You're either in business to win, or you're not

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's your plan?

I like this phrase. I use it all the time. I ask myself, my partners, my clients. It's a sharp, no-nonsense jab that gets right to it, and also forces you to look ahead--and if you're not doing that, you might as well turn out the lights.

News flash: Competitive bidding and reimbursement cuts have created a hyper-competitive HME market. Every sale is a battle. The good news: Plan correctly, and you can win the battle before it starts. And you really need only two weapons, so long as they're true and infuse everything your company does. You need commitment, and you need vision.

Now here's the thing: Your vision can't be based on hunches, hopes or little hairs on your neck. Your vision of your company has to be based on actual market conditions and needs. It has to be researched and substantiated. And it has to be viable.

Here's a little quantifiable proof of the power of proper vision. For the last 10 months, I served as interim sales chief at a leading HME/DME provider in the Southeast. This company was a recognized national provider, but had hit a prolonged snag. Revenues were flat for years. You maybe recognize the story: an uncertain future, the looming dread of knowing you need more sales, the drowning realization that you just can't make them. That's what I found when I arrived: A company in desperate need of an entirely new growth vision. When I left last month, the sales management team was replaced. Seven sales positions were eliminated. The company enjoyed a 50% reduction in sales overhead--and, despite those manpower cuts, a 20% increase in new-patient revenue. 

Commitment and vision, folks, broken into five steps that any company can (and absolutely should) take:

• Architect a new business: Thoroughly and honestly evaluate your company's viability and determine its ongoing core business. If you can't, you don't have one.

• Assemble the best team: Let's be honest. There are people in this business who were successful simply because they were at the right place at the right time. This business used to be like a New York street: a pizza place on every corner. There was an HME provider on every corner, and demand was still greater than supply and everyone was happy. Now you have to compete for everything, and the people who've "been there" don't necessarily have the DNA to do it.

• Establish care processes: Now everyone knows what's expected of them. Now salespeople can predict revenue and adjust their tactics accordingly. Now you can trash the 80/20 rule (80% of production from 20% of staff) and expect everyone to contribute. This is not just a step for your sales department, but for every department. 

Example: You know CMNs are the biggest holdups in the business. You can't move product without them, and for whatever reasons, doctors and clinics are never in a rush to return them. When I arrived down south, they were getting back about 600 requested CMNs. When I left, it was more than 1,100. How? I gave our representatives the right words to say and had them keep pictures of loved ones in sight whenever they called about a CMN. When they called, they were thinking about their dad or mom or daughter. How hard would you fight to get your dad what he needed? Just that energy alone generated positive results. It was a winning process, a combination of conviction and real emotion. Except for the CEO, who was on board from the start, everyone thought we were crazy--until it worked.

• Training forever: You have the best people, but do they know what to do? Training is more than cramming everyone in a room for an eight-hour PowerPoint. Training is interactive. It's role-playing with practical examples. It's testing. It's recording phone calls and analyzing them as a group. And it never stops: Tiger Woods never stops examining his swing. 

• Accountability always: You can't just announce higher production standards; you have to enforce them. Absolute commitment must start with the president and CEO, and filter down. You've devised your core strategy; you're hired the right people; and you've determined the best processes and trained your team well. You've elevated your game. Now hold everyone to it. 

Critical: This is no place for the squeamish. The moment an employee falls below your higher standards is the moment you step in. In this market, every interaction is a critical interaction, and when standards aren't maintained you either diagnose and correct a training issue or you diagnose a rogue employee. Hey, it happens, and it has to be addressed immediately. If you don't like it, try gardening or writing greeting cards. I'm not downplaying the emotion of dealing with a substandard employee--it can be difficult--but I can't think of a better example of the ultimate commitment required. You're either in business to win, or you're not.

Believe this: You can win. There's nothing special about that company down south, in terms of its products, but it's thriving now in the same economy that's eating you alive. Why? Superior people, superior processes, superior technology. They always had the technology; now they have the people and processes, too, and the results are astronomical. 

So, what's your plan?

Michael Sperduti is president and CEO of Emerge Sales Inc. Learn more at