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As you analyze and develop your practice's marketing plan, asking one key question can provide excellent guidance. That question is: what is your practice's competitive advantage in the marketplace? Or, put another way, why should a prospective new patient choose your office over all the other options for eye care in your community?
In giving the answer, it's time to be brutally honest and even a little tough on yourself. And look at the situation from the public's point of view only. It's easy to give a generic answer that doesn't really make you change much, but that is obviously not going to help build your practice. You could answer with something like: "I provide thorough eye exams at competitive fees". But does that make your practice unique? Might a typical patient read that as: "I do lots of boring tests and my prices are about the same as everyone else"?
If you can't quickly come up with a few strong reasons why a patient should choose your practice, then you need to develop some new competitive advantages.
Consider the following examples and see if your practice currently can claim some of them:
I have the nicest and friendliest staff, who are always happy to go out of their way for patients
My office is completely computerized, including all exam rooms, and I routinely provide all patients with high-tech procedures like digital refraction, digital visual acuity charts, digital retinal photos, corneal mapping, and virtual imaging of frames
I have the largest and most up-to-date frame inventory in the area, and the displays look like those in an upscale department store
I'm on time for appointments 95% of the time - we just don't make people wait
I offer the lowest price for services and products in the entire state
I have most contact lens brands in stock in sellable multipacks - not just trial lenses
My office is open during normal business hours, even through lunchtime, plus some evenings and Saturdays
Most eyeglass orders are ready to pick-up within 1 day, whether the patient needs them that fast or not
The more competitive advantages you offer, the more reasons you give people to choose you and to refer others to you. You may not want to offer all of the above, but think of some other special traits that will set your practice apart. One of the above examples - the one about having the lowest prices - may not even be a good idea, but I put it in the list as an example and to prove the point that low price can be a competitive advantage. In my view, low price is not the best strategy for independent practitioners, and it does not mesh well with the other points, which all stress high levels of service. There is an old joke where a guy on the phone is saying, "you say you want high quality, fast service and low price? Pick two and call me back!" It's true that successful businesses generally pick a niche and become good at it. We can't be all things to all people, so we should intelligently choose the competitive advantages that we wish to pursue. Since we can't buy products as cheaply as Wal-Mart, we shouldn't go after that one.
Notice that all of the above competitive points are achievable. You could offer many of them. Yet most offices offer few, if any of them. Most practices end up being average - and being average does not really attract anyone! You can rationalize that the examples I listed aren't really that important to your patients, but if you look at them from the patient's point of view, you'll see that they are. Consumers always want more, and successful businesses find a way to give it to them.
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.