assess, review, develop
Expecting the unexpected
by Ty Bello

Well, you survived the unexpected events of 2020. Good job! While there may be some lingering effects, now it’s time to prepare for both the expected and unexpected encounters in sales.

Let’s address the most obvious element for success in 2021—the strategic sales plan. Ideally, this plan should have been developed and reviewed toward the end of 2020, and key to-do elements would include:

  • Assess the current market and referral accessibility
  • Review products and services currently offered
  • Review the sales process
  • Develop a plan by product and services

Whether or not you have done this exercise, there is still time to plan for both the expected and unexpected. We all know that old quote, “Expect the unexpected.” Does this mean that if we plan, we can be better prepared for the unexpected? That is how we are going to approach it.

The sales path of 2020 was like nothing anyone had ever experienced. What did you learn from this experience that can better prepare your business for some unexpected but highly likely changes in the sales approach to the referral community?

A closer review of 2020 has revealed four unexpected sales dynamics are likely to carry over into 2021:

  • Slow migration to a new sales normal
  • Changes in referral source accessibility
  • An increased need to call on the right referral source
  • More emphasis on content for sales engagements

Let’s address these one at a time and consider how to plan for each.

Slow Migration to a New Sales Normal

Moving through 2020 has proven to be challenging for sales professionals in home medical equipment (HME) and home health and hospice. The challenges faced in 2020 subsided slightly early in the fourth quarter, but ramped back up toward the end of the year and continued into 2021.

As a sales professional, you must realize that you are on a journey to normality but have not yet reached the destination. Many changes are still ahead and the best way to address the current sales environment is on a monthly basis.

You cannot control the elements surrounding the medical referral community; however, you must look for opportunities to infiltrate this community while differentiating your offering.

Changes in Referral Source Accessibility

Accessibility was one of the biggest changes for most sales professionals in 2020. The ability to speak with and engage a referral source basically disappeared and sales professionals scrambled for a solution.

We learned that accessibility isn’t limited to a face-to-face sales call; the use of technology and even social media platforms afforded increased touch points that
were otherwise a minor emphasis before the pandemic.

There are strong indications that accessibility will remain a challenge for sales professionals this year, but this, too, can be planned for by examining all options for making contact with the referral community. A review of what worked for you in 2020 and what challenges exist in your marketplace will provide great insight and help develop your accessibility plan.

An Increased Need to Call on the Right Referral Source

Sales professionals have always striven to call on the right referral sources—but let’s be realistic and pull back the curtain. Sales professionals don’t have a crystal ball, nor can they predict who the high prescribers will be. Please understand that for the past few decades, the only way to understand the level of market intelligence was by being on the street. This accuracy was subjective at best.

This year can be a standout year for every provider with the use of market data. The market data offered to our industry through outlets like Playmaker Health will provide a clear understanding of high prescribers and competitive dynamics in the referral community and can help drive sales professionals to call on the right referral sources.

More Emphasis on Content for Sales Engagements

Content was a key driver for accessibility in 2020. Those sales professionals who provided strong and reliable content to the referral community seemed to have more access than those that did not.

Moving into 2021, sales professionals must embrace their knowledge of products, services, diagnoses and outcomes to achieve increased access and trust with the referral community. A well-designed marketing strategy that incorporates messaging, education and information will be a notable differentiator amongst the medical referral community.

Developing a Plan

The expected sales dynamics may seem very obvious; however, they must be respected as important elements of your success in 2021. You must develop a plan if you want to achieve excellence.

Here is what to expect and plan for in 2021:

1. There will be a continued need for services.

Of course, patients and the referral community will still need your services. But what will change in the way these services are offered and referred—the process, delivery, education and compliance?

How you use your business experience from 2020 to address these questions in 2021 is critical. Many providers adapted well to these elements with the patient and referral community. But what will you do differently in 2021?

Understanding what the patient, caregiver, family member, significant other, referral coordinator, nurse, physician, physician assistant, etc. need and want from us has always been important. In today’s environment, it is essential for success.

2. Telehealth is here to stay.

What role did telehealth play in your sales efforts in 2020? How did you adapt to these new opportunities to connect with the referral community and with patients?

In 2021, there will likely be yet another shift in what the industry does with virtual in-services and telehealth. As an example, virtual services will continue to increase as the referral community travels toward its new normal. How will you continue to adapt to this and what will differentiate your business and offering from other providers through this venue? Virtual in-service is very different from in-person service. Has your team risen to a new level of expectations and are they capturing the referral source through these or not?

Telehealth, while not universally used during the pandemic for HME and home health, must be explored as an opportunity for your business. HME providers used telehealth for setups and even compliance checks. Similarly, home health adopted telehealth for patient interactions, which proved to be valuable.

Telehealth also proved to be both an outstanding service and a differentiator for complex rehab providers in 2020. By using telehealth, an assistive technology professional can schedule patient evaluations on behalf of a clinician and then upload patient medical documentation. The evaluations are then confirmed by the clinician and the report is completed. During the pandemic, the standard operating procedure for this service was severely impacted, but telehealth for complex rehabilitation using a service like those offered by the company Telehealth Clinical Evals proved to be the right solution.

So, how will you adopt telehealth for your business this year?

3. Success is in the branding.

If we learned anything from 2020, it may be that people only know about our business if and when they need it. For the past two decades, the homecare industry has done a very good job of raising awareness of our businesses. This industry has embraced branding and marketing like never before—but the events of 2020 proved that although these efforts were good, they were not quite enough.

When access to the referral community shrank and patients were still being identified for homecare services, the medical community referred to providers that were top of mind and with whom they had previous relationships. There are fewer opportunities to be the last one in to trigger someone’s memory before their next referral.

A more robust branding and marketing campaign with specific referral community and patient targets must be adopted for the continued success of your business.

4. A sales process is required.

The sales process was radically transformed by the pandemic. There were many providers who adapted and an equal number who didn’t.

Those who merely survived in 2020 simply did not do enough to adapt to this new environment and to fully understand how to approach the medical referral community. For many, the pandemic exposed the harsh reality that the sales perks used before did nothing more than provide calories through the offering of food, candy, snacks and coffee, as opposed to content such as education, patient compliance reporting, referral process information and much more.

Those sales professionals who provided content and not just calories still had access. These same professionals who had a sales process for account management, prospecting, territory management, messaging and value proposition maintained the high majority, if not all, of the referrals from the medical community.

In Conclusion

The creation, adoption and execution of a sales process is paramount for sales success in 2021. The adoption of both market data and a customer relationship management software are critical.

We can try to just expect the unexpected, but this is only a glass-half-full approach. Moving into 2021 with sales success requires knowing both the unexpected and what to expect. It is never too late to plan, so why not start today?

This year has already proven to be different. Are you ready?

Ty Bello, RCC, is the president and founder of Team@Work, LLC. He is an author, communicator and registered coach. The team at T@W has over 50 years of combined experience in assessing, developing and coaching sole proprietorships, sales teams, C-suite executives, individuals and teams in a variety of industry settings. Contact Bello at for your sales and management coaching needs or visit