Relationships are complicated.
First you meet, then you see each other on a regular basis; eventually, you might share a meal together. Your first relationship likely won’t be your last, and some are better than others. They can be short or long-term, superficial or profound, and everywhere in between.
I’m not talking about dating, though – today we’re going to discuss forming relationships with your eye care sales representatives!
No Man is an Island
Everyone needs support - Optometrists included.
In my opinion, OD’s tend to be very self-reliant and have difficulty asking for help, even when it is necessary and appropriate.
There are wonderful people out there hired to make your life easier, to make your practice grow and they are known as Sales Representatives.
They come from many backgrounds intended to support your patients in different ways, but here are some of the most familiar reps you’ll meet:
- Contact Lens Reps
- Frame Reps
- Medical Reps (eye drops, solutions, medications, supplements)
- Technology Reps (auxiliary equipment, software)
- Regional Reps (local newspapers, websites, advertising)
A primary function of their job is to make you, their customer, happy. So, make your life easier and utilize their services!
There are many ways in which each rep can help you.
- Contact lens reps often will order more trial lenses, offer contact lens solution starter kits, provide rebates and coupons, and inform you of new products on the market.
- Frame reps can help you decide on which frames to sell in your practice and where to position them.
- Technology reps aid in fixing issues related to their equipment or software as they arise.
Whatever the case, these are all meant to help you perform at your best. I encourage doctors to treat their reps as friends and trusted colleagues, and not like a nuisance.
If you aren’t the head honcho at your practice normally interacting with said reps, ask to be included! There is value in the products and services each rep can provide your practice, so don’t deny your patients access to what they may need.
Lay the Ground Rules
Just as you would establish basic protocols in a relationship with a friend or significant other, there is no reason to assume this relationship is any different.
For a relationship to be successful, it should be mutually beneficial to both parties, and communication is always essential.
Consider the following when building rapport with your sales representatives:
- How often should you be in communication, or see each other in person? Is the current schedule too often or too seldom?
- What is your preferred method of communication? Who should contact whom?
- Does the rep need an appointment for a visit? Are drop-ins allowed?
- When the rep arrives, is he/she allowed to poke around the office (say, in your stock room) or must staff accompany them?
- Have you introduced the rep to influential members of your team, like the Office Manager? The introduction can take some of the time and responsibility out of the doctor’s hands.
Set yourself up for success by deciding the answers to these questions.
Avoid becoming irritated if a rep doesn’t follow one of your guidelines because more than likely it is you who has not communicated your desires.
Sales Reps want to play by the rules you lay out, so communicate your expected code of conduct.
A Case Example
What does a successful relationship look like?
Let’s consider Dr. Ball at Central Optometry and his contact lens sales rep Ted Smith from Stellar Contacts.
Dr. Ball runs a medium-sized practice in a beautiful area and places importance on his contact lens practice. He establishes that Ted is to visit the clinic once per quarter, by appointment, scheduled by the Office Manager and approved by Dr. Ball.
Occasionally, Dr. Ball contacts Ted between visits for various requests, such as a specialty lens or more solution starter kits. Initially, Ted was accompanied to the contact lens stock room by a staff member during visits to re-order trial lenses, but after developing a good working relationship with Dr. Ball, Ted is trusted to take inventory on his own. The duo usually shares lunch for their appointment, and genuinely enjoy catching up as well as talking business.
They value their friendship and remain, good colleagues, even after Ted was promoted to a different position.
The Buddy System
In the end, working with Sales Representatives is indeed business – but there is no reason you can’t have fun and make friends while doing it.
Get their business cards and keep them in one place; don’t be afraid to call or email when you need help. If you don’t have a rep for a company whose products you’d like to use, request one!
If you are looking for work, Sales Reps can be invaluable: they know tons of doctors in your region, and likely have nationwide connections as well.
Also, ask them for favors – they might be able to host a lunch, training, or event for your office. Finally, try to get to know them on a personal level.
Relationships work best when you know multiple sides to the same person, so ask about their hobbies, children, and even industry news – they might be the first one to tell you about hot new information!