Medical Miracle

Technology-assisted selling is just what the doctor ordered.

What was originally evaluated as an order-entry device for medical-products sales representatives at McKesson General Medical, a division of McKesson Corp., has become a profit-generating tool that salespersons are buying for up to $6,000 -- out of their own pockets. A nearly $2 billion supplier of medical products from a variety of manufacturers, General Medical sells doctors a host of primary-care items from bandages to $30,000 chemical analyzers -- some 30,000 different products in all. The technology-support challenge was to find a more portable tool, other than a laptop, for salespeople to detail supplies while walking around with doctors in their offices. General Medical also wanted to support its basic objective of having salespeople selling more than just the items they were comfortable with. The system selected was a pen-based, 8"X10"X1" electronic tablet from MobilePoint Corp., El Segundo, Calif. Updated nightly by connecting remotely to the General Medical server, the system contains purchasing histories for each doctor, suggests appropriate supplies and devices, and recommends alternatives on the spot for items out of stock. In an initial 90-day trial, the system enhanced revenue per salesperson as much as 30%, margins increased by 1.5% with the sale of more in-stock items, and credits caused by incorrect orders were cut by 50%. But the biggest benefits were realized with new-product introductions and interactive detailing of complex products normally sold while traveling with a manufacturer's representative. "When I'm traveling with the J&J [Johnson & Johnson] rep, I sell a ton of J&J products. He knows all the answers to all the questions, but I know the products only an inch deep." That was the salesperson's lament, says Jeff Caldwell, director of strategic accounts at MobilePoint. "What they needed was a virtual product manager in the tablet," he says. Working together the companies developed an if/then branched-scripting presentation process that builds the knowledge of the product manager into the system. "It allows the salesperson to work his way through a selling session on a product he previously had no confidence in selling," says Hatten Caine, vice president of information systems for primary care at General Medical, Industry, Calif. The system also imports relevant documents and a digital brochure for each product. In its first trial, a quarterly promotion of a kit for diagnosing stomach cancer in a doctor's office, the sales reps using the branched-scripting presentation technology had four to nine times more sales than a nonuser control group. Currently the commissioned reps are given a choice to purchase the MobilePoint system and use it, or not. But Rick Frey, president of primary care at Richmond, Va.-based McKesson General Medical, says that all the 125 reps who could be handled on the current server bought in. Additional server power will enable a total of 700 mobile users to connect. "I'm completely sold on the system," says Frey. "The reps have to go out and spend $5,000 to $6,000 and are willing to do it because they see the results. The ones who sold the concept for us were those who participated in the trials. The reps report not only increased profitability and account satisfaction, but also that it has cut their on-the-job time down significantly so they have more life outside of work."

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