After serving as a hospital CEO for almost ten years, I was able to hear a lot of sales pitches on how my hospital could improve. “Our product will save you $X thousand a year!” or, “sign with us and you will generate $XX million of new revenue monthly!”
Hospitals were swimming in cash flow for years, so it was a lucrative market for sales teams. It did not really hit me until after I retired from hospital administration how many sales team members were forgetting a few of the most basic rules in life – not just in sales. And for you Human Resources Directors, keep these in mind when interviewing for sales candidates!
I believe most leaders are successful because they always take the time to assess their audience before addressing them.
I am now a keynote speaker presenting at trade events, leadership and sales meetings for all industries, teaching companies and individuals how to save money on healthcare. But shortly after retiring from the hospital C-Suite I served as a healthcare strategist for a few years. In that role I was asked by several companies to introduce them to hospital executives and sit in on the initial meeting.
While a few of the sales teams had mastered the art of identifying a need or gap, and then communicating how their product or service could solve that problem and bring added value to the organization, the majority of the individuals failed to listen. Or missed a key cue.
Let me explain. I have never had any formal sales training. But I have had a lot of leadership training, which I know is very similar. I believe most leaders are successful because they always take the time to assess their audience before addressing them. Further, if the opportunity presents itself to ask the audience questions in advance of speaking, instead of just observing visual cues, I always take advantage of that opportunity.
After all, if you do not understand the audience and how your communication is likely going to be interpreted, you are ignoring a key component of the sales process. The power of listening! I am amazed at how many sales team start to tell a company how they can solve their problem, when they have not even taken time to ask what the problem is. And I see it happen all the time.
So here are a few basic sales rules. Please, for all our sakes (especially yours) avoid these selling mistakes.
1. Don’t forget to start by asking about the problem or the gap that needs to be filled. Don’t tell someone how you can solve their problem when you have not even stopped to ask what their problem is. Its not only ignorant, its borderline disrespectful…and embarrassing.
Every single hospital is different. I always use the example of this national hospital company with hundreds of hospitals all over the country. But in Southern California they previously owned 3 hospitals within 15 minutes of each other. Guess what? If you asked each of those three hospital executives what their top three problems were, they would all have a different answer. And more importantly, the manner in which they wanted to solve the problem would differ from the other as well. So when you enter a room and start telling them how you are going to solve their problem without even asking, the meeting is essentially over before it starts. There’s the door!
2. Constant product development. Stop developing a product that no one has asked for. If you have no clients, you are not solving anyone’s problem. You’re developing an imaginary solution that no one has asked for. And for that matter, no one likely ever will. Stop developing a hypothetical solution and go find a client who gives a damn. Develop the product specific to them.
Once again, everyone’s problem is different than the other, and more so how the leadership intends to address the problem is always a different tactic as well. Don’t assume you know. Trust me, you don’t.
3. Don’t say no. When a client requests a change or accommodation, say yes. When your client, or a potential client requests a slight deviation from your existing offering, be prepared to immediately respond with an affirmative answer of “I will have our engineers begin that process immediately and keep you posted.” I can’t tell you how many times I have seen sales teams trip on that opportunity and say, ‘I don’t know,’ or “we will have to see” only to lose the opportunity altogether.
Even worse, don’t fall victim to telling the client “no, we can’t do that or won’t do that because….” See the three dots at the end of that sentence? That’s arrogance and ignorance. My apologies for being so blunt but forgive me, I thought the goal was to make a sale and to solve the client’s problem, not tell them how great the hypothetical solution is. If only the client’s problem could be converted into one that your solution solved! Imagine that (it’s not to hard to imagine as that’s what the client just asked and was abruptly told “no!”
Sales is about solving client’s problems, not trying to fit the client’s problem into a box you have created.
In sales, trust is built on being an active listener, and then using critical thinking to offer solutions on how to help that person accomplish their goals.
4. Don’t ignore the client’s need if you can’t solve it. Help the client with their problem, even if its outside your scope. Relationships drive a capitalistic society. If the prospect is not ready to retain your services initially, see if there is a referral you can make to help them solve their most significant challenges at present. Then when the time comes you will be the vendor of choice. Don’t miss that cue. If you do, you’re being short-sighted.
My advice for sales? It’s not all that different than leadership. Relationships drive everything, and relationships are built on trust. In sales, trust is built on being an active listener, and then using critical thinking to offer solutions on how to help that person accomplish their goals. If your product or service can play a role in that process, well, you just might make a sale after all. Good luck!
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Bio Brief: Dr. Josh Luke is an award winning healthcare futurist, a Forbes Book Author, a #1 Best Seller and the author of the book Ex-Acute: A former hospital CEO tells all on what’s wrong with American healthcare, What every American needs to know. He teaches in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California and serves as CSO/Sr. Health Policy Strategist for Nelson Hardiman Law.
He served as a hospital CEO for ten years and is an advocate for Alzheimer’s care. Luke is also a professional speaker sharing with executives how changes in healthcare will impact them and their employees. Please follow Josh on LinkedIn if these topics are of interest to you and check www.JoshLuke.org for speaking appearances.