Undercover Boss – Medical Sales

I don’t like reality TV.  When I watch TV, I want to escape from reality.  There is a time to set aside and forget your problems and the way to do this, in my opinion, is not by living someone else’s.

One reality show worth watching though, is Undercover Boss.  This is a show where the owners or CEOs of major companies don a disguise and assume lower-level jobs in the company.  It’s a dose of reality for them as they learn about inefficiencies, unhappy employees, unhappy customers, and in general, how things need to improve.

Most of the medical sales reps that I know dread it when a manager calls up to schedule a ride-along.  Who wants someone watching your every step and evaluating you?  The next time you need to take a manager or visiting company dignitary for a ride, why not turn it around?  Put him or her to work at your level, or at the level of someone else in your company on whom you and your customers depend.

I had a customer named Dr. Roscoe (I talk about him on a video on The Medical Sales Channel) who was difficult to work with and impossible to satisfy.  He was so frustrating that just his name made my blood pressure go up.  I made a tough decision, and it was one of two times I made this decision in my selling career—I stopped calling on him.  Unfortunately, he didn’t stop calling me.  And he would ask me for things that I could not deliver because they were either obsolete or I wore out my welcome by borrowing the same obsolete products from other customers.

Dr. Roscoe was not happy.  He didn’t just call my boss—he called my boss’s boss.  I got a registered letter from the Regional Vice President who “ordered” me to call on Dr. Roscoe and treat him the same as any other customer, that is, if I wanted to keep my job.

I was incensed to be accused of not doing my job, even if I wasn’t—I had a reason!  I also believed that no reasonable person would expect me to continue to call on Dr. Roscoe if he had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him.  So when I was informed by my manager that Ed, the RVP would be speaking at our local monthly sales meeting, I “requested” that he spend an afternoon with me.  I arranged to meet with Dr. Roscoe to “work out some details and avoid the problems we had in the past.”  I did not tell Dr. Roscoe or Ed that they would be meeting each other.

As Ed and I drove to the appointment with Dr. Roscoe, he played the role of the typical RVP.  He flipped through printouts of the sales volumes report for my territory as we did a verbal S.W.O.T. analysis of each customer.  He didn’t know what was in store.

As we walked past the sign on the outside of Dr. Roscoe’s’ office, Ed shot me a surprised glance and said, “Isn’t this the guy who called to complain about the poor service you were providing?”  I said, “He is indeed.  I thought it would be a nice touch for you to make a personal visit.”  Ed remarked in a cocky manner, “I think it’s a good idea.  I would like to meet him.”

I was hoping that Dr. Roscoe would display his usual gnarly personna and he certainly exceeded what I hoped for.  When Ed introduced himself, Dr. Roscoe, a very large and intimidating man, stuck his finger in Ed’s face and said, “Your company needs to stop trying to reinvent the wheel.  Your new, fancy products don’t serve me or my patients particularly well.  In fact sir, you owe me an apology for the crumby products your company makes.”

Ed tried to explain and reason with the doctor about how advances in surgical technology were driving the market.  Before Ed could complete his thought, the doctor stood up and said, “Ed, it’s obvious to me that you’re not a smart man.  I don’t have time for stupid people.  Good day sir.”

If I had written a script, it could not gone been better.  I wanted Ed to experience the wrath of a malignantly unreasonable customer to see if he would reaffirm the directives he gave me in his threatening letter a few weeks earlier.  He did not.

Ed said, “Mace, I had no idea that this guy was such an ___hole.  I apologize for the letter I sent you.  In fact, I will draft another letter describing my experience with that jerk and recommend that we don’t do business with that SOB again.”

I felt vindicated.  Naturally, every other customer I took him to see that day were my best customers, but I made sure that they told Ed how we could improve our products, our service,  and be an even better company.

Ed was not undercover, but he got a dose of reality by spending a day at the sales level.  I earned back Ed’s respect and he made sure I had what I needed to keep my customers happy any time I asked for it.

Medical sales would make a great reality show.  Until that happens, try to keep it real for the “bosses” in your company who make decisions that affect your customers and you.