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Where have the Brigadiers gone?

Sorry.  It has been way too long since my last post.  Much has happened and not all of it is good.  This will probably be the first of several topics I will post over the next few days.  Mostly because I will not see the inside of a 737 for the next week or so and this gives me time and energy to post my thoughts.  

Recently I was talking to a friend in the business and I asked him, " How's it going?"  I was surprised at his answer.  It wasn't things are good, or even that things were bad.  It was, " I just got off my weekly 2 hour  conference call with my AVP."  Two hours? You are kidding me!  After several more questions I was surprised to find that this was the way that this particular management team "managed."  One of the more telling responses to my querries was that this manager has never spent any time in the field with this person.

So this leads me to the question, "Where have the Brigadiers gone?"  The fact of the  matter is, that the role of the AVP, RVP, Senior Director or whatever title you want to assign this level of management has changed over the last few years and not for the better I might add.  The Brigadier is a field general.  Usually it is a promotion because this leader has demonstrated battlefield excellence and the ability to lead under tense situations.  In the sales arena of medical devices, it has always been this individual who was the "link to corporate."  This person was in the field, meeting customers, helping to create the bond between the company and the customer.  They helped drive the sales message from "corporate" to the field.  They engaged the independent agents and reps alike.  There was no line of demarcation between whether the rep was a direct rep, an agent or one of the agent's reps.  The AVP worked with all levels of the sales team.  Now the key phrase here is "worked with."  The average work week used to ;Monday, field Tuesday through Thursday and office again on Friday.  That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.  This conference call I spoke of that started this rant?   Wednesday.  Well, that's a productive use of sales leadership...taking a Wednesday to conduct conference calls.  What's next conference texts?

This new behavior is what I call "phamatization" of the medical deveice industry.  OK, I invented that word, but you get the idea.  Sales teams in the medical device arena are now managing like large pharamceutical companies.  And this is not a good plan.  My proof?  It's simple.  Look at the growth.  When I was the VP of Sales, we were in the field.  When I say we I mean WE.  The reps, the Regional guys, the AVP, me and even the divisional President.  Why? Not because we liked to fly.  Not because we enjoyed yet another dinner at Ruth Chris'.  We were in the field because that's where the customers were!!  The business grew because the entire organization was engaged with the customer.  And it wasn't just my was industry wide.  The result?  Double digit growth in major market segements. The markets grew significantly. Compare that with today...The AVP is home "working" ( conference calls ). The VP of Sales rarely is in the field and many of the reps have handicaps that would rival some PGA players.  Folks, leadership starts at the top.  The top of the field organization is the VP , Sales and his Brigadiers are the AVPs.  If their efforts are not in front of the customer, then something is wrong.

I know, I know.  Not all sales teams have been pharmatized.  Want the evidience?  Look inside any of the major companies and see what is happening to the sales structure. Those divisions where the primary role of the  AVP or RVP is to be in the field;  training, teaching and driving the business all seem to grow at rates faster than the market.  The AVP and others, including the VP, Sales are all engaged in customer activities.  Conference calls are not customer activities.  Divisions within these companies where the role of the RVP or AVP is to monitor the field activities via conference calls or quarterly business reviews  grow at or below market.  These companies are shrinking the number of AVP or RVPs in the field.  Where there were 8 now there are 4... or in some cases 2.

I am getting a little long winded here.  Sorry.  As to those who say, " The market is different than when you were the VP..."  I have one answer.  BULL.  Markets are driven and created by sales / customer activity...there might be products that can help create our business, ceramic /ceramic....IM nails ....biologics to name a few.  These were/are terrific products.  By themselves, without customer contact and field activities, they do not grow.  The field generals make these products grow by being with the customer, with the field management and with the reps.  When field managers become sales analysts then the death nill of that comapny as a selling organization has begun.

I will close by finishing the conversation I had with my friend.  I asked the following questions...What is the growth of the company? What is the growth of the industry?  What was the growth when AVPs were in the field and visitied your team on a routine basis?  What was the growth of the indsutry then? and last but not least, How often do you see your AVP in your territory now?    The answers: minus 1 per cent growth, flat to 2 per cent growth?  30 % growth? 15% growth and...wait for it..."I have never seen the AVP in my 2 years..."

Pretty much sums it up.


Tis the Season...

I know, I know.  The holiday season is past.  But now comes the National Sales Meeting season!  Well, at least that is what it used to be.  There is an interesting trend among some companies in the industry to cancel their National Sales know who you are. The question I have is WHY?!

There are several theories on why a company would cancel its natiional sales meeting.  One of those is for saving costs.  Now, unless the company is really strapped financially, and some of these companies are not, there is no financial reason to cancel the one time each year, senior management gets to convey its vision and expectations to the one group that has customer interface everyday of the year, the salesforce.  

Another "reason" I have heard is,  " We don't have anything new to launch, so why bring them all in to a big, expensive meeting ?"  Really? That's the reason!  That is the most important time to bring your sales force together and focus them on your core business. The old, BACK TO BASICS meeting.  

Look, there are plenty of reasons not to have a meeting, but there is one huge reason to have the meeting. ...Revenue production in the coming year.

It is ironic, that if you were to call into any major company on a Monday, you will frequently get this response from the administrative assistant you are talking to, " They are all in the Monday staff meeting."  These meetings run anywhere from 1-3 hours, again depending upon the company.  So where is the weekly staff meeting for the sales rep?  If you took all those Mondays and annualized them; you would have an annual meeting for inside staff.  Time, expense, delayed travel to customers so the person could be at the meetings at a higher cost, etc. ...the case could be made that the costs are similar.  Maybe not exact, but similar.  With one distinction...the weekly staff meeting is with individuals who are overhead.  The annual sales meeting is with the only part of the company whose sole purpose is revenue generation.

Those who know me, know that I often refer to the sales guy as the Outlaw Josey Wales.  Why? Because the sales guy is usually out there alone. Doing the job that he/she likes doing.  But that does not mean they don't need direction....and that direction has to come from Senior Management.  At least once a year.  

I loved my National Sales Meetings.  It provided me the opportunity to state my case to the sales team unfiltered by a regional manager or a product manager or for that matter my boss.  It set the expectation bar.  Where we were and where we were going in the coming year.  It gave me the chance to congratulate the performers and cajole the non-performers into doing things differently in the new year that would lead to their success. It gave the company a chance to re-educate and re-energize the people who generate the opening statement in every CEO's earnings call..." Sales for the quarter were...." or " Sales for the Year were...."  Quite frankly, there is no reason not to have a sales meeting!!

If all shapes up the way the prognosticators ( analysts) talk, 2012 is going to be a challenging year for every company in our industry.  Pricing, PODS, competition, new healthcare, old healthcare, new leaders, old leaders. All of these things will impact the sales force and now matter how independent they are, no matter how independent they say they are, salespeople need direction.  Just like inside people need direction.  That direction is best given at a National Sales Meeting.



Random Thoughts at Year's End

While I was thinking about what to write today, there were many topics that ran through my head, but none of them were things I thought I wanted to write about in detail.  Maybe someday, but not today.  Ergo, I have decided on the "jump out of the plane" thought process.  Just some observations and thoughts regarding 2011 as we start the preparations for 2012.  So here goes:

o I think 2011 turned out to be better in many regards than I originally had thought it would be.  Business was good, but while I see improvement in my medical device world, I wouldn't say everyone has confidence, but I believe many folks in the business have taken the approach of, " We can not do nothing." Which is better than a year before, but if you are anything like me, I keep waiting to hear about the next thing that will be bad news for business in general.

o I am tired of the Presidential election process already..the candiadtes (from both sides), the political pundits and the talking heads from the news media.  This one is the leader..blah blah this one is the leader blah blah blah..It is ugly already and we still have 11 months to go...YUK!

o Can we talk about the TSA for a minute?  I now know where all the un-employed DMV workers have landed.  The other day going through Hartford's Airport I watched a flight attendant cut in line...a normal thing actually...but when she passed her stuff through the x-ray machine, she propped up a travel mug with coffee in it.  If that was you or me, the TSA agent would of made me pour out the coffee.  When I brought this to the attention of the TSA Inspector that was there, the response was classic...' Well she is a flight attendant'  Really? These are the individuals responsible for our safety while flying.  I have one word..morons.

o Staying with the airport theme..Jacksonville Florida's airport has free wifi but more importantly, power stations all over the airport under the seats at the gate areas.  Brilliant!  Do you think we can bring dress codes back for air travel.  I know I'm a dinosaur here...I started travel when guys wore ties and women wore pearls BUT are Pajamas really appropriate attire for air travel.  To paraphrase Chandler Bing, " Can you BE any more lazy?!"

o To all my Stryker friends who today is the last official day of employment....there is a life after... and it is a good one.  Speaking of Stryker, just read a terrific business book.  Jim Collins book,  Great by Choice  is a good read about how companies succeed , regardess of the market conditions.  Stryker...the John Brown Stryker is discussed at length in this book.  I can not help but think that things there might be different had John's philosophy on business remained intact upon his retirement.

o Many of you know I am a huge baseball fan.  Just to let you know, Pitchers and Catchers starts in less than 2 months.  YEAH!!!

o With one selling day left in the year, there are still professional sales guys out remember, the ones who get IT,  trying to make a number.  The hunters vs the farmers is never more apparent than at this time of year.

o Adult beverage of the year and something to toast the New Year with....Red Breast 15 year old Irish Whiskey.  Pot-stilled in the finest Irish tradition...the 12 yr old whiskey is pretty tasty too.

I guess that about does it.  Enjoy the remainder of 2011 and here's to 2012.  Slanté



They Get It....

On an earlier blog , I talked about vision or the lack thereof from many of the companies in the orthopedic and spine business.  I promised I would also address the other side of the coin: the sales piece.  I have thought about this for some time.  I didn't want to take the easy way out of just bashing poor sales performance or for that matter take the side of the near-sighted, narrow minded sales rep who loves to blame everything on " corporate."  I  wasn't exactly sure how to address it until one night last week I got a text message from 4 guys in Pittsburgh.  These four guys were sitting around, having a few beers and decided to send me a note just to say they were thinking about me and thought they would say hey.  It was a great gesture and I am honored that after being gone from a company almost 8 years, they felt like saying hello. 

It got me thinking about the sales dynamic and today's sales representatives in Spine and Orthopedics.  It is fashionable to paint them all with the same brush.  That brush being the big one that paints them as overpaid prima donnas who think they are the doctor and should be treated with some sort of exhaulted respect.  Honestly?  I think this is the wrong brush.  But not for the reason some of you might think.  I really do believe that there are a large number of representatives who are overpaid prima donnas and if there was a character trait that would best describe these folks it would be "entitlement."  These are the reps who inherit a million dollar territory and grow it to 1.2 million over 3 years and think that they are the reason that the customer is doing business with the company.  The fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth.  Most of these individuals are what I like to refer to as...wait for  They do a nice job of maintaining the customer but they rarely grow the business faster than the market growth.  For this average performance, they believe they should receive above average compensation.  He guys!  This is not MLB where you can get paid 2.5 million for batting .240.

The orthopedic business was built on 2 things...clinical innovation to solve orthopedic needs and the back bone of every great organization...a sales team who got it.  What is IT?  Actually many things.  IT is understanding that you have to grow your business to stay ahead of competition.  IT is never taking for granted that the customer is yours, that he/she loves you and only you and their business  will never move.  IT is that you get up everyday with the understanding that we are in a great industry, in a great country and that today you will earn what you are paid because you will do your job better than anyone else.  IT is understanding that real salespeople are hunters not farmers, that they eat what they kill and that nothing feels better than a conversion of a potential customer to a real customer.  IT is knowing that you have to the market, to changes in the company, to new regulatory demands and to outside stuff that hasn't even surfaced yet.  It is...well IT.  There are many components of IT and everyone can add to this very short list that I have demonstrated here, so this really is just a start of defining IT.

What I do know is that IT is not lost in this industry.  What has happened is that the bar has been lowered, sales performance has been exchanged for cost of sales, that a person who never would of been hired 10 years ago because they did not have that intangible IT during the interview is now hired because he/she has a good resume and the human resources department says they would be a good fit in your selling team, that sales people are not measured on sales performance but rather on whether they are liked by the powers to be...whoever they are!!

Then there are 4 guys in Pittsburgh who did the job they way it was meant to be done.... the customer was happy, the organization was happy and I was proud to have been one of their associates.   They got IT.


ROAD WARRIOR...Best and Worst of 2011

David Letterman has his top 10, Peter King of has his Starwood Travel note of the week, I figure I should have something that address the travel that so many of us do now or have done in the past. So I will, for now, borrow the well worn phrase Road Warrior. So the question is, 'Where to begin?' Well because it is the end of the year and every publication, and industry will look back at the year and decide the best and worse, I think that is as good a place as any on where to start with Road Warrior Observations. So here goes:

Best US Airport...plenty of things to consider in this, security, terminal size and the ability to move from one gate to another (no mile long treks without people movers), are just a the few criteria. My vote goes to Tampa (TPA). Easy in and easy out, security lines are never ridiculous even at peak travel times, good restaurants pre-security. Never had a long terminal walk between flights, everything is close at hand.

Worst US Airport...Memphis (MEM)...long security lines, bad food, surly people everywhere and no place to sit or get wireless. Its like stepping into the Twilight Zone in the 1960's. Horrible food post security. I could go on, but I'm trying to remain pleasant. Atlanta was a close second, but then again, I avoid ATL at all costs.

Best US Airline....Southwest! Hands down. With the preception of small, budget airline they have turned themselves into the largest and busiest carrier in many markets. Hartford (my home base), St.Louis, Baltimore/ Washington to name a few. The people are usually friendly and efficient, knowledgable about what needs to be done and most importantly, the flights usually get there on time. Unusual in this day and age. They have a good rewards program and when you get to A-list wireless on those flights with wireless access.

Worst US Airline...American...even before the bankrupcy filing. They are just nasty in all aspects of the business. Customer service is unheard of and they charge you for breathing on the plane. If the mask drops from the overhead, there will be an additional 5 dollar fee. Not really but it feels that way. Delta was a close second.

Best International Airport...Terminal 5 at London Heathrow LHR). The one dedicated to British Airways. It is really just a shopping mall that they happen to park airplanes.

Worst International Airport...Memphis (MEM) please see above.

Best US Flight...Any plane where the seat next to you is open.

Worst US Flight...Any flight leaving Orlando (MCO), especially those leaving after 3 PM. Guaranteed the flight will be loaded with kids who are tired and cranky, because they want to spend one more day in the land of the mouse. By the way, tired and cranky is contagious. If you are ever on one of these flights, you will be tired and cranky and the end of the flight...and the kids will be sound asleep...even the one who screamed for the first 2 hours.

That should do it for now...I'm now officially tired and cranky.