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focus_Training Your Sales Team for Today’s Changing Customers

Training Your Sales Team for Today’s Changing Customers

By Michelle O’Connor

The following are some of the key strategies that MDD trainers can use to help drive results in the field.

Encourage Better Knowledge- Sharing

“We see a communication gap with the national account reps who have negotiated the contract … and how they communicate back to the field,” said Tony Ybarra, CMRP, senior vice president of CHC Supply Trust, the supply chain services arm of Community Hospital Corp. “They don’t take the time to look at the organization or understand its complexity and the hospitals we support.”

Trainers can help account managers and sales representatives better serve their integrated delivery network (IDN) customers by making sure they routinely ask these questions and share what they know with other team members:

• What is the customer’s GPO affiliation?

• Is the organization’s supply chain centralized or decentralized?

• What rules does the hospital or health system have in place for suppliers to engage with clinicians and executives?

*Is everyone on the team—including the field sales team—aware of any national contracts with the customer?

• Which value-based payment models are being piloted in the customer’s market?

• What are the current threats to the IDN’s bottom line? For example, is the organization a disproportionate share hospital (DSH) that receives government payments to care for indigent patients? If so, how are DSH payments changing in that state?

Help Sales Teams Uncover and Address Their Customers’ Weaknesses

“As a provider, I would like to tell you that we are ready for value-based purchasing, but we are not,” Ybarra said.

In fact, most IDNs are not as automated on the electronic health record (EHR) as they need to be and may benefit from initiatives that assist them in developing efficiencies along the patient care journey. This will help them prepare for bundled payments, gain-sharing arrangements, and other models being piloted across the country.

Robert DeVol, director of Premier’s Healthcare Innovators Collaborative, agreed. “Providers are not trained to do quality improvement and process improvement, and not always the best change leaders,” he said.

DeVol added that the MDD industry can play an important role in helping support change at the customer level. Specifically, he believes MDD companies can apply their expertise in developing, deploying and executing national strategies with provider organizations’ need to standardize care for large populations.

DeVol recommended that trainers teach sales teams to approach service line directors or quality improvement leaders and identify how they can help solve problems.

“Most of the work by health systems in newer value-based models is managed at the quality department level,” he said. After connecting with service line and quality improvement leaders, sales representatives can reach out to supply chain leaders and foster meaningful connections.

Offer Timely Content that Keeps Teams Informed of Policy and Payment Trends

Trainers should make sure that sales teams understand emerging payment models, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), bundled payment initiatives, and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), created through the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA).

“MACRA is the law that fundamentally transforms our marketplace,” DeVol said. He also noted that MIPS is a proxy for how value can be defined in the future and suggested that trainers work with their company’s policy and government relations experts or an outside company that provides content developed by subject matter experts to help address these training needs. To make complex policy and payment information easier to understand, Alister Barrow, MHA, CEO of Assured Lab Services and a former corporate account director at Johnson & Johnson, recommended that trainers use micro-learning strategies. The following are some examples of short “micro-lessons”— each focused on a single objective—that trainers can share with the field:

• A short podcast on the four performance categories of MIPS

• An article on how a local IDN is changing its purchasing strategy

• A video interview with a hospital executive on YouTube

• A five-question quiz on a new payment model

Emphasize the Language of Value

Barrow urged trainers to leverage off-the-shelf or customized content on value-based selling to help sales teams craft effective value propositions that go beyond the features and benefits of their product to reflect the company’s entire portfolio of services and expertise. “We’re still sending folks out there trained in the old way — focusing on features and benefits — expecting new results,” he said. A

ccording to Ybarra, trainers need to ensure that their sales teams can adequately articulate their product’s value proposition to physicians, clinicians, and the value analysis team. More than ever before, changing payment models are driving customers’ interest in reviewing products to determine how they affect clinical outcomes and metrics, including length of stay and readmission rates.

“We are no longer interested in products and services that are ‘nice to have’ in our environment, because ‘nice to have’ is not going to impact the clinical outcome,” he said. Sales teams also need to understand what initiatives their customers are working on and make sure that their product or service aligns to these priorities.

Train Teams to Adapt Their Message Based on the Audience

Brent Petty, an executive industry consultant and former system vice president of supply chain for Wellmont Health System, encouraged trainers to prepare their sales forces to have conversations with three types of IDN leaders: service line leaders, supply chain leaders, and C-Suite executives. Sales representatives should be ready to go from “scrubs to suits” and make sure their value proposition is tailored to each audience, according to Petty, who also serves on the board of directors for the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management.

To help sales teams reach supply chain leaders, trainers can provide content on crafting messages that address three common challenges for the supply chain: bandwidth, expertise, and validation of their current strategies.

“The Affordable Care Act thrust supply chain into the limelight,” Petty said. “We are being asked to reduce cost in ways that we have never thought of before in areas we have never dealt with before.”

Sometimes, supply chain leaders just don’t have the bandwidth to research each and every product. For example, even the best supply chain leaders rarely know the total cost of ownership for specific products, but sales teams can help. “If your company can do the legwork for us, you become a partner that is helping run our business,” he said.

Expertise is another area where sales teams can help supply chain leaders. Trainers can offer modules and micro-lessons to help sales representatives become coaches, instructing healthcare executives on how complex technologies work — without the sales pitch.

Supply chain leaders also need help validating their current strategies and planning for the future.

“The people you train are our subject matter experts, and we count on them acting that way when they call on us,” Petty said.

Ybarra agreed. “Sales representatives are no longer considered the dark side,” he said. “They are partners in our healthcare business.”


Michelle R. O’Connor, MEd, is president and CEO of CMR Institute. Email Michelle at 


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