Best Experienced With: Rolling Stones; Gimme Shelter
(Please right click on the link beloe to cue up the suggested background music for this evening’s treatise in a new window)
The first day of my first surgical sales career sucked.
Spent the five months up until that first day of my surgical career working as a waiter at Benningan’s at the 275/4 merge in Fairfield, Ohio. Had chosen to be a surgical sales person and fifty-five hiring managers chose to not hire a twenty-six year old with no surgical sales experience as a surgical sales person. Cowards. That fifty-sixth interview turned into a “yes” and I happily joined a mighty mighty German subsidiary surgical start up the following week.
My first territory was small. I had Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and parts of Tennessee and Michigan. Fortunately, with such geography, I inherited a massive installed product base. There was exactly one (1) unit of what we sold in those six states. Even more fortunate, that unit was sold through a distributor and had a different company name inscribed on it. And they hated my company and that one unit.
Got my offer letter on the Monday before Thanksgiving: the effective start date was the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. When you are twenty-five, working for tips at Bennigan’s, you don’t give two weeks notice. You steal as much food as humanly possible during the lunch shift and run out the back door of the kitchen laughing like a hyena and thanking God above that the fifty-sixth company had worse taste in surgical sales people than Eva Braun had in men.
The day before Thanksgivings, my sales manager Art called to say there was a floor stand surgical light on trial at Ohio Valley Hospital in Steubenville, Ohio. The light was in the labor and delivery unit and had been there for seven months. Art wanted me to pick it up the day after Thanksgiving and if I could sell it, the commission dollars were all mine. This was a solid proposition for a young man who had purchased his first “real” car the previous day and whom had been grubbing for 9% tips from the five o’clock Bennigan’s blue hair crowd seventy-two hours before that. Those commission dollars were mine, friends. Mine.
The day after Thanksgiving, at 8:00 a.m., I left Cincinnati for Steubenville. Rapidly realizing I had no earthly idea where Steubenville, Ohio was, I stopped at a Shell gas station and purchased a map. The map looked fantastic in my 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix and, with visions of commission dollars dancing in my head, I set off for Steubenville, Ohio…….wherever that may be. Turned out to be far, far away.
Six hours and 239 miles later, I pulled up outside Ohio Valley Hospital, parked the car and confidently walked into the Labor and Delivery unit in my blue pinstripe JC Penny suit. My other JC Penny suit, the brown one, was at the dry cleaners. The nurses at the front desk had no idea what Berchtold was and they did not know about any surgical light evaluation. They told me I would have to come back on Monday because it was a holiday and the head nurse was off for the day. The head nurse would also not take our call.
Foiled! Clearly this turn of events would not contribute to the envisioned commission dollars! Surely we could not have a great information exchange and discuss the purchasing paper trail if the trial light was lost, no one knew who we were, and the decision maker would not take our call. Had to drive from Cincinnati to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Madison, WI on Sunday evening to meet my new manager and learn how to do a surgical evaluation. Insisting that my Star Trek transporter had battery issues, I convinced the charge nurse to call the Director of L&D at home so that we could find my floor stand 450 light. She again chose not to answer. Three hours later we found that 450 floor stand surgical light in a linen closet down a dark hallway. The floor stand 450 was covered in dust, negating my ability to ask that critical question:
“What was it about my product that you loved the best?”
My new Grand Prix had an interior roughly the size of a double bed. This floor stand 450 light had a 60 pound lead horseshoe base, a five foot high vertical post a four feet long spring extension arm, and a 24” surgical lighthead at the end. Having no tools and no idea how to take the floor stand surgical light apart, I used the charge desk phone to call Art in Chicago. Art walked me through how to take this unit apart, I borrowed some tools from the maintenance department and two hours later the light was disassembled, sticking out of various windows in the Grand Prix. Floor stand 450 surgical lights are not small surgical lights.
I know what you are thinking. How did my $73.00 JC Penny blue pinstripe suit look by this time. Was it dirty? Did the trousers still hold their creases? Was my tie still pulled all the way up and the top button still buttoned? Was I all sweaty and disheveled? Did I still look good? Come on. We do not answer rhetorical questions in The Attic. Of course I still looked fantastic. When I go out on the field to play, I wear the right uniform, with socks pulled up and shirt tucked in. We are, proudly, a mile wide and three quarters of an inch deep here in The Attic.
Twenty minutes into the trip south on Route 7, it started to snow. Heavily. Fortunately, it seldom snows in eastern and southern Ohio so there were no road crews out with sand or salt. Plus it was a holiday weekend and even if they knew how to remove snow from the roads and highways, no one would have answered the phone. This was 1989 and only Bill Gates and the Rockefellers had cell phones.
The drive home took ten hours in the snowstorm. The sun was coming up as the little Grand Prix made its way up the hill to my little apartment in Fairfield, Ohio. My stolen Bennigan’s “exit food” was long gone, my flight attendant girlfriend was on a four day trip, and the I had a two hundred pound floor surgical light sticking out every window of the Grand Prix like the errant pieces of alfalfa from the two pieces at the end of a shrimp sushi roll. Plus, I lived on the third floor and the stairs at my apartment were outside, covered in snow and ice.
The first day of my first surgical sales career sucked.
Driving on that postcard photo bridge this evening from Cincinnati into Covington was listening to the song you have as background music right now with a big, silly grin on my face thinking back to that drive from Steubenville, Ohio to Cincinnati, Ohio. If you asked me to one thing about that experience, you know what I would have changed? Go ahead. Just one single thing. What would that one single thing be?
Nothing. That first twenty-four hours I had in surgical sales is the essence of sales. Made four trips back to Steubenville over the next three months because they liked me and they were one of one leads I inherited in the territory. They bought that 450 floor stand light for $5,000 and I made a $300 commission.
Over the next two and a half years, before I started leading a sales team, Ohio Valley Hospital bought four sets of operating room lights from me and an additional eleven surgical and exam lights in other areas of the hospital. The Chief of Surgery had me to his house three times and every subsequent 239 mile trip to Steubenville was far easier than the first one.
Sales is not glamorous. Medical surgical sales is no different than any other sales job, nor is it any more sophisticated than selling Hostess snack cakes or urinal cakes. To be successful in any of those three market spaces you simply need a strong work ethic, a Teflon outer coating, and the ability to laugh like a hyena when the wheels come off. The wheels always come off.
This MLOG is dedicated to all of those that have had a Cincinnati to Steubenville day. If your Cincinnati to Steubenville day was today, I promise you that twenty years from now you will look back, laugh like a hyena, and be glad that you chose to stay in sales or mentor and lead others that chose to sell.
You sales professionals make the world go round. Thanks for making the world go round! Thanks for getting up again and doing it all over again the day after your Cincinnati to Steubenville days. You make us all very proud here in The Attic.
You sell because your genetics love that Pavlovian response. Bravo.
The Mind Of Mully
“Put on psy-war ops and make it loud
This is Romeo Foxtrot
Shall we dance?”
It’s just a shorter way home………..