By Davis Capaccioli, OD
August 31, 2022
Vendor sales reps have more to offer than just the products and services they are selling. These individuals visit countless practices every year, getting a front-row seat to what works and what doesn’t in serving patients and creating a profitable practice. With such rich knowledge, the reps, whom you interact with regularly, can give you advice on how to make the most of the products and services they sell, and may even be able to suggest additional practice improvements.
Here is what I do to tap the expertise of my vendor reps to create a more successful practice.
Start Building Relationships with Reps Before You Even Decide to Buy
Let’s say I am interested in bringing in a new frame line. I will start the conversation with a few companies’ reps months before I am ready to bring them in. This allows me time to thoroughly research the product and build a relationship with the reps.
We will usually have numerous phone calls together, and maybe meet each other at a conference. They know that I am interested, and if a special deal becomes available, a rep I already have a relationship with will tend to let me know about it, as they are trying to earn my business. If I decide to go with a different frame line, I am honest with them about what I liked and didn’t like about their product, and ask them to check back with me in a few months.
I tell reps when we start our relationship that I am excited to learn from their expertise, and that I am always open to suggestions for how I can improve. I tell them that I view them as a teammate and am excited to grow my practice with them. They understand that as I do well, they will do well also. I ask my reps many questions, and if they do not engage, or make me feel that my practice is not worth their time, then I quickly move on.
Ask for Their Insights When Renovating or Otherwise Updating Your Office
I started my conversation with equipment and frame reps before I opened. I needed to remodel the front of my office to convert it from an old-fashioned large front desk and waiting area to an open-floor plan to make space for my frames. I figured that the best people to ask for advice on how to design an optical are frame reps because they see multiple opticals nearly every day.
I asked reps to send me pictures of offices they thought exhibited exceptional design. Seeing those photos helped me make the decision of including large, lit shelving in my optical instead of conventional frame boards, as well as having a free-standing front desk instead of a built-in front desk.
Another frame rep stopped by my office before we remodeled, and when I asked him for advice on design, we spent the next 20 minutes taping floors and moving chairs around, so we could visualize the reception area.
I think these reps went out of their way to help for a couple of reasons:
1. Engaging their customer is good for business. I bought from both of those reps’ frame lines.
2. We engaged in topics they don’t usually get to talk about much, but have significant untapped knowledge on. They found it interesting to finally get a chance to talk about these things with me.
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Ask Reps for Help Training Your Employees
We are have a small team, so every staff member is cross-trained to help out in other departments. My lone optician needs help dispensing glasses when we are busy, so I asked my ophthalmic lens rep to help train my staff in adjustments and general ophthalmic knowledge, which neither my optician nor myself had time to provide.
Get Support Tracking & Analyzing Metrics
My ophthalmic lens rep reviews our lens sales data with me every few months. Early on she pointed out that we were not selling many premium progressive lenses, and instead fitting mid-tier lenses. We offer high-quality frames, and patients expect superior vision, especially at our price point. That prompted a conversation with my optician, and I learned that she did not fully understand the benefits of the new progressive lens over the prior, more dated option. Since that conversation, our premium progressive lens sales have increased dramatically, and patients are happier with their vision.
Ask How to Make the Products You Buy From Reps More Appealing to Patients
We have a heavy emphasis on dry-eye treatment in our practice, and fit many daily disposable contact lenses because of this. Many patients love the improved comfort of daily disposables, but do not like the waste it causes. I asked my contact lens reps advice on how to address this with patients, and we are implementing a recycling program in our office for the contact lens blister packs.