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MTS Blog: How to Make FSL Programs Really Hum

Caching, a nice word for hoarding, is a behavior exhibited by several species of animals where the insects, birds, rodents, or large cats store food in times of plenty for times when food is in short supply.  The phenomenon is referenced in Aesop’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper.  In the story, the hungry grasshopper begs for food from the diligent, well-provisioned ant.  The ant refuses.  The moral of the fable is work hard and plan for the future.

Like the industrious ant, medical device sales reps stash inventory in various locations for fear that they will be without what they need in time for surgical procedures.  The reluctance of sales reps to return the inventory they have cached for the future is legendary.  But, to make a forward stocking location (FSL) program work, sales reps must gather their inventory and allow it to be processed back into the system.  Only when inventory is centralized can a FSL program begin to deliver big benefits to sales reps; benefits like more time for selling and less time wasted on logistics, paperwork, and squirreling away inventory. 

Here are five steps to help sales reps loosen their grip and embrace a new way of solving old problems.

1) Present sales reps with a clear strategy for helping the FSL advance.

Confusion creates chaos, and chaos kills new FSL programs.  Develop a comprehensive plan with well-articulated instructions and specifics.  How much inventory are sales reps expected to return, what is the process they should follow, where should inventory be returned, and what are the deadlines?  These are just some of the basic questions sales reps will need answered from the beginning.  If the return process is smooth and well-defined in terms of goals, expectations, and procedures, sales reps will be far more likely to participate and encourage others to do the same.

2) Identify, enlist, and empower first adapters.

First adapters are not the luddites who were sad to give up their Blackberries.  They are the sales reps who are open to new ideas, express a willingness to change, and are interested in finding solutions to problems.  First adapters must return inventory, which is the price of membership, but they are rewarded with extra support in joining the program.  To win their full support, ensure participation is easy, remove all roadblocks, and resolve any issues quickly.  These first adapters are important, because they spread the word that the FSL program is not a burden and instead is saving them time and helping them succeed.   

3) Engage champions to expand the program.

The more sales reps who commit to the program the better it will run.  As first adapters become champions, harness their enthusiasm and encourage them to recruit more converts.  Promote successes within the ranks of management and throughout the sales team.  Any systemic change is complicated and issues are inevitable.  Persevere and overcome any challenges, but make it a mandate to tout all positive outcomes.  

4) Carrot – Create an incentive plan to pull back more inventory.

Even sales reps who are invested in the FSL program will want to hold some inventory back.  One way to combat their reluctance to institute an incentive plan that rewards sales reps for adding more inventory to the FSL.  For example, half the value of every piece of used inventory returned will go towards brand new inventory available for use.  The message is: Each sales rep has to part with inventory if they want access to the large pile of new inventory being amassed and then distributed through the FSL program.  This “carrot” will entice sales reps to return the bulk of their remaining caches.

5) Stick – Now get serious about returning the rest.

As confidence in the FSL program grows, sales reps will send back inventory hidden away in hospital storage, car trunks, and home offices.  The goal, though, is to pull everything back that is not fully utilized, and that means about 80-90% of inventory should be captured in the FSL system.  There will always be about 10-20% of inventory that should remain in hospitals because of high usage rates.  Anything above 20% left in the field will compromise the effectiveness of the FSL.  But, like anything in life, the last bit is always the hardest to accomplish.  Time for whatever “stick” is necessary, because the efficacy of the FSL program is at stake. 

A FSL program offers a new solution to an old problem.  Dysfunctional inventory management has been a concern in the medical device world since the beginning.  Centralized inventory management and distribution directed by experts in logistics and aided by advanced technology only makes sense.  Now is the time for all industrious ants to work together and stock the FSL with used inventory so that the system achieves its full potential.  When fully provisioned and operational, a FSL program streamlines operations, reduces costs and increases savings, but, most importantly, saves sales reps time - time better spent selling or pursuing other value-add activities at work or at home.