This article isn't written as much for Sterile Processing leaders as it is for those who wish to sell to them. It's for the hungry instrument vendor who earnestly wants to get their tungsten carbide scissors in the hands of your techs and ultimately your surgeons. For the three-piece-suited sales executive knocking on your door with brochures for $200K+ sterilizers and "next generation" instrument washers and for the tech-savvy instrument tracking rep, sporting black-rimmed glasses, skinny tie, and a smile (you know it's true!).
Sterile Processing departments can not operate without the products and services these vendors provide. Likewise, these vendors can not survive without "making the sale" to department leaders. Like it or not, we are in this thing together. But thankfully, because of the level of competition in the industry, SPD professionals have many companies to choose from for nearly every purchasing decision. Managers and directors have the luxury of shopping around, so if you want to sell to them, you'd better be on your A-game. To help you get started, here's an insider's guide to getting your product into our departments...
1) Business is Personal
In the indomitable words of Michael Scott, fictional regional manager at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper, "Business is always personal . . . It's the most personal thing in the world." That's as true in the world of German stainless steel as it as in the world of paper -- department leaders want to know who they're working with and they want you to know them. You need to know their own particular department's challenges. You need to know why they switched from one vendor to another last year, what other big purchases they have in the works, and who the other prime decision makers are. Some leaders will divulge this kind of information freely, others may be a bit more guarded. But if you don't do your due diligence in building an holistic customer profile on their department, don't be surprised if they don't call you back. No two ambulatory care centers are created equal. Each level-1 trauma center has it's own personality. If you try to sell them cookie-cutter products, you'll be left with cookie-cutter success . . . which means nothing but the crumbs.
2) Put Your Hand To The Plow
Harvests don't come out of nowhere. Wheat and corn don't magically pop up in rows waiting for roving farmers to come and take them to market. And sales to Sterile Processing departments don't start the first time you shake hands with the manager. If you want to be taken seriously as a trusted vendor for their facility, you need to do the serious work of plowing the field and preparing for the harvest. Not every vendor representative has the luxury of having previously worked in an SPD (though there are some). Even without this experience, if you're selling to Sterile Processing departments you ought to have a thorough understanding of what they do and how they do it. One of the best ways out there to concretely demonstrate this is by obtaining your CCSVP certification through the IAHCSMM organization. A growing number of SPDs around the country are now requiring certification from their technicians (either CRCST or CBSPD), so it only makes sense to expect the same level of commitment from the folks who want to gain their trust.
3) Be Careful Where You Throw The Matches
So, Walt Disney was right: it's a small world (after all). And just like many other industries, the SPD world is a lot smaller than folks give it credit for (and getting smaller by the day). Local, regional, and national conferences are bringing leaders together in a way not seen in previous generations. And social media is beginning to link far-flung departments through online forums and professional networking groups, allowing for information sharing and industry crowdsourcing. This means it's more important than ever to be careful not to burn those proverbial bridges -- be they big or small. Leaders talk and they remember. If you set a meeting up with them and don't show, you've just struck a match that could burn away any hope of selling to them for years to come. Your products could mean life or death for their patients, so if you're not dependable enough to follow-through with normal business commitments, they know there are five other reps lined up behind you who will.
4) Little People are a Big Deal
An extension of the previous point is this: future Sterile Processing leaders don't just fall from the sky. Most of them are already working as technicians, specialists, or shift supervisors in the department to which you are selling. They may not wear ties and dress shirts to work, but one day they might -- and they will remember how you treated them, for better or for worse. If you badgered them on cold calls to speak to their manager who was otherwise busy, or if you brushed past them struggling to carry trays out the door without an offer to help, in a few short years it may come back to bite you in the sales quota. This reality is not as much about holding a professional grudge or extracting revenge as it is about you teaching them the deeper cultural story of the company you represent. You're selling an experience of a product/service to an entire department, so you'd better ensure they all feel valued or they will find value somewhere else.
5) Of Products and Partnerships
Granted, there is a spectrum of involvement expected in the SPD sales world, somewhat tied to the complexity of the product/service you are bringing to the table. If you've sold a manager the same box of sterile gloves for 5 years and that's all you sell, there's not a lot of need for you to be present or engaged on a consistent basis with the life of the department. However, if you're marketing chemicals used during their decontamination process or you're their vendor for an instrument tracking software, it behooves you to consistently have your finger on the pulse of their facility. Not only that, but Sterile Processing leaders want you to have a feel for what other departments in their area are having success with and why. The salesman as consultant is the model that can really set you apart from your competitors, or sink you faster than a lead pipe. Going back to points #1 and #2, in order to provide this product/service consulting partnership, you must have a thorough knowledge of where your product plugs into the complex puzzle of SPD life. If leaders get the idea that you don't know what you're talking about, chances are you'll be taking that sample back home with you.
Nothing discussed here is rocket science, nor is it really a secret. It's the not-so-common sense that can make you a valuable asset both to your company and the Sterile Processing departments you wish to serve.
Now get out there and get to know these Sterile Processing all-stars!
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