Matt Hession realized that his target customers were much too busy to fit a standard sales call into their tightly packed schedules. so he chiseled out an irresistible solution

Got a minute? In Matt Hession's experience, just about everyone does. And besides, once people see Hession take off his watch, they can't wait to take in his act. "They think it's fascinating," admits the president of Key Medical Supply Inc. "They say to themselves, 'Hey, the entertainment just walked in."

Hession isn't visiting community drugstores merely to distract pharmacists from their dreary pill-stuffing chores. The 42-year-old Hession concluded that to interest them in a partnership aimed at selling or leasing such medical equipment as wheelchairs and oxygen concentrators, he'd need a flashy sales presentation that took up little of their time but still laid to rest their biggest fears.

"If you walk into a place looking like a salesman, you are going to get brushed off if you don't do something special," claims Hession, whose five-year-old company is based in Thibodaux, La. "My pitch gets to the crap faster than a clean shoe in a chicken coop." Not that he stepped into any of it accidentally. "It's as carefully engineered as a building," Hession says.

Just how did Hession come to build his dream structure? Out of desperation, mostly. In 1989 he paid about $20,000 for a marginally profitable medical-equipment business, which was tallying sales of $160,000 a year. He hoped the acquisition would enable him to diversify from his contract-nursing business. Key Nursing Corp., which he founded in 1982, had grown fast to post sales of $1.5 million a year, earning a spot on the Inc. 500 in 1987 and 1988. But growth had slowed, and, he confesses, "I'm a growth addict."

The early years of Key Medical left Hession's habit sorely underfed. Relying on referrals from hospital-discharge planners and home-health-care companies, "we were fixing to go out of business," recalls Hession, who says the company lost $40,000 in 1990. By the end of that year, Hession had changed most of the personnel, installed a computer system, and cleaned up purchasing. Still, "sales just weren't there. I couldn't get a picture of what would build them."

Then one fateful day Hession happened to be watching consumers stream into the community drugstore next door. "All of a sudden," he recalls, "it hit me that those customers could be my customers." Getting chummy with his neighbor -- and with some pharmaceutical sales reps -- Hession swallowed several truths about independent drugstores.

First, he learned that independents were under excruciating pressure from the large chains and were looking for any advantage they could tout. And, strapped for cash, they were in no position to purchase inventory. Finally, he could see that pharmacists were "busy, busy people" with doctors and patients always phoning, and customers perpetually lined up for prescriptions. They were unlikely to carry home-medical equipment if it meant spending time haggling over reimbursement with Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurers and troubleshooting customers' equipment glitches.

Given those parameters, Hession redesigned his company's strategy. Key Medical, he decided, would set up satellite warehouses and hire van-driving "delivery technicians." To earn commissions, the pharmacists had only to display signs and flyers, and dial an 800 number when customers expressed interest.

To absorb the added overhead costs, "I needed to be able to ride down the highway and make 15 or 20 cold calls a day," Hession says. "I had to be efficient. I couldn't have people say, 'Leave your card, and I'll call you back' or 'Come back later.' And to sit down and thoroughly explain it all takes too long for them."

By last year Hession had polished his one-minute script. And so far Key Medical has signed on 200 pharmacies blanketing Louisiana. Hession is targeting Texas next. He expects annual sales to hit a profitable $3 million this year. "I didn't do anything magical," he says. "The potential was there for fast growth, and I just found a way to tap it."

If you've got a minute -- "and who doesn't?" argues Hession -- this modern minuteman will share the secrets of his 60-second sales job.

* * *

The Script
(with stage directions)

My name is Matt Hession with Key Medical. I know the pharmacist is real busy. But when he has a moment, I have a one-minute presentation. (Start to take off watch.) And he can leave his wallet in his pocket.

(The clerk acknowledges and relays the request. But the pharmacist has overheard the conversation. "I'll be with you in a bit," he says. A couple of minutes later, he motions for me to step behind the counter. As we shake hands, I introduce myself again and hold up the watch.)

We're in the home-medical-equipment business. Our company has developed a program just for independently owned community drugstores. Our program costs you nothing and takes up very little of your time.

Here's how it works: a customer walks into your store and sees one of the signs that we provide to you, indicating that you can get customers any type of home-medical equipment. The customer inquires about a home oxygen system that her father needs. You answer, "Let me get our equipment partner on the phone for you." You dial our 800 number and tell us who you are, the name of your store, and its location. Then you give us your customer's name and her question. We either talk to the customer right there or call her at home -- your choice. We see if we can answer her questions and help to meet her needs. If it results in a sale or rental, we deliver the equipment, and we teach the customer how to use it. We do the insurance filing or billing. We service the equipment. The whole nine yards. Your job is to educate your customers that they can obtain home-medical equipment through you.

Here's a copy of our partnership agreement. It spells out your commission structure as well as other important concerns.

I'll phone you next week to see if you have any questions or concerns. My minute is up. (Put on watch, shake hands, and leave.)

* * *

"When I walk into a store, I spot the clerk closest to the pharmacist. Because the pharmacist is behind the counter, I can't get to him directly. So I speak loudly, and I know he is overhearing what's going on. If I walk in looking like a salesman, the pharmacist immediately thinks, 'I don't want to buy anything or talk to you.' I nullify that feeling right off the bat. The pharmacist thinks, 'He's entertainment. It's only a minute, and it doesn't cost anything.' I'm not threatening anymore. Customers smile; they want to hear what I have to say. I take off my watch to show that I'm serious.

"As I walk behind the counter, I try to assess how promising a partner this would be. How busy is the place? Is it handling any medical equipment -- like walkers -- already? Is the back of the store neat, clean, and well organized? I'm also thinking of anything I can quickly add to personalize the presentation. For example, if there is a pediatrician next door, I'll point out that we handle nebulizers -- small machines used by kids with asthma -- and that we can get same-day approval on Medicaid. I hold up my watch again to emphasize that I'm serious about this taking only one minute.

"I am telling the pharmacists that this is something the chains do not have. This strikes an immediate note. Independent pharmacists, who are usually also the store owners, complain that chains like Wal-Mart have certain advantages. Now, they think, they will have an edge. They have two questions: How much time will it take? How much will it cost me? I answer those right up front.

"I want the pharmacists to visualize the program working, without getting hung up on its details. If they can see customers coming through the door, it's real to them. Instead of describing the program's specific points or going over the contracts, I'm showing the pharmacists how it can happen. It's easier to address their concerns that way. How will we develop business? I tell them that we'll put out signs. I use the example of an oxygen system because it's a high-demand item that many have already had calls for. They probably think they know what we carry -- things like wheelchairs. But I let them know that we handle almost everything. We even have a damn 800 number so their calls won't cost them anything. I walk them through the whole thing. I rarely get interrupted at this stage. But if I do, I quickly point out that they are on my minute.

"It would take longer than a minute, obviously, to explain the commission structure. There are three different scenarios -- a sale, a rental, or a lease-to-own option -- and I can't cover those in under two minutes. And with customers in earshot, we don't have privacy, anyway. But I will give answers to two questions the pharmacists often ask: Where is your home office, and how do you deliver these things? The details are very clearly spelled out in the material I give them.

"I tell them my minute is up because I want them to know that I am a person who means what he says. They are impressed that I managed to pull it off. When I call the next week, I simply say, 'This is Matt. I did the one-minute presentation. Have you had a chance to read over the contract I left with you?' They always remember me. If the answer is no, I say I'll call back in another week to answer questions. If they haven't read it by the second week, they start to get embarrassed. Ninety percent of them eventually sign contracts. And they accept by phone, which is a very efficient tool.

"Once they sign, I stick to our motto: always undercommit. That way we can keep our credibility. Rather than giving a specific day, I'll tell them that I'll set them up later this week or early next week. The more flexibility we can have, the more efficient we can be. With the one-minute presentation, I rarely get shooed away. Nor do the salespeople to whom I've taught it. That's why it's become this company's weapon of choice."