Ben Barron is a physical therapist who ended up in a sales career. Now, he’s vice president of enterprise sales and business development at the most well-known PT EMR company, WebPT! Here’s his story…
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Ben Barron, MSPT
Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Business Development at WebPT
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
Boston University: B.S. Health Sciences, ‘01 and M.S. Physical Therapy, ‘03
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
In high school, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Camp Dream Street, a one-week, overnight camp for children with physical and developmental disabilities. Because of this experience, I knew I wanted to work in a profession where I could have a positive impact on the lives of others.
So, I headed off to PT school with one goal in mind: working with children with disabilities. When I graduated, I took a job in early intervention, where I provided home care throughout Boston to children ages 0-3 with physical impairments.
Eventually, I felt as if my itch to grow, develop, and learn more on the business side of PT wasn’t getting scratched, so I transitioned over to the world of private practice and started as a treating clinician—later becoming a practice owner and executive.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
People often ask me if I miss treating patients, since it’s been about eight years. To be honest, I don’t in most ways as I feel like I have the ability to impact the profession as a whole from my current seat.
The one thing I will always miss, though, is a busy treatment floor where everyone is working hard, patients are developing what we called “the camaraderie of healing” with other patients, etc. It felt like you were in charge of a social event that actually helped improve other people’s lives.
Why did you decide to pursue a non-clinical career?
There were two main reasons I wanted to pursue a non-clinical PT career: The first is that I was trying to find a way to scale myself. As a clinician, I could only impact the lives of my patients; as a manager, I could impact the lives of all of the patients in my clinic; as a business owner I could impact people across all of our clinics. Every opportunity that came along gave me a chance to extend my reach in both helping patients achieve their optimal goals, but also helping the physical therapy profession achieve its potential.
The second was that I found I have a love for utilizing data and analytics to improve business performance and operations. Once I realized that, it was hard to treat a full clinical caseload anymore. I wanted to get into the data on patient satisfaction, clinical outcomes, and operational performance to see what could be improved to help our therapists, patients, and business.
At what point did you realize you were ready for a change?
I actually remember this moment very clearly. I was a treating staff physical therapist at an amazing private practice west of Boston, but I just felt like I wanted more.
I started taking DPT students from Boston University, which led me to becoming an adjunct faculty member at BU.
When the course I helped with wrapped up for the semester, the faculty all went out for dinner. We had some of the best PT-related discussions I’d ever had.
We talked about the industry, advocacy, improving education and outcomes, and the business of PT. I’d never had that kind of experience in my career, and I knew I needed more of it.
What are you doing these days?
I joined WebPT in February of 2019 as the Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Business Development. In my enterprise sales role, my team and I help physical therapy practices become more efficient, create a better employee and patient experience, and drive new business/revenue through the use of technology.
On the business development side of things, I partner with other healthcare and technology companies to add features and functionality to WebPT’s product portfolio. This includes:
- Partnering with another EMR or EHR to create an integration that allows PTs to use a rehab therapy-specific EMR like WebPT
- Developing a relationship with a company that does electronic benefit verification
- Working with large payers and employers on ways to increase the number of patients who choose PT first on their journey to recovery from a musculoskeletal condition
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
That’s actually a funny story. During my time as a partner in a private practice, we spun off a side business providing outsourced RCM services to other practices nationwide.
We went from a single customer to about 75 in the first year, which was a ton of fun. One of the strategic relationships we had was with WebPT, so I ended up working closely with different parts of the whole company for years—but especially the sales team.
I admired the company for its industry advocacy, vibrant culture, and robust suite of products. But just as importantly, I loved (and still love!) the people I worked with at WebPT.
As a result, I was absolutely interested when Nancy Ham, CEO of WebPT, approached me about a potential opportunity—even though I had yet to consider my next career move. Through a series of conversations with her and Adam Ross, Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development, I gained enough clarity on the position, the company, and the people to give a resounding “YES!” when an offer was put on the table.
What was the interview like for a role like Vice President of Enterprise Sales?
This is a bit of a tricky question to answer because I would say we had a series of conversations as opposed to actual “interviews.”
This was a big career change for me: I was taking the leap from a healthcare company—an industry I’d been in and grown comfortable with for over a decade—to a software company, so I had to do as much research and due diligence on the company (and position) as WebPT had to do on me.
I wanted to know:
- What their ideal candidate looked like
- How we would evaluate my success in the position
- The people with whom I would be working most closely
The company was interested in my willingness to learn and be coached, my ability to manage complex business relationships, and my fit with the company’s culture. I would say, overall, it didn’t look very much like an interview process as most people would know it, but these conversations were the foundation of each of our working relationships to this day.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
As you can probably guess, “typical” looks a little different now than during pre-COVID times. In general, I would say that I spend a lot of time on the phone or on Zoom calls. These might be with my team, with decision makers at PT, OT, and SLP practices, or with other technology and healthcare companies with whom we may be partnering.
The challenge with so many calls and meetings is that my to-do list tends to go unchecked; I now try to schedule some “GSD” time each day to tackle these items and spend some uninterrupted time working on complex projects.Editor’s Note: GSD stands for “get sh*t done” 🙂
On a personal note, I have also adapted my typical day to include time with my family. I block out time for lunch and a “recess” with my wife and kids every day, as well as time for a sit-down family dinner. We started doing this when we realized our kids were having a tough time during the quarantine. It’s a good time for us to connect as a family and keep some structure and normalcy during these crazy times. Work definitely creeps into these times periodically, but even if I’m doing this 80% of the time, it’s a huge benefit.
What are some of the challenges of being Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Business development? What are the rewards?
The challenges the PT industry faces during the COVID-19 crisis are unlike anything we’ve experienced before in our lifetimes. Our data showed a nearly 70% decline in patient visits during the last week in March. Luckily, the stats have rebounded slightly, and we’re seeing new patient evaluations climb steadily throughout the country. But the damage has been done.
Some clinics will struggle to re-open; some never will. PTs have been laid off or furloughed throughout the country, and patients who need care can’t get it.
I’m sure we will get through this crisis and emerge a better, more mature profession, but the challenges that await us over the next six months or so will test us all.
In terms of rewards, I would say being a part of an organization that is laser beam-focused on helping therapists achieve greatness in practice is a tremendous personal reward. At WebPT, we are trying to do everything we can to help the industry through these uncertain times, including:
- Producing industry reports
- Providing webinars to help practices pivot to telehealth PT
- Building our own telehealth product
To be part of a team that has stepped up to the plate to serve all rehab therapists—regardless of whether or not they use our software—is tremendously rewarding.
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for your role as Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Business Development?
The most important skills my PT training helped me develop were my communication skills. The ability to talk with and listen to others from all walks of life and in various stages of pain and disability has been a tremendous asset.
As a therapist, you have to be extremely skilled at adapting your communication to suit the needs of each individual patient. You also need to be able to synthesize information quickly and come up with an appropriate course of action. That’s not too different from my experience in sales and business development; if anything I have more time to be thoughtful and analytical in my life now than I did as a PT, which helps me make better decisions.
My experience as a treating therapist, clinic manager, and practice owner also helps me tremendously in my role. I have lived through most of the stages of career development and business evolution that our customers may be facing. I not only empathize with how a given practice owner may be feeling, but I can also often share how I handled the same situation in the past—or how I would’ve gone about it had I encountered the same issue. This clearly helps with relationship building, but it’s also a way for me to help our customers in a consultative manner.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
At WebPT, we spend a lot of time talking about DiSC profiles. My profile style is D, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. The D technically stands for “dominant,” which means I am results oriented, competitive, and confident in my ability to achieve the next goal. The flip side of that same coin is that I tend to be too blunt, bad at small talk, and have higher expectations of others than I should.
I would say in my role, the positive aspects of my DiSC style are a huge asset. We measure sales success on a crystal-clear scoreboard: either you’re hitting numbers or you’re not—and the second scenario isn’t an option!
At the same time, I have to remind myself frequently to slow down, be patient, and take the time to build great relationships, which is an absolute must in order to get cross-departmental projects done and/or attract new customers.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
I have always been fully remote as a WebPT employee—even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, I spent a lot of time traveling to HQ in Phoenix, conferences, and meetings throughout the country, but I have a feeling it will be a while before I travel again.
The temporary halt on my business travel is a mixed bag: I love spending more time with my family at home, but I truly miss the face-to-face interaction with my colleagues and customers. But as the old cliché goes, it is what it is.
Does your organization hire rehab professionals into non-clinical roles?
WebPT has rehab therapy professionals throughout the entire organization. This allows us to continually innovate our product suite with the therapist-patient interaction at the forefront of our minds. We have PTs, OTs, and ATCs in our sales, operations, product, and even legal departments! Our co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer (Heidi Jannenga – see her spotlight here!) is also a physical therapist.
Did you read any books or take any courses to get where you are today?
I read a ton, usually about one book every week. I have lots of guilty pleasures that I sprinkle in, but in terms of business and leadership books, these are my go-tos:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey never gets old.
- Good to Great by Jim Collins was very influential to my business partners and me when we were building our private practice.
- I just re-read Start with Why by Simon Sinek and participated in his LinkedIn virtual bookclub event, which was really cool.
- My absolute favorite book about building teams is definitely The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
- The lessons I garnered from Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan absolutely inform how I go about my day and how I manage projects and to-do lists.
Here is an online sales specialization program, offered by Northwestern University.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I’m less than two years into my career at WebPT, so I honestly can’t see myself doing anything different for the foreseeable future. We have so many amazing things going on at the company (e.g., a new private equity partner, loads of new products and innovations, an expanding footprint in the industry, etc.), and I want to be a part of how all of these things play out.
I also have a bit of “survivor’s guilt” after seeing how difficult it is to run a private PT practice during the COVID crisis. I want to continue being part of the PT industry and doing whatever I can to help my former colleagues from my position at WebPT.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours?
Yes, I have two pieces of advice:
- Build a vast professional network with intent and generosity. Connect with people because you are interested in them and what they’re doing. Reach out periodically to see how you can help them. Develop great relationships with people throughout your ecosphere whether they’re vendors, competitors, industry partners, or peers. If you do this in a diligent, rigorous fashion, opportunities will arise that you could have never predicted.
- Say “yes” to new opportunities, projects, and roles. Maybe even come up with some of them yourself! You’ll be uncomfortable and probably struggle a bit, but the only way to grow and reach your potential is by working at the extreme edges of your comfort zone.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
Regardless of what my day to day looks like, I still consider myself a PT (unless a friend or family member tries to come to me for treatment, at which point I am definitely a software salesperson!), so I’ll take that approach in answering this question.
Each year, 50% of all adult Americans experience some sort of musculoskeletal condition for which physical therapy can be beneficial. However, only 10% of those people are ever seen by a physical therapist! That other 90% represents nearly 14 million potential patients. If I could change one thing, it would be that PTs come together as a whole, promote the profession, and start tackling “The 90% Challenge” in a meaningful way.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
I would add two major things to the curriculum of a PT school: The first would be the “soft skills” needed to provide great biopsychosocial care to our patients. Exercise prescription and joint manipulation will only get a patient so far. Getting all of your patients to buy into your care as the fix for what ails them requires you to listen carefully, educate constantly, and coach continuously.
I don’t think we spend enough time on the “how” of these skills; we do a great job of arming new grads with the “what” (e.g., which exercises to prescribe, which joints to mobilize, what self-care techniques to teach, etc.), but if you aren’t taught how to ensure your words are heard and internalized, there will be a huge gap between expectation and reality.
The second piece would be around the business of health care. I took a healthcare management class once upon a time, and there was lots of talk about balance sheets, profits and losses (P&Ls), etc. But, what I really needed was an understanding of how the healthcare system works, who pays the bills, and how to successfully make a living as a physical therapist. To some extent, I figured it out on my own, but I’d love for new therapists to receive that knowledge much sooner than I did.
Thanks for your insight, Ben!
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