Doctor Patient Relations

The Subtle Ways ODs Sell Their Practices to Patients–and How to Do Better

By Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA

Sept. 25, 2019

Recently, on a drive back from Austin, Texas, where I was visiting my mother, I heard a podcast on the Wharton School of Business channel that sparked thoughts about my practice, and what ODs can do to increase the likelihood of profitability.

The moderator of the program was Americus Reed, PhD, a marketing professor at Wharton. One of the concepts he discussed was that all companies need to practice what he called the “ABCs of Business.” Those ABCs were divided into two camps: Always Be Closing and Always Be Collecting.

Let’s discuss how to apply these principles to your practice.

ABC: Always Be Closing–The Doctor Sells, Too
“Always Be Closing” refers to closing a sale. The most obvious example is an optician who spends time with your patient and then closes with: “Your total with frames, lenses and the eye exam is $467. Do you want to pay with cash or credit?” Good sales people always ask for the sale.

Are there other more intangible ways that even we as doctors are “closing?” Why do your patients come to see you? If they are former patients, why did they return? If they are new patients to your office, why did they pick you?

I would argue that there are other ways to “close” a sale that go beyond just asking. I would also argue that we are all in sales–even us doctors.

As doctors, we may be uncomfortable in recommending our patient upgrade to the latest silicone hydrogel contact lens. Or we may be uncomfortable going over the benefits of UV, AR and a blue light filter in our patient’s next pair of glasses.

These are also obvious ways of selling, and high-revenue practices generally have doctors who are good at being “sales people.” However, many ODs don’t want to be known as salespeople. We want to be doctors, and doctors don’t “sell.” A real doctor, some would say, “prescribes” rather than “sells.”

But in any business (yes, optometry is a business and so is medicine) the provider of the product or service has to sell themselves, their business and their products to their customers (patients in our case). Selling yourself is another subtle form of “selling.”

The question then becomes how we as doctors are selling (or not selling) ourselves.

Let’s go through a few of the subtleties that are involving in selling ourselves, and how that impacts the types of patient we attract to our office.

How You Dress
What you wear says a great deal about who you are and how you “sell’ yourself. Do you wear a lab coat or dress in scrubs in your office? What are you selling? Are you saying that this is a medically oriented office? If so, are patients getting the message that you have great medical expertise, and that the optical is secondary? Conversely, if you wear a dress shirt and tie, are you sending the message that you have a formal office in which everything is expected to be topnotch? What if you dress in slacks and a nice polo shirt? Would that attire send a message that your office is more casual?

This is not to say that any of the above outweighs the other. It only means that how you dress speaks to the culture of your practice, and how you are “selling” it. A doctor dressing in scrubs should not be surprised that the medical side of the practice produces more than the optical. You have to know how you are “selling” yourself and how that impacts who your patients will be.

How You Communicate
How you talk, or don’t talk, to your patients, is another form of “selling.” Do you shake their hand? Do you make eye contact when you speak? Do you explain to the patient what you are doing as you perform a procedure during the course of the exam? Do you take the time to explain to the patient what the results from the exam mean to them? Whether, and how, you communicate to your patients, is another way you sell yourself, and ultimately, your practice.

A doctor who is a good communicator is a great asset to a practice. How many times have you seen a new patient who says they left their last eye doctor because they spent little time with them, and never explained well what they were doing or what they were recommending?

How You Create Authenticity
Dr. Reed talks about how businesses that have the most loyal customers do a great job of creating authenticity. He explains that most consumers can tell that they are being marketed to, or are being “sold” a product or service. The companies that do the best are the ones where the communication and messaging go beyond the sale.

Yes, there is a sale being made, but it is in the best interest of the consumer. The benefit to the consumer outweighs the selling. That consumer is a fan and is happy to spend their hard-earned dollars. Examples of this are companies like Apple, Harley Davidson and Oprah Winfrey (whether it be her show, magazine or another of her many endeavors), and in my neighborhood, the Dallas Cowboys.

How is it that fans of a professional football team can spend $50 on parking, $300 for two tickets, another $85 dollars on food and drink and then can’t wait until the next home game, and do it again?

What is the magic formula to getting our patients to come back every year for an annual eye exam, get a year’s worth on daily disposable contact lenses, buy a new pair of Maui Jim sunglasses and then schedule their exam for next year? Wouldn’t it be great if every patient was like that? For those patients, with whom you have created that authenticity, it is a lot easier.

That authenticity is “selling” yourself as providing services and products that truly benefit that patient in their everyday activities. What you provide has made a difference in their lives.

We need to “sell” ourselves every day. “Selling” should not be frowned upon. “Selling” is how you brand yourself and how you connect with your patients.

 

Watch for the second part the ABC of Business next month. There we will be discussing Always Be Collecting (Data).

 

Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA, owns Las Colinas Vision Center in Irving, Texas. To contact him: kkrivacic@aol.com.

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