RepCorner: Kate Shanahan, Ticket to Success

By Laura Thill

For Kate Shanahan, traveling the world has taken her away from her comfort zone but closer than ever to her customers.

Kate Shanahan

When Kate Shanahan’s former career in public relations and marketing took off 10 years ago, she found herself immersed in a “crazy” work schedule involving long hours, frequent travel and constant hotel stays. “One afternoon in 2008, after wrapping up yet another long event, I knew it was time for a change,” she says. “I called my mom for advice, and she mentioned that her next-door neighbor, Derek Covell, sold something, and that perhaps I should look into it. That very same day, I rang Derek’s doorbell.” What followed was a leap of faith, she recalls. It turned out that Covell was a well-respected field sales consultant at Henry Schein Dental. After learning more about the dental industry, she agreed to meet Henry Schein Dental manager Ryan Steck. “The course of my life completely changed that day,” she points out. Today, she “couldn’t be happier.”

Lessons learned
A longtime passion for Shanahan – and a way to connect with herself and her customers – is travel. A self-proclaimed “natural goal setter,” she was intent on “conquering” all seven continents before she turned 30. In the words of Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover,” she notes. “I travel for a multitude of reasons, but the part I love the most are the lessons learned, which I am able to bring home. These lessons undoubtedly make me a better partner to my customers. In fact, when I travel, I spend most of my time thinking about my customers. I am extremely grateful that I have an opportunity to impact their lives and help them improve their business.”

Kate Shanahan with her husband Marc in India

Her first time traveling solo was soon after she joined Henry Schein Dental, Shanahan recalls. She literally took the plunge and planned a trip to New Zealand, where she could cross bungee jumping off her bucket list. “New Zealand is notorious for bungee jumping,” she says. “As I walked the plank to jump, my heart was pounding and a small army of butterflies were tap dancing in my stomach. I was scared and nervous.” Just before she jumped, however, it occurred to her that “this feels just like cold calling.” And then she jumped. “The lesson I learned from this experience is that it is okay to be out of my comfort zone, which is what our chairman and CEO, Stan Bergman’s message reinforces to the Henry Schein Dental sales force. We are able to accomplish more than we think we can, but we must take reasonable risks to build the confidence we need to be successful. Who knew that bungee jumping and dental sales had so much in common?”

Shanahan’s positive experience in New Zealand motivated her to plan another excursion – this time to Vietnam, where she learned “the power of non-verbal communication.” From the start of her sales career, she has seen herself as a “communications professional,” she points out. “I have always considered myself to be much more than just a sales rep, and the term ‘vendor’ makes me cringe,” she says. “I think of myself as a relationship expert, a trusted business advisor and a communications professional. In Vietnam, I couldn’t decipher their script or speak their language. Indeed, she was left to communicate through facial expressions, hand gestures and body language. “I learned to communicate with the Vietnamese through various methods of non-verbal communication – skills I continue to cultivate every day with my dental customers. For instance, are my doctors receptive to what I am speaking about? Does their body language suggest this is the right time to introduce a particular topic? Do they trust me? Are they having a bad day? Does my body language demonstrate that I am giving them the uninterrupted time and attention they deserve? Non-verbal communication can be a very powerful tool to use when trying to connect with others, and I encourage my customers to practice this form of communication with their team and their patients.”

Shanahan’s next trip – to India with her husband, Marc – reinforced the value of “exceptional” customer service. “For the first time, I had to seek assistance with pre-trip planning,” she says. “While I generally enjoy the planning process, with a trip such as this one, it’s nearly impossible to manage all of the logistics. After an extensive search, we found a travel agency we liked – one that did everything in its power to make our travel dreams come true.” The agency listened to what they had to say, and addressed their concerns, much like the way she works with her customers, she notes.

Upon arriving in India, they were met by a guide. “He was professionally dressed and had a huge smile on his face,” she says. “He gracefully carried our luggage and led us to his car, which was clean and fully stocked with drinks, snacks and hand sanitizer. He also had a printout of our itinerary. Despite the constant gridlock traffic, he maintained an overwhelmingly positive attitude. He could sense when we were tired or hungry and arranged special treats for our domestic flights. He was patient, always arrived early and advised us on ethical places to buy souvenirs and safe restaurants to try. We trusted him.” And, like a true sales consultant, he followed up with Shanahan after the trip for feedback about their experience and how he could improve his service in the future. “He took the values of his company and customized them to create an unforgettable experience for two grateful, travel enthusiasts,” she says. “I would confidently recommend his company and his services to future travelers. Referrals are one of the greatest compliments we can receive. We encourage dentists to ask for referrals when their patients have a positive experience; as sales professionals, we should be doing the same.”

Shanahan’s most recent trip was to the Galapagos, where they frequently came across a famous quote by Charles Darwin: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. “If this doesn’t directly apply to the rapidly changing dental industry, I don’t know what does,” she says. A fluctuating economy and advances in technology have influenced patients’ expectations, she notes. In turn, the role of the sales rep has evolved. “My customers often resist change, and this is where I can help.”

Fiercely loyal

Staying connected to one’s customers can be challenging at times, and Shanahan appreciates the extensive support offered by Henry Schein Dental. “This is one of the main reasons I am so fiercely loyal to Henry Schein,” she says. “They provide the tools we need to make our customers happy and productive. Our Business Solutions team offers help where dentists need it most, such as PPO management, lease negotiation, consulting services, marketing strategies, social media, technology solutions and total health programs, as well as OSHA and HIPAA compliance. In addition, our Dental Business Institute works with doctors looking to own multiple practice locations.

“How we add value – whether it’s through our supply, equipment or technology business – makes all the difference,” she continues. “For example, I created a local networking Facebook page called, Triangle Dental Solutions for Associate Placement Opportunities, because I noticed there was a need for this type of service. The group has expanded into the Triad and the Coastal markets in North Carolina, as well. I am also a certified OSHA and HIPAA instructor, and I love presenting at study clubs. Networking with other dental professionals has also been a game changer for me. I have found that passionate professionals want to surround themselves with other passionate professionals. In addition, I enjoy educating members of the dental community through my monthly newsletter, Tooth Fairy Talk, and my blog and website:” Social media is a “phenomenal” way for reps to connect with their customers, and for their customers to connect with their patients, she adds.

“I work tenaciously to help my customers identify the goals and challenges within their practice,” says Shanahan. “I try to offer relevant solutions and help them form and execute their action plan. At Henry Schein Dental, we focus on practice care so that dentists can focus on patient care. I find that when I genuinely listen and respond to my customer’s needs, the dental supply portion of our relationship naturally follows. I succeed when they succeed.” From helping dentists set their fees to assessing their hygiene re-care program, monitoring their radiography activity, facilitating their periodontal maintenance programs and implementing customized inventory management systems, she ensures their every need is met. “I try to understand their goals, hold them accountable and celebrate their victories,” she says.

Editor’s note: Kate Shanahan and husband Marc have planned their next trip closer to home. The couple recently purchased a used conversion van, which they’ve named Zelda and outfitted with a bed, chili pepper lights and a hula dancer on the dashboard, and look forward to exploring New England this summer. But not before Kate ensures Zelda is a fully functioning wireless hotspot, making her accessible to her customers while on the road.


  1. Tammy Overton says:

    I am an Administrator of a busy General Dentistry practice with 2 doctors. I can honestly say that our choosing to work with Kate had been one of our best business decisions. She not only talks the talk, but she walks the walk! She stays on top of the ever changing world of dentistry, as well as, a multitude of other areas that go hand in hand with running a successful practice. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this, but I’ve nicknamed her “Sunshine.” Every interaction with her is positive, uplifting, and she’s always full of energy and has a smile that is contagious! She literally makes my job easier…and who wouldn’t love that!!

Speak Your Mind