Eight Ways to Motivate Your Practice Representatives
The proper care (and feeding) of your practice representatives is a process, not an event. Because there is so much at stake, it requires a level of communication that is unprecedented in your business. Imagine, for a moment, that you get up to go to work; when you arrive at your office, no one is happy to see you. They like you well enough, but they’d rather you were somewhere else. You leave to go see some business contacts (since that’s where your colleagues want you), but most of the contacts are too busy to tie their shoes, let alone spend any meaningful time with you. The rest of them just don’t care that you came in—or are downright hostile. Only very few greet you warmly and make time to talk business. On your visits, you get an earful, here and there, about slow reports and long patient waits. Once in a while, you encounter a raving fan, and it makes up for 10 of the others. Now, take that daily dose of repeated rejection and add the cost of gasoline, which is over $1 per gallon more than it was a year ago, and upon which you are dependent to maintain the aforementioned business contacts. Every time the price of gas goes up, you take a pay cut. Finally, it’s payday for you. In addition to your salary, you receive periodic monetary incentives based on your success. It’s a win-win situation, but wait: This time around, there is no incentive, even though it was due. “We’re having some technical challenges,” you are told by accounting staff. You are a practice representative, a practice liaison, or a marketing representative—all names for the person who pounds the pavement day after day on behalf of the imaging center. To some, you are the voice of the practice. To others, you are its eyes and ears. To those who do not yet fully understand all that sales and marketing entail, you are just plain unnecessary. The next day, you get up and start the process all over again. That’s how it is for you, five days a week and 50 weeks a year. Taking Care of Business Proper care of practice representatives is essential to the success of the practice. As a veteran sales manager, I can tell you firsthand that a representative who is being treated fairly is 10 times as effective as one who is being ignored. Here are a few recommendations for maintaining highly motivated representatives. First, you should, if you have not already, provide your representatives with a mileage adjustment or car allowance based on higher gasoline prices. Without this, you run the risk of reduced calls on referrers and potential referrers, and the failure of your representative program is all but ensured. Second, you should have an incentive plan in place for your representatives. A simple carrot-and-stick approach, based on increases in either revenue or scan volume, usually helps your representatives make the extra effort and drives them to acquire the referrer everyone thought was locked in with a competitor. Third, pay out the bonuses on time and in full. Nothing is more demoralizing than to have a representative count on a timely payout, only to receive word of some glitch that has held up the check. The representative will wonder why everyone else is being paid, but he or she is not. Fourth, include representatives in the marketing process. Your practice representatives are out and about almost every day. They hear what your practice is doing right—and what it is doing wrong. Of equal or greater importance is the competitive intelligence that they can provide. They are typically the first to inform you that a competitor is providing massages in its waiting rooms, or that is just bought a new 3T MRI unit. Representatives will not play decision-making roles in marketing, but can be helpful in an advisory capacity. Fifth, provide sales coaching. There is no worse representative of your practice than the person who has been doing and saying the same thing for too long. Coaching, including role-playing to address complaints and to get past gatekeepers, should be at least an annual event. Sixth, empower your representatives. Imagine that you just gave a vendor’s representative an earful and she replies, “Let me get back to you on that.” Now imagine that she replies, “I’m sorry to hear that. Here’s what I will do today to rectify the situation.” Which would you rather hear? Let your representatives know what they can and cannot commit to while they are on the road. Seventh, provide the tools for success. Your representatives need something new to talk about on a regular basis—something new to say or present so that they have a reason to go back into some of the referring and potentially referring offices. Without the new press release, the new Web-site update, or the new brochure, they (and you) run the risk of becoming a nuisance on these visits. Eighth, follow the chain of command up and down the line. Not long ago, a radiologist in a large practice told me that a referring physician called him directly to raise an issue about a representative. “What should I do?” he asked. I replied, “Two things; first, call the physician and say that you are sorry to hear his complaint, but that you are investigating it now. Then, contact the supervisor and start the investigation. Under no circumstances should you contact the representative directly.” Respecting the authority of the representative’s supervisor will reduce your workload and allow both people to grow professionally. Most important, listen to your representatives. Provide a place, once a week, where they can meet with others in the practice face to face to tell them what they have learned. Once you have established that protocol, you are on your way to creating motivated, productive practice representatives.