A visit to the Parkway diner. Part one: What's your value proposition?

By Brad Dodge on July 20th, 2010

A few weeks ago, I was in Massachusetts visiting a sick family member. This is the area where I began my healthcare sales career back in 1983, and I had a great time remembering those early days. I was a sales manager at a ComputerLand, kind of an old version of BestBuy. One of my customers developed software to manage medical practices, and they bought their PCs from my store. (By the way, just as a point of reference, these PCs either had two 5 1/4” floppy disks—one for software and one for data—or had one floppy disk and a built-in 10 megabyte hard drive. The de facto standard of the day was the IBM XT.)

I quickly became enamored with software, and a short time later I took a sales position with the software company. Their name was National Medical Systems, the application was called Med-1, and they were ultimately acquired by Misys. My territory included Worcester and Springfield, so I spent a lot of my time visiting physician practices around the large BayState Health System in Springfield and University of Massachusetts Medical Center, an up-and-coming teaching hospital in Worcester. Whenever I was in Worcester, I liked to frequent a popular diner called the Parkway. Great food, friendly employees, reasonable prices. It was at the Parkway that I learned one of my earliest, most valuable sales lessons. As I sat down at the counter for breakfast one day, lo and behold, one of my “A” prospects was sitting right next to me. What a coincidence!After a bit of small talk between gulps of coffee, I said something like: “So, Dr. Patel, can you see how this practice management solution will make your office run more smoothly and make your office manager’s work so much easier?” I felt if I could use this time to convince him of the overwhelming merits of our application, I might even walk out of breakfast with a sale! He replied, “I have very little interest in making my office manager’s life any easier. I already pay her well, and she should work hard for the money.”

Ouch! After a little more awkward conversation, I agreed to follow up with him later, and as I was leaving the diner, I realized I had blown the sale. But I had learned a valuable lesson: I can only make the sale if I a) KNOW what the prospect’s pain points are and 2) can ease said pain. And in the software business, sometimes the market doesn’t even know they HAVE the pain your product will ease. If they DO know, do they also know there are products available to ease the pain? And if they know that, do they know that your company offers those products? And if they know that, do they know the unique value proposition that makes your product a leader in the field?

Too often, we assume we know what our prospects want, need and what will motivate them to buy. We can’t take that for granted. We need to do the research. Ask the tough questions. And gear our sales presentations to those exact needs.On the bright side, the eggs were great.