Sunrise specializes sales

Sunday, June 30, 2002

LONGMONT, Colo. - Five years after Sunrise Medical centralized its sales force under the aegis of the company's Home Healthcare Group, the manufacturer is breaking up its sales team into two specialized groups that call on referral sources and one general account group that calls on the HME customer.

Starting late last month, 16 Sunrise sales reps got marching orders to call on referral sources that drive sleep patients to HME providers; 30 reps will now call on physical and occupational therapists who refer business to rehab dealers. The balance of the sales team, about 55 reps, will handle general HME account business.

"At the end of the day, all we're doing is putting or specialists where they belong," said Sunrise President John Kitts. "It doesn't make sense to take people with very specific skill-sets in rehab and respiratory and ask them to go out and sell crutches and canes and personal care."

The reorganization is driven by a frank appreciation of what's happening in the more clinical sleep and rehab markets.

"The people making the decisions are the PT/OTs, as opposed to the dealer," said Sunrise Medical's director of marketing, Lori Thompson. "If we continue to pump out general account managers, we do nothing to bring value into our brands or products. We might as well be a generic drug company."

Pre-1997, Sunrise fielded sales forces that were unique to Quickie, unique to DeVilbiss, and so on. Some HMEs had several different Sunrise reps calling. Today, only one general account rep from Sunrise will call on the HME customer.

While providers have recently complained about seeing their Sunrise reps too infrequently, and despite the thinning ranks of the general account reps, Thompson said dealers should see their reps more often since general account reps are no longer responsible for calls to referral sources, which typically take up much more of a rep's time.

The Sunrise sales reorganization is an admission of what some say is becoming increasingly more apparent: the referral source details the product selection.

"Dealers are becoming less involved," said Barry Steelman, director of marketing at Permobil. "The [rehab] centers are recommending more and more of what they feel their patient needs."

At the same time, Steelman allows that his company's reps probably do more with dealers than referral sources.

In sleep, call-points in the sleep lab are ingredients of a successful recipe for companies like Respironics and Resmed. As Sunrise Medical's DeVilbiss division makes bold strides in the sleep market, getting sleep labs to specify DeVilbiss product when referring business to HMEs is imperative.

In fact, sleep labs probably specify more product brands than referral sources in any other category except ventilation, according to Bob Fary, corporate director of respiratory therapy at Apria.

That dynamic is not without its challenges, "particularly when it's a higher level device, and the payer we're contracting with isn't willing to pay," said Fary.

The new sales strategy is partly a consequence of Sunrise Medical's decision last year to lead with its four main brands - DeVilbiss, Quickie, Jay and Guardian - and not the Sunrise Medical name, a strategy the company adopted during the mid to late 1990s when it was competing with Invacare for pre-eminent market position.

"We don't spend all our time looking at Invacare any more," said Lori Thompson, director of marketing at Sunrise. "We're just as concerned with what Respironics and Resmed are doing, with Pride and Colours and Roho." HME