Nate Williams: Selling solutions, not just products
It starts and ends with a focus on the customer
Salespeople are passionate about the products and services they sell. But today’s sales reps need to shift their focus. “Today, we try to love the customer’s problems instead of our products, which can be hard to do as a salesman, because I am so passionate about our products,” says Nate Williams, sales representative, medical products and services, Midmark Corp. “If we can find the true problems our customers are having, we can sell them product solutions that allow them to become efficient. By doing so, we will have a customer for a long time.”
Williams, who is the recipient of this year’s Repertoire/HIDA Excellence in Sales Award for a manufacturer, was born and raised in Tiffin, Ohio, a town of about 18,000 in northwest Ohio. One of his earliest influences was his father, Mike Lonsway, who started his own auto body shop after losing his maintenance job at the local General Electric plant, which the company had closed. “He taught me a lot about the work ethic,” says Williams, who worked summers there as a kid. Ultimately, that garage grew to the point where Lonsway sold it to the local Ford dealership.
As a student at The Ohio State University, Williams was a server in a restaurant. “It really helped with multi-tasking and customer service skills,” he says. After graduation, a fraternity brother, Barry Wilson, who was working for Midmark, told Williams about an opening in the Boston territory. Four months later, Williams got the job, with responsibility for all of New England and half of Upstate New York west to Syracuse. That was in September 2001. (Three years later, his territory was reduced to all of New England with the exception of Connecticut.)
Williams credits Northeast Regional Manager Gerard Palopoli for having a great impact on his career. “He hired me, and he gave me an amazing opportunity to succeed,” he says. “He always stated, ‘People don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.’ That statement makes so much sense, and instills a customer-centered focus.”
Says Palopoli, “Nate is a big believer in basics and fundamentals – doing the little things right.” His followup, for example, is outstanding, he says.
“But what stands out above everything is his attitude,” says Palopoli. “He is willing to do anything for anybody, whether it benefits him or not. He’s an unbelievable team player, always willing to help a teammate in the region. And when he comes up with an idea, he’s willing to share it.”
“Nate Williams is the perfect example of what a sales representative should be,” says Tara Cunningham, contract/rebate administrator and account manager at Claflin Co., Warwick, R.I. “He takes the time to educate his distributor reps on a very regular basis to make sure not only that Midmark is forefront in our minds, but so that we really know and understand his product line so we can speak comfortably and confidently about them to our customers.
“He truly gets excited about what he and his company has to offer our customers, and it is contagious. He isn’t just great a selling; he is great at supporting his customers after the sale, too. He always responds to phone calls and e-mails very quickly, and his follow-up and follow-through is next to none.”
Today’s customers, today’s needs
Twelve years into his sales career, Williams has noted the changes among his customers – end users and distributors – and he has tried to respond accordingly.
“Customers are smarter or more informed today than before, with the Internet, GPOs and technology,” he says. “[Customers] are looking at their buying decision more holistically. Their decisions have to encompass so many facets – IT, the clinical side, staff, physicians. They have to make sure that what they’re buying won’t be obsolete five to 10 years from now.” In years past, the sales team might focus presentations on individual products – exam tables, stools, lights, sterilizers, etc. “Now, we’re asking a lot more questions, digging into, ‘What are your problems?’ and then presenting.
“Many of our customers are becoming larger or have sold off to an IDN or hospital organization,” he continues. Decision-making often lies in the hands of committees and higher-level executives, who may have an interest in standardizing products and equipment throughout the IDN. “You may only have one shot at that business, so when you’re presenting, you have to be on the money, do your homework, your pre-call planning. You have to have data, facts.”
Working with distributors
Distributors are realizing that Midmark’s attempt to broaden its scope of offerings to end users offers more opportunities to partner than ever, says Williams. Discussions with end users about workflow, medical device integration and efficient office design seldom took place 10 years ago. “These discussions have allowed us to sell a complete solution, and provide a better selling package for the dealer. Dealers have told us this has helped them keep their margins healthy, and that the end user considers us both as value-added partners.” That approach tends to breed trust and loyalty among customers.
“This business is all about the relationship,” says Williams. “It is critical to be upfront and honest when working an opportunity, because to earn someone’s trust is vital.
“It’s important to bring added value to the distributor, because they have so much on their plate. My personal goal when working an opportunity with one of my dealers is to grow the size of the order and help them challenge the customer to
improve their workflow process. Doing this allows the dealer to become a consultant.” The end result is a better long-term ROI for the customer.
“I like to say that the buying decision today will oftentimes remains in place for the next 15 to 20 years.”
The word on Nate Williams
“Nate has been my Midmark rep for many years. He’s there when I need him, responds to all my requests in a very timely manner and does the very best he can to help me be successful every day.”
–Dick Daley, Affiliated Materiel Services
“Nate Williams is a great manufacturer rep for two reasons. The first being very simple: He either answers your phone call live, (yes, I actually said ‘live’), or, if he is busy, he will call within the next hour or so. If reps were to just do this, it would put them ahead of the crowd. The second is a bit more complex and requires a fair and organized mind. Manufacturer reps working for companies that sell through distribution must execute their craft between competing distributors. Nate has proved to be honest and fair to all distributors in this very competitive environment, and for that reason he has been given much respect in the distribution community.”
–Normand Chevrette, president, Claflin Medical Equipment.
“Nate is one of the most supportive reps I have worked with in my 21 years in healthcare distribution. His knowledge and professional attitude set the bar in this industry.”
–Eric Robinson, CBET, director of operations, Claflin Medical Equipment
“Nate Williams…is completely knowledgeable about of his products. He responds back with answers to any of your questions in reasonable time. He is willing to speak and go in front of the customers with you to help promote/sell his line of products. And lastly, Nate…takes his work with great pride and heart. He is compassionate about what he does and his customers. He is always willing to go above and beyond to complete a sale.”
–Tricia Motta, inside sales representative, Claflin Medical Equipment