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Disruptive salespeople – good for long-term care?

Disruptive salespeople – good for long-term care? November 14, 2014Leave a comment

Marketing, research and business development consultant in healthcare, human services and senior living.

In long-term care, the market has been declining, and therefore occupancies are also declining, while closures are increasing. Logic would dictate that in this environment, sales would become a more important function, but I see disturbing signs to the contrary.

A SNF based post-acute care provider recently brought on board a very aggressive salesperson from the home healthcare sector. The job was clear; bolster the lagging short-term rehabilitation census and build bridges with other referral sources. A few short months later, she “left to pursue other interests” – translation – she was fired. Why?

In a seniors housing complex, mystery shopping and direct interviews clearly showed that the sales culture lacked the urgency called for by the abysmal occupancy. Little or no follow up to inquiries, lackadaisical tours and no prospecting were evident and senior management was fully aware. Yet this person stayed on in his position. Why?

I see this repeated many times across the country with our clients and prospects. There are no simple answers, and both organizations and the individuals bear some responsibility.

In long-term care which has historically been a “cooperative” culture, can assertive and aggressive salespeople from other enterprise environments succeed? In a sector which so desperately needs sales growth, will aggressive salespeople be accepted?

From the organization’s point of view, it’s easy when census, occupancy or utilization is poor to reach out for solutions in the form of salespeople who have been successful in other sectors such as pharmacy, medical equipment or even non-healthcare related enterprises. However, in the case of a long established culture, bringing someone in who is disruptive can do far more harm than good. A disruptive innovator in any organization is going to threaten the status quo and challenge power structures and authorities. The direct and indirect costs of such an attempt can be more than embarrassing to senior management.

From the candidate’s point of view, especially a salesperson who has been out of work (and there are hundreds of thousands of them right now) an opportunity to work in a sector which is seen is growing can be exciting and even career changing. Of course, a truly effective salesperson looks at every recruitment interview as a sales interview and he or she may be simply too effective for the good of both her and the organization.

The bulk of the burden for proper onboarding of any key new staff rests with the organization. In the case of an aggressive new salesperson, this means:

  1. Taking time for multiple interviews – individual and group. In the pressure to fix the census, it’s so important to not compound the problem by forcing a square peg into a round hole
  2. Behavioral-based questioning throughout the interview process. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior; look for signs of “a bull in a china shop” approach to past challenges.
  3. Taking a 360° perspective on the new candidate before and after her start date. The candidate and current staff should know in advance that the assessment and evaluation will not be one directional, but many people will be involved. This means exposing the candidate to all of the key touch points within the organization, and getting feedback on him in advance. Then, during the onboarding to ask and provide opportunity for feedback to all of the existing staff, as well as key contacts at referral sources.
  4. Measure results after the onboarding, in both quantitative and qualitative ways.

Recruiting, onboarding and managing effective sales teams requires a skill set which many managers in long-term care simply don’t possess. Historically, census occupancy and utilization have simply taken care of themselves with a moderate level of supervision. In the current environment where the market is declining and long-term care providers are competing so aggressively, there are no quick fixes, especially not a “take no prisoners” sales candidate.


Marketing, research and business development consultant in healthcare, human services and senior living.

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