Hello SOTGC Community,
Eight years ago when I was first entering into the world of Business-to-Business sales, my cousin (who is a pro at navigating the “grey area” of the corporate political game) warned me to always keep in mind that the “toes you step on today, could very well be attached to the A$$ you have to kiss tomorrow”. Most of the time I need to learn lessons the hard way, however this was not an experience I wanted to mess up, and have stayed cognizant of it my entire career.
As stated earlier, my father has provided a wealth of knowledge for me over the years. One of the things he impressed upon me when I was growing up was that it can take years to build a solid, moral, reputable name in the business community. And it can topple in seconds. Whenever I would come running to him with unfair situations and ideas to “get them back” he would point out the childishness of that reaction, suggest I “ditch the drama” and take the high road.
He emphasized that it does me no good to trash my competition or even acknowledge that they have upset me in any way. My father believes that perseverance, integrity, and being the “best at what you do” will always win, no matter what the competitors throw my way.
The mid-sized medical device company that I worked for over the past four years has a very niche product. Talk about a “concept sale”. There is no direct competition to the product on an “apples to apples” comparison, which is really fun when getting to the “what will this product replace?” question on a Value Analysis Committee questionnaire. However, this does not stop the giants in the medical device world from coming after us and our clients with a “my product does exactly what theirs does but is half the price” claim, that invariably gets them through the Value Analysis Committee and an “open license to hunt” in order to displace our cost. Not only do the industry giants gun for us, but the startups ride their coat tails in through the committees with the same claim that the giants make.
Does anyone remember that cartoon “Spy Vs. Spy”, where they spend an entire comic book or TV segment going after each other, and in the end, neither is a clear winner? I often joke with other reps that someone should write a cartoon called “Rep Vs. Rep” (not at all specific to the medical industry, just sales representatives in general) to go over some of the things that some people will say or do just to get their foot in the door. But I digress….sort of.
Two years ago if one saw the competition being waged between the two companies that were acquired by my current, global giant of a company, they would have seen an interesting dynamic, to say the least. Here was a midsized company with a niche product (mine), fending off a startup company with some extremely talented and very aggressive salespeople which had a product in the same segment, but by no means a direct competitor.
Keeping in mind the “play nice in the sand box” theme my father always promoted, as well as the “stepped on toes” analogy that my cousin pointed out, I stubbornly refused to be drawn into a turf war about a product that was not my competitor; and I never trashed this “competitive product”. For eight months every time I walked into one of my accounts I’d hear from a staff member, another rep, or one of my Doctors that “my competition had been in and wanted them to trial their product, and what did I think about that?” I always smiled and said that I DO NOT have direct competition. I also stated that if in fact there IS a product on the market that does EXACTLY what mine does, and is half the price, then I’d LIKE them to trial it so I would know.
Flash forward two years later and my colleagues and I suddenly find that not only have these two companies been acquired by an industry giant, that an entire division was created for just our two products, that their direct reps are being carved out territories from our regions, that we are ALSO going to be given this product to sell, told to grow it by “X”% that year, and that it is part of the President’s Club revenue factor. Now how do you like that for irony?!
I, being the nosy nerd that I am, got a sneak peek at the technology at a conference, went home, read the bibliography that cites every clinical trial that had been done on it, created a “bullet point guideline document” of every white sheet and study I could get my hands on, wrote introduction emails and letters, and started setting in-services and appointments on it a month before I was officially given the product.
Turns out this “competitive product” is amazing and has wonderful applications in specialties that I already work with, it also has given me an introduction to a whole new specialty outside of the operating room to learn about. My new manager is the ONE remaining manager that came from the “competitive product” side of the acquisition and he has turned into a new mentor for me.
Had I bashed my “competition” 2 years ago, and raged an all out war with the rep in my area and his manager (who is now my new mentor), then I probably wouldn’t be so quick to enjoy the learning experience that I am with this new product and its application for new cases in my current specialties.
The Harvard Business Review did an article called “Tips on Managing Difficult People”. While this article goes mostly into dealing with difficult situations involving people you already work with, the tips and general idea are the same. The article emphasizes to always “Keep Your Composure, or Walk Away” since in a work environment you are always being watched, whether it’s a secretary, CEO, manager, etc, all your actions (good and bad) are being noticed and will later be remarked on.
It also gives three tips on resolving the conflict at hand. Those being:
Identify common ground: Point out what you both agree on at the beginning of the conversation. This may be a shared goal or a set of operating rules.
Hear your coworker out: Allow your colleague to share his opinion and explain his point of view. Don’t disagree with individual points he makes; listen to the whole story.
Propose a solution: Use the information you gathered in the conversation to offer a resolution. This should incorporate his perspective and be different from what you originally thought. It then suggests turning your competitors into allies, and the final point is my favorite (obviously done with moderation).
Stop Being So Nice:
Conflict avoidance is a common trait of most corporate workplaces. But, steering clear of disagreements and leaving things unsaid creates unnecessary complexity and needless anxiety. To get better at confronting conflict constructively, follow these three steps:
Reflect: Ask yourself whether there are times you should’ve spoken up but held your tongue. Do you avoid certain types of conflicts?
Get feedback: Ask trusted friends and colleagues how they perceive your readiness to engage in constructive conflict. They might see patterns that are less obvious to you.
Experiment: You don’t have to change overnight. Try pushing back on a request or speaking up in a meeting and see how it goes. Preface your comment with an admission that you are working on getting better at conflict. This will help demonstrate your sincerity.