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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor February 8, 2012 - Tip #519 
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The Two Biggest Mistakes ECPs Make in Selling

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When we think of selling in eye care we generally think of opticians. It is true that opticians and optometric technicians do most of the direct selling of eyewear, but all eye care professionals (ECPs) do some selling.

Optometrists generally cringe when someone refers to them as selling things. We are often hyper-sensitive about this, but in reality, we sell things all the time and so do physicians, dentists and attorneys. We sell services, regular eye care and we even sell optical products. We do this in a professional way, but I see nothing wrong with recommending the best eye care and that involves products quite often. I take the view that my patients actually want this from me; to deliver less would be to do a sub-par job.

It is no secret that practices that do a great job with selling have much higher gross and net revenues. You can choose to ignore selling and let it happen by accident or you can embrace it and train your staff to do it better. As I observe how sales are made in optometric practices, I see two glaring mistakes that happen in most offices, mine included. Cover these at your next staff meeting and work to overcome them.

Mistake #1: Too much concern about the patient's budget
This is extremely common among eye care staff, but ODs are guilty as well. It comes from a good-hearted sentiment that means well, but is seriously misplaced. A subconscious effort to save the patient money results in losing significant practice revenue and forces the patient to live with less than optimal vision and comfort. It even results in fewer word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some obvious examples:

  • The patient has a small change in her eyeglass prescription and the doctor hands off to an optician without saying much about it. The optician opens with "Did you want to go ahead and get the new glasses today?" Seems like a standard opening line and it probably occurs every day in your office, but why not just assume the patient wants new eyewear.
  • Here are a couple more classics: "Did you want to look at new frames or use your present ones?" and "Shall we start with the frames your vision plan covers?" Before you think that this would never happen in your office, listen in sometime.
  • Staying with the patient's current progressive design rather than moving up to a free-form lens.
  • Staying with the patient's present contact lens rather than moving up to a daily disposable.

When you think about what really amounts to an effort to hold back the best eye care because the doctor or staff thinks it may be too expensive for the patient, it is rather insulting! How dare an optician or an OD prejudge my ability to pay for better products and services? How was this unfair bias determined — by my clothes or the kind of car I'm driving? It is a big mistake to prejudge people in that way. Overcome that tendency by always recommending the best first. Let the patient decide what his budget is.

Mistake #2: Start by telling patients what you have to sell
Many opticians greet a patient in optical by showing them the various frame lines on display. They may go on to present an overview of the lens designs that are recommended, including premium progressives, antireflective, Transitions, and high-index plastics. Opticians who think they are really good at sales may work in something about the warranty and other services offered. If this describes you or your staff, you are missing a huge opportunity! This is telling... and telling is not selling!

Don't start with what you have to offer; start with what the patient wants and needs! The simple way to do this is to start by asking questions! Listen and then ask more questions! I guarantee this will sell more high-end eyewear!

The danger is often that we are just too good at what we do. When a patient walks into the optical and especially if you see the doctor's exam record, you instantly know what the patient needs. You can read the visual complaint, look at the patient's age and Rx, see his old glasses and what they have and don't have, and you can instantly design a great new pair of glasses in your head. Slow down! Don't gloss over the most important parts of selling, which is building trust and finding out what the buyer wants.

Patients love to talk about themselves if they find someone who is interested, so be interested! This is why I don't really care for lifestyle questionnaires that are given to the patient in advance to fill out. I don't even like them when they are completed on an iPad instead of with paper and pen. I want my staff to save those questions for their verbal interaction. I certainly don't want our office to ask the questions twice! I want my opticians to ask about it and listen to the answers.

As ECPs we have a huge advantage over sales people in the true retail sector. Asking patients personal questions is part of our job and it is readily accepted. Asking about a patient's occupation or health issues is fine for us, but it might not be if you were selling a sweater in a department store. Use the knowledge we gain to prescribe the best eyewear. The patient's occupation, hobbies, need to control glare and need to protect against ultraviolet light are the entry points to glasses that meet his needs.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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