Complacency in Medical Sales — Shooting Yourself in the Wallet

Complacency kills. It’s that simple. It kills pilots, truck drivers, factory and industrial workers, and others who take critical issues for granted. Complacency can also kill your sales, wipe out relationships with customers, and even destroy your business and your career. I know, you would never label yourself as complacent. Most salespeople wouldn’t because they fail to recognize it and acknowledge it.

Complacency in the sales world is when you’re happy with the business you have, the amount of money you earn, and you feel that there is not much that can threaten it. You start to believe that your business, especially with certain customers such as the ones who have been loyal to you for years, is bulletproof. Behaving as if your business is bulletproof is tantamount to daring someone to take a shot at you, and somebody will—most likely your competitors and your customers!

Complacency is an insidious disease, that is, its damage is so gradual that it can go unnoticed until it’s too late. Whenever business moves from one supplier to another, there is often some underlying complacency. Maybe it is on the part of the company for not being proactive and developing better products or making it easier for customers to buy. Or the shift in business can be traced to a sales rep who thought that all was well with his customers and never bothered to ask them if that was true. Yes, complacency is rife in the medical sales world, and if you ever lost business to a competitor, complacency was probably involved, at least on some level.

A few years back, I had the good fortune to hear the legendary sales guru Brian Tracy deliver a talk to a room full of professional speakers. He said something that I share with my medical sales audiences at almost every engagement. “Satisfaction is dangerous. Satisfaction leads to complacency. Complacency leads to arrogance, and arrogance never goes unpunished.” Brian Tracy is right. I have firsthand knowledge.

The story I’m about to share with you is very painful for me, yet it taught me an extraordinarily valuable lesson.  Some of you will read this and think that it can’t happen to you.  I thought that too.

One of my largest hospital accounts owned a hip fixation system that I sold. Located in southern Florida with one of the largest elderly populations in the country, this facility saw a steady stream of hip fractures which kept my system in use almost daily. With the set living “on the shelf,” it required little maintenance from me other than occasional troubleshooting when a surgeon complained about a dull or missing instrument in the set. I enjoyed this recurring business for almost 12 years and I never worried about losing it. No one complained and the implant orders streamed in every week.

One day, I was in the operating room to help a customer use a new instrument during a surgical procedure and I noticed a competitor’s hip fixation system was being used in another room. I wasn’t overly concerned at first, since some surgeons would occasionly try another system, but they would always revert back to what was on the shelf. I wanted to know why the surgeon was using my competitor’s system, so I asked the nurse who was working that room what she knew. My legs almost gave out from under me when she informed me that my hip fixation system was no longer in the hospital! My system had been traded for a competitor’s…without anyone ever breathing a word of it to me!

I had just lost $100,000 worth of annual business through nothing but complacency, and yes, arrogance. I was arrogant enough to believe that my great product, great service, and reputation would prevent any competitor from taking business that I owned for a dozen years. That arrogance also led me to believe that if there ever was a problem, surely someone would inform me, after all, I did a lot of business with this hospital and I seemed to have good relationships with everyone.

I visited all of the surgeons who had used my system in an attempt to salvage the business. I was shocked and embarrassed by what I learned. Many said that they complained about dull, missing and broken instruments to the operating room staff and asked them to let me know. When months passed without any action, they did what they thought was best for themselves and their
patients—they moved to another system. One surgeon thought he was doing me a favor since he figured that I was more interested in focusing on higher-cost products and that the hip fixation business was probably just a nuissance.  Yeah, it was really incovenient depositing those checks!

Initially, I found myself blaming the operating room personnel for not telling me, the surgeons for not telling me, and even suspecting the orthopedic coordinator for conspiring with my competitor to convert my business. Truth be told, it was my fault, and my fault only. I was complacent. I believed that no news is good news. Even when I would occasionally see a competitor’s product being carried in for use instead of mine, I was arrogant enough to believe that my business was bulletproof. As Brian Tracy said, arrogance never goes unpunished. Ouch! $100,000 a year in lost business ouch!

Here’s how you can tell if you’re sliding down the slope of complacency or worse:

* Are you feeling rather satisfied with the level of business you have with any customer or account such that you believe that your only job is to provide service when asked? If so, you’re complacent.

* Do you believe that your relationship with customers is so strong that they would never consider a competitor’s product without first informing you? If so, you’re complacent, and bordering on arrogance.

* Do you believe that your competitors will never be as good as you, will never have products as good as yours, and that your customers know you, love you, and would never switch? If so, then you are supremely arrogant, and punishment awaits you…in some form, at some time.

Sales is a zero sum game, that is, the customer is either buying from you or buying from somebody else. One of you wins and one of you loses. Don’t be comforted by any quiet or lack of complaints in your territory. Fear it. Develop a healthy paranoia because yes, there are people who want to take business from you. If you find yourself revelling in the satisfaction of the business you enjoy today, make sure that you’re not becoming complacent. Talk to your customers on a regular basis and find out if your company, your products, and you are meeting their needs and their patients’ needs. Make sure you fix any problems before a non-complacent competitor does.