My friend and fellow consultant, Mark Hinton, says he does not sell eyeglasses to patients... he helps patients buy them. I love that distinction. Even though he does not like the word “selling”, Mark is a master of the craft and of patient communication.
As I work with my own staff members and those from other practices, quite a large number of them never think of selling as part of their job. I recently asked staff members at a workshop I was presenting to describe their jobs. The room was filled with managers, opticians, technicians and other job titles. I received all kinds of job duties about assisting the doctor, providing services, educating patients, measuring and dispensing eyewear, but no one mentioned sales. I find this fascinating because in reality, sales are the overriding goal of every business, including professional optometric practices.
I shared with the attendees that I think they should take a strong interest in selling because it is good for their careers. If the company they work for (the practice) does well; they will do well. If they help the practice owner reach specific goals, it will be noticed and rewards will follow. The rewards may include raises or bonuses, as one might expect, but also a better place to work, a nicer décor, possibly a larger office someday, better inventory and products, and high tech instrumentation. Success in sales can lead to more job responsibility and promotions and the accompanying salary boost.
I also shared with the staff that many optometrists do not talk about sales, but almost all of them are interested in it. We are a professional group and we don't think of selling, but I think it is time to break it down for staff and tell them we really do like patients to buy two pairs of premium glasses and a full year supply of contact lenses. We also like to sell services, in the form of eye exams and medical eye care for more patients and their friends and family members. Why do we keep it a secret?
Once staff members really understand that we want them to sell, most will be happy to do it. I encourage staff members to read books on sales techniques and I teach them some basics, such as the following.
If the optician simply believes strongly in a product, they can sell it with ease! And the doctor can help with that as well. Patients trust us as their eye care professionals. They chose to come to us. They want to know what we recommend. If you truly believe a product is better, you sell it. I will use premium anti-reflective lenses as an example. About 90% of the AR coatings we sell are premium, because my entire staff believes they are vastly superior to the basic AR.
I know many practices that fit a very high percentage of daily disposable lenses. Those that do believe they are vastly better and that enthusiasm and conviction comes through to the patient.
The tendency to prejudge what we think the patient can afford stops more sales in eye care than anything else. Staff members do it and so do doctors. We get some intuition that the patient may only want the cheapest products. Or we lack confidence and we are concerned that if we recommend something too expensive the patient will think we are taking advantage of him or will be embarrassed. What a big mistake. Think about the factors that might lead you to prejudge what a person can afford:
Age (too young or old)
Occupation listed in record
Type of vehicle they drive
You can easily see how wrong you could be! And how unfair it is to presume some people can't afford or do not want the best eye care possible.
I train my staff to always recommend the best. We can always find a more affordable option if the patient indicates he wants it, but don't deny him the opportunity to have the best.
How to present options
The subheading above is a bit of a trick. I actually teach staff members to stop presenting options! Don't begin the sales relationship by listing what you have available and asking the patient to choose good, better, or best. Start by asking the patient some questions about his life and then recommend what you think is best. Most patients will not take it any further. Most just accept what you recommend. You are the expert, right? Here are some questions to get you started and then just recommend the best products that apply.
Tell me how you use your eyes at work?
Do you participate in outdoor activities?
Do you have an interest in fashion? Describe your personal style. Do you think you look better without glasses?
Do you use a computer, iPad or smart phone?
What are your hobbies or special interests?
Are staff incentives necessary?
I think for staff members to do a great job at selling, some type of reward is needed, but it does not have to be the typical bonus program that is so popular in optometric practices. If selling is regarded as an important part of the job and if good performance is recognized by good compensation and raises, along with verbal praise, that is often enough. Some staff bonus programs just cause frustration and adversely affect the office culture. Many optometric staff members respond better to forms of rewards other than money. When sales of excellent optical products becomes a point of professional pride and a job well-done, because it improves the patient's life; that may be the best reward.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.