Best practices for making sales teams – and the customers they serve – stronger.
Patterson Veterinary Branch Manager Tim Bell believes that sales teams need two basic things to be able to function at their best: empowerment for field level decision making and transparency about the bigger picture.
“Empowerment is huge for me,” Bell said. “My favorite rep is the person who comes to me and has to apologize for something they did because they went out on a limb and made a decision. It may not have been the right decision, but I’m going to support them because they thought through what their customers needed. I believe that approach makes our business stronger.”
Bell is the branch manager for the Central Atlantic Patterson sales team. This region covers Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, West Virginia and Rhode Island. His team consists of 19 territory managers responsible for working with practices; three equipment specialists who answer questions and conduct on-site service for customers; one technology specialist who helps customers understand and use software to further their practice goals; and eight service technicians who help troubleshoot problems.
In an interview with Vet-Advantage, Bell mapped out his ideas on effective communication within a team, and successful consultative sales out in the field, for today’s sales reps.
Communication within Bell’s team is a top priority. They connect in four types of regular calls: A weekly team-wide open discussion call, weekly calls led by each of our equipment specialists in rotation, a monthly call led by our technology specialist, and a weekly call with just our equipment specialist and service team. Transparency happens through the way team members communicate, he said. “We do more than just review numbers on our calls. Our teamwide meeting has open discussions without a pre-determined agenda. We discuss what people are hearing out in the field. We also strategize about how to work with accounts and manage relationships with customers, vendors, manufacturing partners and internal Patterson support staff.”
For Bell, being best-in-class describes someone who wakes up every day and tries harder than they did the day before for their customer and for their company. “I’ve seen that sales teams demonstrate best-in-class behaviors when they feel that their employer cares about them and views customers as partners, not just revenue generators. It’s about team members believing in the vision of our veterinarians to reach both their care goals and their business goals. It’s equally about our company believing in the capabilities of every single person on the sales team.
Even with all the technology and marketplace changes, there are certain bedrock skills that haven’t changed for reps in decades, Bell said. Things like trust, honesty and being dependable to your customer.
There’s also the ability to simply connect – to ask exploratory questions and get the customer to open up. “When a skilled team member asks their customer what they need, it’s not about taking an order,” he said. “It’s about allowing staff or doctors to knock something off their to-do list and helping them to get better at their jobs. I can tell a team member has these skills when their customers start to delegate things to them.”
The difference between consultative sales and traditional order taking
A basic description of consultative sales is that it becomes a relationship. It means that that a team member is invested in doing what’s best for the customer regardless of whether it makes an immediate sale. “Patterson has embraced this approach because it makes our customers stronger within their own businesses, and it contributes to higher levels of professionalism within our industry,” Bell said.
The signs of this kind of relationship might not always appear as you’d expect. “I know of a veterinary practice in a different Patterson region that named their office goldfish after their territory manager, that’s how connected the office was to the rep. When I was in the field, I wanted to be number one on my customer’s speed dial. They knew they could turn to me if there was anything they needed to look for, anything they needed to do, or anything that was challenging. When that happened, I knew my relationship with that customer was strong.”
What customers need most
Customers need to know their equipment is reliable – that it’s going to work well and they’re not going to have to cancel appointments. “At Patterson we have a lot of resources to help with that. Our equipment specialists are available to talk customers through issues and resolve problems quickly. Our anesthesia hotline can provide answers from knowledgeable vet techs at no charge. We’ve got preventative maintenance programs that keep equipment in top shape.”
Bell said he and his team will go the extra mile for customers. “In one case, I was able to quickly provide a loaner for a customer with a dental machine that went down. I know of another rep who helped move equipment for a new build into a storage barn. He did it during off-hours and got his teenage son to help too.”
Patterson reps always try to go deeper with customers so that they want to do business with them, Bell said. Reps want their customers to be happy when they’re walking through the door. Reps will do things such as helping new practice owners review and consider their P&L statement or identify service partners that suit their workstyle and care approach. “My team members and others across the country regularly help practices with new builds or who are remodeling with finding real estate, accessing architects, selecting contractors and receiving consults from skilled site designers who do nothing but veterinary practices.”
Knowledge and habits
As a leader, Bell makes it a point to stay up to date on the latest industry trends and take advantage of learning opportunities wherever he finds them. He tries to immerse himself in the industry, so he can always understand it. He also keeps his work habits sharp. “It’s important to me to return every phone call and answer every email, because in my career I’ve seen that the person who follows up first gets the business. It’s also important to me to be available for my team, to ask them how they’d approach a situation before I offer any kind of suggestion. And it’s through these daily habits that I continue to develop and grow as a leader at Patterson.”
“I’m open to whatever new situations may teach me,” Bell said. “I believe that every day you have the chance to learn something new, to reinvent yourself. Team members, customers, manufacturers, and vendors each need things in a slightly different way. You develop yourself as a professional when you’re open to how you respond to them. It’s how you support what your customers want for their patients and their practice. It’s how you support the business. It’s how you make an impact.”
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/andresr
About Tim Bell
- Lifelong Maryland resident
- 13 years with Patterson Veterinary
- 2 years as a Branch Manager
- Graduated from the University of Maryland
- Married (Sarah) with two boys (Noah, Tommy)
- Recent empty nester
- Enjoys playing golf and skiing