contact lens management
Sales reps have a lot to offer. Here's how to benefit from their knowledge.
BY NEIL B.
GAILMARD, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O.
A professional sales force is expensive for a contact lens company to maintain. The average cost of sending a sales representative to you is estimated at $500 per visit by some industry insiders. Some companies have cut costs by dropping field staff, relying instead on telephone reps.
Others have reduced the number of reps and expanded their territories, resulting in calls only to top accounts. And still other companies believe that the sales rep is a valuable resource for building long-term relationships with doctors, and so they continue to provide them.
Are rep visits beneficial, or are they simply a chance for companies to push products? Should you regard a visit as a valuable resource, or a drain on your time? How can you get the most out of a visit? Should you meet with the rep, or should your technician? Read on to find out.
A fellow professional
In my view, the contact lens sales rep is a valuable resource. I see him as a fellow professional with knowledge of the industry and marketplace, trained in the business aspects of eye care. My practice benefits because he:
- explains the features of the company's products and introduces new products and improvements
- understands the consumer market for contact lenses locally and
nationally, and knows industry trends
- shares ideas and strategies that other eyecare practitioners use
- brings me marketing and merchandising ideas, and provides me with point-of-purchase materials and co-op assistance
- presents options for special discounts and promotions on purchases
- provides staff training on technical aspects, such as lens parameters and lens care, and on patient presentation techniques
- can manage lens inventory
- is a source of both clinical and marketing education
- assists with profitability analysis and fee positioning
- problem solves for lens performance, returns, billing, etc.
If you're an O.D. with a small practice, call a company and ask for a rep to visit you. Repeat this request occasionally. When the rep does visit, be on time for the appointment, and try to use his products. Reps should visit every 6 to 8 weeks, or sooner if there's a new a product to introduce.
Mutual respect, common goals
I set aside time regularly to meet with sales reps. My contact lens technician also meets with the rep later.
I like a rep who's interested in my practice, asks questions about our procedures and policies and takes notes. I enjoy a rep who challenges my thinking. If he presents new ideas, I challenge him as well. I stay open minded to change though because it's the only way to improve my practice. Of course, I expect a rep to keep his promises, behave ethically and not reveal confidential information without asking me --- but I've found this to be the norm.
Get the most from a rep by building a long-term relationship based on mutual respect and the common goal of growing the contact lens practice. Discussions with sales reps can yield great new ideas. In this way, they serve as free business consultants.
Dr. Gailmard is in group practice at Gailmard Eye & Laser Center in Munster, Ind. He's also OM's chief optometric editor.
A LOOK INSIDE
DR. GAILMARD'S PRACTICE:
Name of practice: Gailmard Eye & Laser Center
Location: Munster, Ind. (20 miles southeast of Chicago)
Average number of contact lens fits per month:
Number of staff: 5 O.D.s ( 3.5 FTE), 1 practice administrator, 6 business office staff, 15 ophthalmic technicians, 3 opticians and 3 lab techs
Percent of revenue from contact lenses: 24%
Percent of patients fitted with contact lenses: 32%
Do you use direct-from-manufacturer contact lens delivery? Yes, for specialty lenses and daily disposables, but we also stock a large inventory of multi-packs in our most popular brands so we can dispense a full year's supply at a patient's visit.
How often do you see contact lens patients? After the first visit (including comprehensive eye exam, contact lens fitting evaluation and dispensing), I see new patients for follow-up in 1 week and again in 1 to 2 weeks if indicated. After I complete a new fitting process, I see contact lens patients for annual exams.
Optometric Management, Issue: May 2001