By David I. Geffen, OD, FAAO
June 8, 2016
Your vendorscan help you succeed, not justsell you inventory. Challenge them tobe your business consultants, in exchange for your business.
CHALLENGE VENDORS TO BE CONSULTANTS.Requestindustry analysis and management techniques, in addition to optical goods.
REQUEST MARKETING HELP.Askvendors tohelp you market their products.
REQUEST STAFF EDUCATION. Ask reps to equip staff with effective tools to present new premium products.
The relationships you build with vendors are about more than buying product. Challenge your vendorsto be partners in your success by providing product information, sales skills and support in various ways. My shared OD-MD practice works hard to build strong relationships with vendor reps that challenge reps to be truebusiness consultants to our practice.
Ask Vendor Repsto Advise
Goodvendors look at themselves as business consultants. I don’t need to see someone who just comes in and pushes the company line and only is there for a sale. Those are a waste of my time. The vendors who make the transition to learn about the practice and try to assist in areas beyond their company’s products are truly special. We ask our reps what is going on in the immediate area with marketing, how business is going, and whether there are any marketing ideas they have seen in other practices that could help us. I have had reps make up chair-side aids to assist me in selling annual supplies of contacts, and this would apply to any product, not just theirs.
We use our vendors to assist with things like trunk shows where we will have one or two frame companies, a contact lens company, and some skin care companies. The reps will assist us in the cost of these events, as well as staffing them.
CHALLENGE VENDOR REPS TO BE SUCCESS CONSULTANTS BY…
Being succinct in their presentations to save us time.
Providing staff with lay terms for presenting their products to patients.
Showing us how their products workfor us financially (e.g., premium product/higher margins or better comfort/fewer dropouts).
Telling us what other practices are doing well so that we can try new ideas and benefit from them.
Manage YourVendor Meetings
Depending on which type of rep is coming in, we determine who sees them. Our frame reps are seen by my office supervisor, who does the buying with the support of two opticians. Pharmaceutical reps generally will stop in unannounced and need a doctor’s signature to leave samples. They will wait for a doctor to come out between patients and have them sign and we give them a couple of minutes to talk. If they want more doctor time, they need to schedule an appointment.
We explain before the meeting that our schedule is much too busy to give them more than a couple of minutes without an appointment–so we ask them to be prepared to be brief and to the point. Our contact lens reps will typically schedule time with me to be able to sit down for more than two minutes, and I usually will do this over lunch. If they are coming in just to drop off information, they will speak with my contact lens tech. Other reps, such as for dry eye products and over-the-counter products, will speak with the office supervisor unless they have an appointment.
Challenge VendorReps to Meet Your Needs
When we sit down with a vendor we are looking for several things. First, I want to know what is new in their business. Do they have new products or information to help with my patients? Second, do they have any marketing programs to assist with the profitability of my practice? And third, I want to know what is going on in the community. They visit many offices and often have knowledge of events going on, or maybe a practice management solution they have seen elsewhere, that could aid my office.
For instance, one of my contact lens reps might come in and say if I buy an inventory of a certain product I can lock in a lower price for the next six months, and this might be on a product I am using a lot. They might also have a spreadsheet showing me the extra profit I will gain by fronting some money upfront. They could then go on and tell me about another practice which is using a chair-side aid they designed which is helping educate their patients on the benefits of daily disposable contact lenses.
I will ask if there are any specials, and make sure I am receiving the best prices possible. An example of the latter is the rep saying they saw a type of display a particular office had that they thought would work well in my practice. Or they may say they picked up a tip on some special from another company I did not know about.
To makea meeting mutually beneficial there needs to be an ongoing business conversation, but we also talk about kids, sports or maybe a trip, to make the exchange more personal and enjoyable. The vendors I like to spend time with are more than just a salesperson. I look at them as an extension of my practice, and they are almost like an outside employee. The better the vendor understands this relationship the more willing we are to spend time with them. I am looking for business ideas from them to help my business grow, and they need to understand that if my business grows they will end up getting more business from me.
Vendors also need to understand that doctors do business with those vendors who give great service, and as many products are similar, we use those products from the companies who give us the most support.
Stay Up-to-Date on Products
One of the more important roles of the rep is to keep the office up-to-date on their product lines. This is especially true with frames, where the rep has knowledge of what is selling well in certain areas and practices. It is their job to educate us and recommend products which will both be the best for our patients and sell well. Contact lens reps may tell us about a new lens coming out in the next few months, so we may want to wait for some patients to try the new product, rather than put them in the older version.
Ask Vendors to Help Educate Staff
An extremely valuable way to utilize vendors is have them educate the staff. We often have staff meetings where a vendor will bring in lunch for the staff and do a program to educate the staff on new products. This is very valuable with the introduction of new products as the doctor may not be as familiar with the product, but wants to learn about it too. The reps are also a good resource for review training such as with how to train a hybrid contact lens wearer.
Discontinue Vendor Relationships that Aren’t Working
There are very few products of which I cannot use a substitute for. When we find reps who are not working with the practice well we generally stop using the product. It is a shame as sometimes we have had a relationship for many years with a company, and the rep leaves for various reasons, and the replacement is found to be less than optimal. It will take quite a bit for us to return to that company.