These guys must be doing something right

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mike Laky knows what HME providers want from their sales reps, and he should. Prior to starting his independent rep firm 10 years ago with partner David Monceaux, Laky operated his own rehab company. Nothing bugged him more than a rep who did not return phone calls promptly.

“When I was a provider, we weren’t the biggest player in the field, but we weren’t the smallest,” he said recently. “But I couldn’t get a rep to call me back. That always bothered me. If you don’t call providers back, they don’t know what is going on.”

Tampa, Fla.-based MLS Associates celebrated its 10th anniversary Jan. 1. During that time, the partners have grown their company to 21 employees, 15 of those sales associates. The company represents manufacturers in 18 states and Puerto Rico. Laky talked recently about the secret to his company’s success and how MLS caters to the needs of its two masters, providers and manufacturers.

HME News: MLS is different from many, if not most, rep firms in that your reps are employees, not independent contractors. How has that contributed to your success?

Mike Laky: The difference is that I can tell a manufacturer what we are going to do and that is what we are going to do. My thought pattern was that if you become a sales associate for MLS, all you have to do is wake up in the morning and go sell something. We will support you with marketing. We will support you with benefits. We will take care of your taxes. We cover everyone with general liability insurance. We have workers compensation taken care of. Everything is done. It has worked.

HME: I think it’s interesting--and amazingly stupid--that some reps ignore something as basic as returning a phone call in a timely fashion.
Laky: Yes. Return phone calls--and how about a thank you once in a while! If I tell you I’m going to do something, by George, I better do it. At the same time, we’re asking for the same respect back from the provider. If we are showing up and educating their staff and in-servicing them on a new product or whatever…if we are doing well for you, then order product from me. I don’t care if I’m $1 higher or $3 higher. If I’m 50% higher, that’s different.

HME: How do you make sure your reps return calls promptly?

Laky: We have a young lady who works for us and does telemarketing, and if a manufacturer is not performing well in a state, she’ll call around behind our salesperson and find out if there is a problem with our salesperson or if there are additional things we need to be doing.

HME: Sounds like you are big on accountability.

Laky: If you have consistency and accountability, that is huge for these manufacturers, especially in the times we are in right now. In other groups, where everyone is their own independent contractor, a rep could have three lines with Mike Laky and three lines of his own. If you call and say you want him to roll out a new product, he might say, ‘No. I have something that is paying me more money.’ Or he might have something he’d rather do that week. I couldn’t run like that.

HME: Are your sales people on straight commission?

Laky: Some are salary and commission. Some are straight commission. I let them decide based on their personality.

HME: How do MLS associates differ from in-house sales reps?

Laky: I think when you get into a large directly employed sales force, people can get dry and lose some of the energy or risk taking. I see myself and others at MLS as people who don’t want to work for a large corporation. I’m not a micro manager. If I have to call someone every day to ask them what they are doing, and call them at the end of the day and ask what did they write today, then I hired the wrong person. I think the attraction for a person to work for us is that we give them enough rope to tie up their problems or hang themselves.