Physician Relations: What Makes Sales “Slimy?”

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA |

The word “sales” has a negative connotation for many.  That disappoints many of us who work so hard to do it right. Having said that, I suspect we can all share a time when we were on the receiving end of an individual who totally owned the phase “slimy sales.” Think, “What would it take to get you to drive this car off the lot today?

Nobody intends to be a turn-off, yet not every field approach creates a positive feeling or trust. As I share a few of the sales styles that go too far, take a minute to examine your approach. Are there times when borderline approaches creep into your conversations?

  1. Manipulation. Persuasion is an important aspect in relationship sales, but let’s be clear about the difference between that and manipulating a conversation, a person or an expectation to seal the deal. While I am all for putting the best foot forward, failing to be candid, or manipulating the facts for personal gain, is going over the line.

For example: Here are some borderline actions to avoid

  • Creating a perceived crisis to get internal stakeholders to respond to your needs.
  • Getting a new specialist to do rounds on short notice to get your numbers to the right place.
  • Using relationships with key stakeholders to get your own way.

In these examples, I suspect you recognize that it’s not that the activity is wrong, it’s why it was done. Manipulation is self-serving; nobody wants to feel that someone played them.

  1. Pushy. Great field staff find that sweet spot of gentle persistence, but they recognize that pushing too hard is a turn-off.  Pushy sales people can often be found hammering on the same points over and over and hoping to get a different reply. Contrast that to a good field plan that gently unfolds solutions based on the customer’s buy-in. This takes reading the customer and aligning with their priorities and, frankly, bringing your brain to the call. Pushy people are often those who think that if they just “ask for the business” enough times, eventually the customer will just give in.  In the world of earning referrals, if you push too hard or you are a “One Note Nancy,” you are soon sitting alone in the waiting area and wondering why you can’t get time with the decisionmakers.

Footnote on this one: I often hear leaders, who likely have not sold, suggesting that field staff do not do a good job of “asking for the business.” It is absolutely the role of the rep to ask for the business, but the ask needs to occur when the client is qualified and has verbally agreed to your benefits. In other words, asking for the business will be pushy if you have not earned the right to close.

  1. Selfish. Every successful field rep needs to have enough ego to strongly represent themselves and their organization. The distinction here is between a self- confident field rep and one that is so selfish they fail to recognize the customer’s needs. Selfish reps fail to be good listeners and are solely focused on telling the physician what they think he/she should hear. Being a non-selfish rep goes beyond understanding the client’s needs, it also includes doing the total office visit and understanding the role of each person in supporting the process.  It means that if you can’t provide something and another field rep in your organization can, you work to learn enough to do a seamless hand-off. This is especially true for service line reps or organizations that have different teams who sell ancillary vs. acute care.  Another example is failing to listen to the doctor’s needs because you want to push your agenda on that day.
  2. Misrepresent: This one often starts innocently enough with a little stretching of the truth. Over time, the facts you offer move further away from the reality. The result is that the sales person ends up misrepresenting the product, the service, the experience or the approach. It doesn’t really matter why or how it happened. If the prospective physician or other client was provided with information that was not accurate, that is not okay. With this one I always think of those high profile individuals who padded their resumes. Over time, it just gets to be part of their story until they are found out and we all know what happens then. Field staff work so very hard to build trust and credibility and it can be lost with one small distortion.  Getting it back will take a long time, maybe a lifetime.

Did you have other turn-offs that I did not call out? I suspect that is the case.  While it’s great to learn from optimal experiences, my best learnings are often about what I do not want to do.

  1. Gail

    Your footnote about administration’s misunderstanding of waiting for the appropriate time to “close” is spot on. Many of them do not realize that if you want sales to increase on a more permanent basis, there must be relationship-building and the development of trust which takes time.

    1. Barlow McCarthy

      Gail, you are stating what so many feel and it creates lots of pressure. I am sure you found that allies who appreciate the challenges and know the timeframes who are in other roles can really help. As well, when plans are created, those timeframes for expected growth need to be put in writing. This journey continues… -Kriss Barlow