A Candid Sales Environment


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Using leadership skills instead of typical sales tactics to achieve success.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Veterinary Advantage, but it is just as insightful and applicable in December 2023 as it was nearly a decade ago.

A couple of years ago I read a post on Harvard Business Review by Joseph Grenny titled “4 Ways Leaders Can Create a Candid Culture.” The most successful distribution reps use leadership skills instead of the typical sales tactics to achieve and maintain their level of success. That led me to consider the four action steps in Grenny’s post in terms of creating a candid environment in the practices in your territory. So, let me pass my observations on again for your consideration.

Praise publicly

My research has shown the most successful distribution reps have more successful practices than the average rep. That just does not happen by accident. Those reps actively engage in helping their hospitals become more successful, and that does not occur without individuals within that practice going beyond the norm.

There are many opportunities for the rep to acknowledge, in a very public way, when someone in that practice has done something that improved the practice and aided in the success of that rep. Letting that person know you appreciate their efforts is nice, but doing it publicly, at a lunch and learn or in front of their peers, is nicer still.

Prime the pump

Too often in our interactions we seek only positive feedback and attempt to avoid the negatives. This may sound strange, but giving your customers permission to complain does in fact create a comfortable relationship that leads to a sustainable competitive advantage.

A prime example might be the inevitable back order situations. Acknowledging both the current production shortages and the rationing of any available product is a good start. Even

better is to acknowledge the accompanying emotion, i.e., “that’s frustrating for everyone.” The average rep is going into a call hoping the client does not ask, while the most successful reps are encouraging that discussion. Real empathy is a powerful tool.

Lead by teaching

Animal health manufacturers and many reps seem to believe that teaching is limited to a recitation of the features (what it is) and the functions (what it does or does better) of their product or service. While that is an important and essential part of education, the real payoff of teaching is when you describe the benefits (what your client will have) of a new product or service.

The most successful reps always mention the fact and the feeling when teaching a client about the benefits, i.e., “so this new pet care plan will create higher compliance rates and give you the satisfaction that you are doing the very best for both the animal and its owner.”

Sacrifice your ego

The most successful distribution reps I know have a very well-developed ego, which is necessary to deal with all the rejections, but still press ahead with a cheerful outlook. But that ego is in check on their calls. Whether it is the receptionist, the technician, the practice manager or the hospital owner, the most successful reps make that person feel as if they are the only person in the room at that point in time.

Remember that a receptionist is a decision-maker in that they can open the door and provide access for that rep. Remember that technician or practice manager is a decision-maker in that they can influence the ultimate buyer. The most successful reps control their ego by seeing themselves as the decision-getter and their role as helping every decision maker in the practice make the biggest committed decision they can manage today.

While Grenny’s intention was to help leaders create a more candid culture, I am convinced these four tips will enable sales reps to create a candid environment in their practices and enhance their sustainable competitive advantage. Of course, you are the ultimate decision-maker. What do you think? The first person to send me their thoughts and mailing address will receive a free signed copy of our book “Cracking the Code to Leadership.”


Patrick T. Malone is a business advisor and leadership mentor based in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the co-author of the best-selling business book “Cracking the Code to Leadership” and may be reached at [email protected] or 404-630-7504.

Image credit: istockphoto.com/Mikhail Seleznev