacare's senior vice president of global market development, had this to say.
HME News: Does Invacare have the same number of feet on the ground?
Lou Slangen: Fundamentally, yes. Even with all the participants in the home health arena being under reimbursement pressure, Invacare has not reduced the number of representatives that it has in the field compared to last year, three years or five years ago. Our homecare division has between 135 and 145 field sales reps and about 25 inside sales reps that support the field sales reps. That number may have changed five up or five down, but fundamentally, it's the same.
HME: What about the job responsibilities of your sales reps? Are they still educating providers and their employees, and providing other services?
Slangen: We continue to educate and train, at the same rate as before. Our bottom line has been that we're not going to change our support and representation to the provider for short-term gain. Obviously, we have challenges like everyone else, but we feel to trim the sales force--that is the front line of supporting the provider, especially when times get tough.
HME: Some providers report that manufacturers are encouraging them to interact with manufacturers through their Web sites rather than through their sales reps. Providers say this worries them.
Slangen: About 40% of our business with providers is conducted electronically. We are making it attractive for providers to conduct business that way. But at the end of the day, the issue isn't the provider or Invacare; the issue is the provider and Invacare working together to take the cost out of the delivery model, which includes ordering electronically. Having said that, we need our sales force intact to make sure providers know about new products and understand what they do.