As occupational therapists, we often use equipment to solve problems and enable our clients to live their lives their way. To achieve this very broad goal, we require a broad range of equipment, much of it very specialised. But the world of disability equipment can be a daunting one. A good sales rep is like the hen that lays golden eggs. A poor one is like the hen that makes fertilizer.

For the equipment companies, good relationships with occupational therapists is good for business. We link the equipment company with clients and funding bodies. Without OTs facilitating access to funding, many clients would not be able to afford the expensive disability equipment the companies need to sell. A good working relationship between OTs and Equipment Reps benefits everyone, so here is my recipe for success.

Amy's 7 Things

1. Offer a Good Range

The products on offer is the first thing that will draw therapists to a company. What constitutes a good range depends on the type of company. For distribution companies that sell multiple brands, it is helpful if you stock several different products in each category so that we can compare them in one place. This saves time. For companies that sell their own brand, it is helpful if you have different levels of product, or products that can be adapted for different styles of use. Neater Solutions does this well.

2. Know your products

There are two things I want from a joint visit with an equipment rep: for the physical product to be present so my client can try it; and so that I can ask the rep questions about the product. The rep should know the product specifications better than I do. The rep should know what accessories are available, their dimensions, how much they cost, and how long it will take for them to be shipped. It is also helpful if the rep knows of creative ways the product has been used in the past, or ways to work around common problems that can occur with the product. For bonus points, know the competition so you can explain why your product is better or different.

3. Be honest

If there is something you don’t know about your product, don’t guess. Find out. If you know that your product isn’t going to work in this situation, with this client, be honest about it. Don’t add extras to quotations that haven’t been discussed. Be realistic about delivery times. Under-promise, over-deliver. This is all basic to offering a professional service.

4. Trust the Occupational Therapist

We know what we’re talking about. We have invited an equipment rep to see a client with us for a specific reason, to achieve a specific goal. It may not always be apparent what that goal is, so you need to trust that we know what we’re doing.

The rep’s expertise is in their product knowledge and experience with the using the products in different situations. The OT’s expertise is in all other parts of the situation: the client and their disability/medical condition, the environment, the applicable laws, policies and procedures.

I consider it completely out of line if the rep gives my client advice. Demonstrating how to use the product is good and giving safety advice based on the manufacturer’s guidelines is expected. That is part of the rep’s role. But if the rep has ideas about how equipment should be positioned or about other things that don’t relate directly to the product, don’t advise the client. Discuss it with the therapist. Incorrect or inappropriate advice can cause harm, or in the least, confusion. If you cause my client harm, or make a mess that I need to clean up, I will not use your services again.

5. Do what you say you’ll do

Follow up. Follow through. If for any reason you can’t, let me know as soon as possible.

6. Don’t waste time

Arrive on time.

A company that can be relied upon to provide a quotation the same day I ask for it, will be used more than a company that takes longer. This is particularly true for small items or accessories.

7. Be generous

Show the OTs you work with that you value the relationship by sponsoring events, sending Christmas gifts, and offering educational workshops. These things make us feel appreciated and increase our loyalty to your company.

A big thank you to the wonderful reps I have worked with that raise the bar for the rest of your industry. When things run smoothly, client outcomes improve and everyone is happy.

Occupational therapists, please feel free to add to my list!

Equipment reps, please let us know how we can make working together easier for you.