Building mutually beneficial relationships with vendor reps.
By Haley Perry, OD
Nov. 15, 2023
The vendor reps who sell to your practice can be tremendous assets to serving patients better and growing your business. Here is how we cultivated relationships with vendors that both improved care and increased profitability, including in one case, boosting sales of a frame line by 20 percent.
Transforming Vendors Into Partners
When referring to “vendors,” I am including a wide spectrum of professionals who contribute to the functioning of our optometric practice. This includes frame representatives, contact-lens representatives, equipment representatives and drug representatives. If you’re walking into my office with the intent to sell me something, or to help me help you with something, you’re a representative who plays a pivotal role in providing the products and services that enable our practice to thrive.
Establishing relationships with these vendor representatives goes beyond transactional exchanges. It’s about forging connections built on mutual understanding, shared goals and aligned values. These relationships transform vendors into partners who contribute to our practice’s growth, patient care and operational efficiency.
Enable them to Reach You Easily & Frequently
Reps visit our practice frequently, which provides an opportunity to engage in face-to-face discussions, share insights and examine new products.
When we meet in-person, it’s important to me that they have my cell phone number so that we can text. This saves both of us lots of time and also solidifies the relationship. If I need something, or have a question, I or my team can text them. If there is something pressing they want me to know, they can text: “Hey, Dr. Perry, you’re so close to increasing your tier for XXX.XX rebate!” Such interactions allow for a comprehensive understanding of their offerings and how they can best be integrated into our practice.
Learn Better Ways of Maximizing Medical Eyecare Treatments
A dry-eye rep suggested a protocol for their dry-eye medication. “Twenty percent of your patients at least have dry eye that you’re probably missing. Check TBUT on everyone. If their TBUT is short and you think they are a candidate for this medication, prescribe it and follow-up always in one month to see if it’s working. Then set a goal to fill 20 percent of next month’s short visits with patients from this month,” the rep instructed me.
“Not only did that statement fill the schedule, but I realized how much dry eye was causing glasses remakes in my practice! I hadn’t realized how all of that evaporation during refraction was skewing the glasses prescriptions.”
Take Staff Training to Next Level
A frame representative provided us with in-depth training on the features and benefits of an eyewear collection they sold. It was a frame line that had been in our office for a long time, but I had never heard its “brand story” in the way the rep told it to us. Armed with this knowledge, our staff effectively communicated these advantages to patients, resulting in a 20 percent increase in eyewear sales for that collection. The vendor’s support translated into better staff training, enhanced product understanding and improved patient recommendations.
Find Better Ways to Better Optimize Lens Packages
There was a time when we were struggling with inefficient package use with our lens vendor. We weren’t maximizing our rebates. Our representative noticed the issue and suggested a streamlined ordering process by removing non-packages from our EHR system.
Questions to Ask Vendor Reps
Engaging vendors with meaningful questions fosters insightful discussions. For frame vendors, inquiries about the latest eyewear trends and materials can help align offerings with patient preferences. “Tell me your brand story!” I say to them. I love hearing those now. When conversing with contact lens and drug representatives, queries about emerging lens technologies and new drugs, fitting options and good candidates ensures we’re offering the best to our patients.
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Equipment vendors benefit from questions on the latest diagnostic tools and their integration into our practice for enhanced patient care. And be honest! Argue with them if they’re making claims you don’t agree with. A little friendly dialogue helps them improve their sales tactics for other offices. It also makes them realize situations where perhaps their product may not be the best for the patients you have in mind. Ultimately, a good rep will be your partner and find ways to add value to your practice if you’re honest about what you feel is valuable.
Give Reps the Information They Need to Serve You & Your Patients
Clear communication is vital. Sharing information about patient demographics, practice goals and preferred product mix enables vendor reps to tailor their recommendations to our specific needs. Providing insights into the types of patients we serve, their visual demands and our practice’s core values ensures that vendors can offer solutions that align with our practice’s unique requirements.
Smooth Over Misunderstandings & Off-Putting Behavior
Challenges can arise even in the most productive relationships. I once encountered a vendor rep whose communication style didn’t align with our practice’s values of respectful collaboration. She was/is pushy, stalking my office door by saying she needed to use the bathroom. It’s funny to think about now. Sometimes even when the dialogue is clear on my end that “this product doesn’t align with my goals, patients, or prescribing style,” the vendor does not come up with a different solution. In this particular instance, she finally stopped coming to see me. However, open dialogue may have helped to navigate the issue and reestablish a more constructive and respectful interaction. But both parties have to be open to the dialogue!
Benefit from Experience of People Who Know How the Best Practices Do Things
When reps offer pearls of best practices, they’re dipping into a treasure trove of knowledge from a whole bunch of successful practices. They’re constantly moving in and out of different optometric setups, picking up all these cool tidbits of wisdom along the way. So, when they give you advice, it’s kind of like sharing these little gems they’ve collected from all their travels in the field. It’s like getting a sneak peek into what’s working well for others and how you might be able to apply it in your own practice! Listen to them!