How can you become the best salesperson you can be? First, get back to people. Second, to be on time is to be early. Samuel Gbadebo’s guest today is Chip Helm, the #1 National Bestselling Author of Everyday Sales Wisdom. Chip has been the National Sales Manager of Cook Medical for 36 years. In this episode, you get the opportunity to listen to his hard-earned, real-life wisdom! Join in the conversation as Chip spills out the secrets of his success. You’d regret missing this episode. Tune in!
We have Chip Helm. He’s actually the number one best-selling author with his book, Bigger Than Sales. Chip hails from the Medical Sales space. He has spent the most of his career with Cook Medical. He is a National Sales Manager. We’re going to get into his career track, what got him into Medical Sales, what his career has been like, and ultimately what led him to become a number one best-selling author. As always, thank you for reading this show. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Chip, how are you doing?
Great. How about you?
Fantastic. No complaints. Making it happen. Chip, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience?
I’m Chip Helm, I’ve been working for a multibillion-dollar medical company for 36 years plus. I started as a sales rep. I’ve been a product manager and I’ve been in marketing. In the old days, we used to wear a lot of hats. I was National Sales Manager for more than seventeen years running and now, I’m an account executive over on the government side for our company.
We’re definitely getting into that because I’m sure people are wondering, “Account executive in the government side? What does that mean?” I love to know where people started and why they’re in the industry. You said over 36 years. You’ve been working for a little bit less time than I’ve been alive on this earth. Why don’t you go ahead and take us back to what got you into the industry?The best job you can have in the country today is being a sales rep. Click To Tweet
I have an interesting beginning because as a little boy, all I wanted to be was an orthodontist like my father. I grew up wanting to go to dental school. That’s all I thought about. I play football at IU for a guy named Lee Corso briefly. It was all about dental school. I went off to dental school but I didn’t realize that three years into it that I didn’t have hand-eye coordination. Some were missing. I had the big hand-eye coordination because I played football, basketball and baseball but I didn’t have the small hand-eye coordination so it was an unbelievable turn of events.
I wrote a small and brief handwritten card for my father. I came home on Father’s Day. He opened it up and started crying. I started crying and he didn’t realize what was going on and I was devastated. I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. That’s why you have mentors. I had a guy named Bill Armstrong out of the Indiana University Foundation, who cared about me and who I had met while I was riding what was called A Little 500. If you ever saw the movie Break Away many years ago. He said, “I’ve got this great company for you.” The next thing I know, I had one interview after another, I got the job and all I had was a Biology degree. That’s where it all got started.
This is a pleasant surprise at how you stepped into the company you’re with now.
There was no such thing as sales back then. There were no sales courses or degrees as there is now. I didn’t know what the heck sales even meant. The warning or guess I had the story goes is that mothers and we’re bringing their kids, their daughters and sons to my dental chair. Supposedly the story goes out the door, around the corner, down the street waiting to come and see me at the dental school. I figured out, “Maybe I can connect with people. Maybe they can connect with me. Maybe I’ve got something I need to do differently.” That’s how it all began.
Tell us a little bit about what that looks like. You started with this company and you’ve spent the next 30 plus years there. You’ve experienced sales rep life, the transition into leadership, you’ve experienced management and then risen to bigger management. Tell us a little bit about the beginning of your sales rep career, what that was like and what took you to your next level when you first touched leadership?
First of all, during my interview, I said, “I’ll be a manager in four years.” That doesn’t always work like that. Life doesn’t always work like that. You’ve got to work hard but I’ll get it on the table right now. The best job you can have in the country is being a sales rep. I don’t care if you’re a sales manager or what you’re involved in your company but the best job you can have as a salesperson is because you get a chance to get out there every day and meet people. It’s like what I said on LinkedIn. It’s all about people and meeting people so I loved it.
I get up early, get out there and I’d go. Cold calling was no big deal to me. It doesn’t matter. Do you care about what you do? Do you want to go see the people you need to see? You better love what you sell. Not like what you sell. You have to love what you sell. I get this asked all the time. I had to find something that I could give back to life, the community and mankind. Fortunately, I sold things that were for sick patients and ill people. That’s how I got started. It’s key to figure out what you want to do. For me, I had to find something that meant something to do in my life, I could give back and it was more than being like a read in retail as a lowly salesperson. I could have sold jewelry for a while but that wasn’t what was going to get me up every morning.
What did you start out selling? What was the disease or the condition there?
I was in the ICU and the emergency room. We sell things called catheters and tubes that go on their vessels and veins in people. We keep people alive. This is exciting because back in the heyday, we wore the marketing hat, the product manager’s hat, the salesperson’s hat and the relationship-building hat. That’s what I was all about.
One thing I want to highlight is you say heyday. For people that have been in the industry who are reading, they know exactly what that means. I know what that means but for people that haven’t, tell us a little bit about what it means to have worked in the heyday of medical sales and how it differs from what it is now.
I used the term heyday because, first of all, you could park your car right in front of a hospital. You could jump out and run into the hospital. Now, you can’t do that. You get towed away. You could go into the back stairs up to the sidewalls, the little crevices in the hospital back to the door behind this physician’s lounge to get in to see anybody.
Now, it’s totally different but the one thing I want people to know, yes, it is different nowadays but one thing isn’t different, people buy from who they like. If you build a relationship, they will open the door and you can still get into hospitals. I’m tired of hearing that people go, “It’s too difficult. It’s too hard. I can’t get in.” Do you know why it’s so hard? It’s because they haven’t built a relationship and they don’t know the customer. It’s all about the customer.
On that note, tell us a little bit about that. This era and when I say era, I’m talking about a five-year era and let’s include 2020 to 2025. COVID is a big staple in that era, in that five-year time period. You hear a lot of sales reps talking about, “With COVID, I can’t get access.” Even now since COVID, a lot of providers, hospitals and private medical offices are saying, “We like this no access thing going on here.” Outside of necessary care, in certain medical device fields, it’s difficult to get access these days. When you say it’s about the relationship and you’re tired of hearing people complain, how do you apply that to what’s happening now and what do you suggest people do to get around it?
First of all, COVID speeded things up. It was happening in the medical industry or you saw less salespeople in the hospitals. Three Pfizer reps are down to one Pfizer rep. There were too many salespeople in the hospitals to begin with. All COVID did was, number one, to speed things up. It’s inevitable that it was going to happen.
The next thing is you got this COVID, “What am I going to do? I got to get Zoom calls.” Do you know what virtual is now or what it should be part of? It should be part of your toolbox. I got better on phone calls. I thought I was already good but I got even better. I am better at writing emails. I’m better on the phone skills, which people now have no idea how to utilize phone skills and what to say on the phone.Don't ask for everything you think you want because it's not always what you think it is. Click To Tweet
All it has turned me into is I’m a better salesperson. I’m better at what I do and my craft. Now with the virtual and COVID, I got a larger toolbox that’s out there and now I’ve got other things in my toolbox that I can use to be successful. The bottom line is, access is access. You have value. You’ve got to have value to go to the hospitals. You’re supporting the cases.
You’ve got to have something that they want. You’ve got to have the relationships or physicians that want you to come in to see you. Is it more difficult? Yes. Can’t be done? If you have a love of the medical side of this industry and the drive, it’s okay. You’ll be fine. Keep going. Get in there. Build a relationship. I don’t do anything differently than I did more than many years ago.
You nailed it as far as the skills that reps need to be mindful of continuing to develop those phone skills and those video and Zoom conferencing skills. The access is still there but you’ve got to know how to use the tool that you have available now. If you can understand how to navigate the phone or a video conversation then you can do exactly that. Love it. You sold catheters. What took you into management? How many years were you a sales rep and decided to say, “I want to be a leader?”
In the interview, I told you four years but it took me about ten years. I believe in what’s meant to be. No matter how hard you try on something doesn’t always mean you’re going to go in that direction. It doesn’t mean you don’t try, you don’t have a goal or you don’t have a plan. It took me about ten years. I learned a lot during that time.
If we get into perceptions-reality conversation, we could talk about that, our self-awareness out there. Maybe I didn’t have as great of a self-awareness throughout all my career. The bottom line was, ten years later, I had an opportunity to get into management and leadership. I always believe there is a difference between being a manager and being a leader. I was fortunate to have a lot of good people around me because that’s what it’s all about.
You decided to be a manager and that’s good. You had a lot of experience in sales. You probably saw a lot of different things that you were able to apply to how you want it to lead. What were the stark differences that you immediately saw when you stepped into management?
First of all, it’s called babysitting. People don’t realize to not ask for everything you think you want because it’s not always what you think it is. I’m telling you one thing, part of management, sorry, it’s babysitting. I have a chairman department of surgeries that I know well across the country and I can’t say their names.
They would always tell me that all these neurologists and all these other surgeons that it’s babysitting a big herd of calves, cows or whatever. Understanding that a lot of it is listening and hearing them vent. A lot of it is and I’m sorry HR personnel issues and things that it’s not what you think all the time. Overall, if you want to let people do what they need to do, stay out of their way. Be there more as an advisor or consultant. Lead by example and with your actions.
How many years were your manager?
Seventeen years plus.
You’ve seen it all. Let’s talk about that. I want to know your top three off the top of your head. What are the top three things that make a top-tier sales rep? When I say top tier, I’m talking about the 5% and up. They’re at the top of their peer class. If you have 300 reps, 400 reps or even 50 reps, they’re within the top five. What top three things create that rep?
You made it too easy on me, Samuel. This is the easiest question you could ask. It’s almost too simple. I use the abbreviation KISS. Keep it Stupid and Simple or Keep it Simple and Sweet. Number one, people don’t get back to people. Let me give an example. If you text someone, if you email someone, you give them a phone call, all people want to know is they want you to know that they want to be acknowledged. They don’t have to have the answer to their question.
It amazes me that people don’t get back. In a study across all industries, only 25% of people across all industries get back in a timely fashion to people. I mean that you have to have an urgent mode all the time. Does that mean we have to get you back in 30 seconds? No. In over 36 years, I’ve never been in a meeting long enough. I’ve never been that busy that I didn’t get back to people. People choose not to get back to people. That is number one. That is the killer. People don’t get back. If you get back, people love you. You might as well count your money in the Bahamas. You will take care of people and get back to them.
Number two, to be on time is to be early, which means there are no excuses, like your alarm clock. I don’t care how the traffic was. At meetings, if you want to get promoted in my world, if someone calls an 8:00 AM meeting, you’re there at 7:30 AM on the seats. My point is, to be on time is always to be early. With customers, there are a lot of times when you’re with physicians and you have 9:00 meetings. You show up at 8:30 and by God, he gets called to the AR. Aren’t you glad you got there 30 minutes early?To be on time is to be early. Click To Tweet
My point is people are not like that. You’ve got to do this. These are behaviors. I teach a lot. These are behavior changes. If you don’t do in your personal life, you’re not going to do in your professional life so those are two. The last thing is, you’ve got to do everything and problem-solve for your customers. It’s not about you. It’s always about them. They were always right. Customers are always right. The key is they don’t have to figure you out. You have to figure them out.
If customers are always right, it doesn’t mean that they are right all the time. I’m not being literal here. You’ve got to treat it like the customer is always right and you everyone like a king and queen from the end seller people that the people around the physicians, to the people inside those offices. I don’t care who it is but if you treat them like kings and queens, you will make more money than you could shake a stick at and I’ll tell you one, you don’t have to worry about that dollar amount. I get excited. Those are my three things. You’ve got to remember those puppies.
Follow through, be on time and treat everybody as equals. Take care of them. You specifically use the phrases king and queens. I like that. That resonates. That’s good. Those are things to remember as a sales rep. I want to see the other side of that. Seventeen years, you’ve seen so much. What would you say are the common pitfalls? Not just the mistakes reps make but the pitfalls like what they can fall into if they’re not paying attention? What are the common pitfalls you would say, maybe your top three common pitfalls when it comes to sales reps in this industry?
First of all, number one, when I would go back to it, they fall into complacency. They get to a point where they’re too good for their own good. You’re all you can always learn. You need to always work hard. You get complacent. You may not work as hard and you may want to try to bend and go around the edges a little bit. You’re not doing things the right way. That can happen in your career. That’s one thing I’ve seen as a pitfall. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t see a pitfall of how people’s self-awareness in sales meetings around other people. I learned this the hard way.
Use your eyes more, listen more and speak less. Watch around you at all times because you don’t know who’s right in the other chair. You may have made a comment that you may get hurt or screwed over by. Self-awareness as a sales rep all the way up through management is key. I made that mistake time and time again because I am that type of person and I’ve never met a friend. People use it lightly but you still have to be careful who’s around you what’s going on. You want to observe more, listen more and you want to speak less.
The other thing that in the sales world now, I wouldn’t call into any sales or any professional function. I wouldn’t have brought up drinking it all to good comes out of it. It’s as easy as someone thinks you drank one beer ends up when you only had one beer. Next thing you know, they said you had six beers. I’ve seen alcohol not do well for a lot of people.
Those are great examples. Let me recap. Complacency and you mentioned the alcohol. What was your second one?
Self-awareness. It’s critical. I didn’t learn well. That’s where I fell a lot.
With complacency, that’s something that I also see. We train sales reps and we work with a lot of sales reps. Complacency is something that I see a lot especially 10-year or 20-year sellers thinking, “I know how to do these things.” They get a little granular with it and they quickly realize, “There is something that I could learn here.” What would you say to a sales rep especially someone that’s starting out or someone that’s relatively new? What should they want to do proactively to get in front of that complacency?
You always want to have a to-do list. I’ve had one for many years. I get up every morning and it was the top ten things I’m going to get done now. If you have ten things written down on your to-do list, wherever you’re going. It easily turns into 10, 15 to 20. I’m always a believer in being prepared. It’s all about preparation and repetition.
I used to talk to myself on the way to meetings and make sure that I lined out the 2 or 3 things I wanted to talk about in that meeting. People next to me think I was weird as I was talking out loud. I’d get in front of a mirror and I’d prepare my spiel. Those are some of the things. If I’m a new salesperson, it’s all about preparation. You can’t prepare enough to go into meetings or go visit customers. All this preparation, being there on time and having the right materials with you. Are you prepared and what you want to say so you’ll throw up on the person? It’s the good little things that make you great like crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s as you prepare each and every day.
It almost sounds like consistent training. You’re putting yourself through consistent training to stay fresh on your skills. To avoid complacency, every sales rep, regardless of how long they’ve been in the industry, should take advantage of putting themselves into training constantly.
That was Chip Helm. We’ve got a little bit of history from Chip, and a little bit about his career track, but make sure you tune in next time to get the rest of his interview. He talks more about what he did in his career and what led him to ultimately be an author, and what his belief system is around sales and how sales reps especially in the Medical Sales field can be the most effective. Make sure you tune in next time for the rest of Chip’s episode for Part Two.
If you’re reading this and you’re thinking to yourself, “I want to transition into the Medical Sales industry,” or maybe you’re in the Medical Sales industry and you want to transition into a different field within it, pharmaceutical to medical device, or medical device to med tech, or someone outside as a sales professional and you want to get into a medical device or pharmaceutical sales position. If this is you, then you need to go to EvolveYourSuccess.com, and select Attain A Medical Sales Role right from our homepage. Fill out the application, and allow us to connect with you and help us get to where you want to go.
If you’re someone that’s in the field and you’re a sales professional and you’re in healthcare sales, and you’re looking for a way to improve your performance, maybe you want to get access in a better way, or maybe you want to brand yourself through social media in a more powerful way. Make sure to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com, and select Improve Sales Performance. We have a LinkedIn Selling Program and a Sales Performance program that can help you get to where you want to go. As always, thank you for reading. Make sure you tune in next time for Part Two.
From a Dental School drop-out to a National Sales Manager of a multi-billion-dollar medical device company, I have honed my sales skills from the ground up. I’m a regular guest lecturer at business schools around Indiana, including Purdue, Ball State, Butler University, and Indiana University. I’m also a bestselling author and have a BA in Biology, and MBA from the University of South Florida. But my favorite success is at home – a 27-year marriage, three adult children, and good health.
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