On the Road….. Hong Kong – The Changing World of Sales

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Well another week another country and this time its Hong Kong, and a mix of Chinese, Korean, English and Finish sales people. The challenge for them is how to sell in a world that is competitive. This organisation make radiotherapy machines which quite frankly amaze me in terms of what they can do. The sales people are passionate about the products they sell but struggle to understand why everyone doesn’t see the world they do. The truth is the market they sell into is now becoming commercial, and whilst patient care is important the challenge is, the hospitals are run as a businesses and decisions are made by committees now with the majority vote not coming from the clinical community.

This project has raised personal issues for me for the simple reason that this year of all years I have seen too many people die from cancer. To hear the challenges that this organisation face just getting their products accepted raises questions in my mind about how we deal with sickness across the world. For obvious reasons, I can’t mention client names in these blog’s but there are devices out there that can save people’s lives or at least improve the quality of life for people who otherwise would struggle. Yet they are not allowed access to these devices because of commercial, or political decisions. I am conscious that I don’t want to make my blog’s a rant but at a very simplistic level we need to educate the end user, the patient, that alternatives to surgery and drugs are available, that have less side effects and higher success rate.

So in my small way I am trying to help this situation by equipping these sales people over the next few months with the skills to go out and sell more…. Sounds arrogant when I read that last statement but it is a mission after all.

So what have I learnt in my week in Hong Kong? Selling is selling is selling, and it’s all about people. Building relationships for these guys is about getting out of their comfort zone of talking to the clinician, the radiographer and the neurosurgeon and starting to build relationships with the finance guy and the operational guy. These are the guys with the most power, and their concerns are not patient mortality, but patient throughput and reimbursement. Its all about running an efficient profitable business, and whilst the technology is amazing it comes secondary to the business metrics. This requires a complete re-write of the language they use in their sales presentations, a shift from technology terms to business terms, from “dose rate” to “return on equity” and from solution selling to value mapping. The challenge for these guys, and I think it’s the same for all sales people; is that in many ways selling has come full circle in my life time. It’s less now about being a “professional seller” and more about being able to build relationships with the right people. In my opinion sales people today are “change agents”, and by that, I mean they change people’s mindset and thinking by introducing ideas and concepts they hadn’t thought about before. Product knowledge and industry knowledge is easy, just google what you need to know about any company and you can find it out in seconds, but commercial insight, the ability to synthesise all that knowledge into something that’s valuable… that’s a lost art.

Back when I started selling you could amaze a prospect with the cool things your product could do. Now when you arrive at a customer’s door they have googled your company trawled your company’s website and downloaded every technical brochure you have and quite often know more about your product than you. What the customer wants from a sales person today is not the slick professional presenter who dazzles them with white teeth and quick patter. They want someone they can trust who isn’t going to cut and run, who will ensure that from sale to install and beyond they will champion them and make sure when the mistakes happen, and they will, they are rectified with the minimum pain. Customers want, and this is the full circle piece, a relationship.  One that is based on trust, and is genuine, and not commercial.

Cycle back to my early comment about the commercialisation of the health industry and this almost sounds at odds, but the truth is the commercial and financial customer needs a relationship just as much as the clinician in this context. Like it or not we live in a commercial world, and hospitals need to be funded somehow. I may disagree with the politics, and I may rant at the injustice of patient care, but I believe it can only be fought from within. So if we can show the commercial case for delivering these machines to more hospitals, and the benefits financially of having radiotherapy as an alternative to pharmacology and surgery then ultimately we win.

It’s a small war but one I am determined to win!

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