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50 Shades of Reps
Point/Counterpoint: Two Sides to Every Story

By Karen Michaelson, ABOC, and Tim Slapnicher, ABOC

Release Date: April 1, 2014

Expiration Date: April 10, 2018

Learning Objectives:

To update the ECP on changes and adoption practices for a lens material that is capable of being the overall lens platform including:

  1. Create a true rep-account relationship with no surprises.
  2. Develop a Vendor Relationship Agreement to ensure partnership is beneficial and positive for both parties.
  3. Implement a Rules and Guidelines for Vendors and Reps Form so trust and expectations are defined and accountability is established.
  4. Conduct a set of Guiding Questions for Your New Account to learn the flow of your new account.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Tim Slapnicher, ABOC, CPO, is currently the practice coordinator at Rivertown Eye Care in Hastings, Minn., where he lives with his family.
Karen Michaelson, ABOC,
is a certified optician and practice management consultant, staff and professional trainer for private and wholesale practice applications.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course SJMI122


AN ACCOUNT'S ACOUNT:

Rep after rep, meeting after meeting, I was seeing a pattern of what reps do. They come in, schmooze with me, tell me how great we are, and how much money I will make selling their amazing prod- uct. They may promise me exclusivity if I do enough business or tell me how our business will suffer if I don't carry their product. They may offer some sort of rewards if we sell their stuff or maybe a 20 percent discount if I act today. If I don't, they will have to go to my competitor down the street because they need some presence in our market. They'd like to have it be with me, but they have to make a living too, you know. They make sure to let me know how their competition is struggling and lost another frame line or how the competition's product is just not holding up like it used to. They promise me training and coming in regularly, and being available any time there's a question or problem. I like what I hear. I go for it. I get a great discount, buy a bunch of product and wait for it to turn my business into a profit machine because I'm the only place around that has this product.

Reality sets in. The frames don't look as sexy when they arrive in plastic baggies eight days later. I also see some interesting styles I don't recall purchasing. Could they have padded (four frames too many) our order? The provided 3-by5 countercard doesn't seem all that inspiring. I'm left to make them look spectacular in our display case. We wait.

I figure we'll sell these like hotcakes right away. No one else has them. We are now THE hot spot. Tick-tock…

Waiting. Any day now. After a week or so, I con- tact our rep to let her (or is it him?) know it's not going well. She returns my e-mail three days later and tells me I flipped the wrong product, and our optical team just doesn't know how to sell her special frames. We are not seeing eye-to-eye. I ask for her to come in to do brand training. Her calendar is booked for a few months. I tell her that I found all of these frames online for an aver- age of $75 less than what we're selling it for. She danc- es around the issue and tells me that hardly anyone actually buys frames online, and her company can't control it anyway. Ugh. How did I get myself in this mess? Foiled again! Typical rep.

Months later, I find this exclusive frame line in an optical shop down the road. It's explained to me that we are not getting a healthy turn on these frames, and she's losing money because we can't sell the product. She has to make money too. She did, however, bring in a new line that she will definitely keep out of any stores near us. Are you kidding me? I take her exclusive line and discount it at our store and tell her we've decided on a new direction.

I meet with a new rep with a new line the following week. He tells me how special we are and how his frame line fits our brand and will make us a ton of money. He will give us a 15-mile exclusive and a 15 percent discount if we bring in the 24-piece minimum order. I hate him already.

Vendor Relationship AgreementNow I feel paralyzed with what direction to go next. I don't trust any reps anymore. They are hurting their colleagues. When one rep drops the ball, they all do. Help me like you.

'NOT SO FAST,' SAYS THE REP:

I arrive at the clinic a few minutes before my scheduled appointment. Apparently, I'm a surprise because no one knows why I'm here. I somehow need to make them understand they need to value my time as I do theirs. I wait for about 20 minutes before an available optician finally brings me back to their lab. There are plenty of patients in today so our first meeting feels a bit choppy. We get started on my frame trays, then she gets pulled away to dispense. Then she gets a phone call. Then she comes back frustrated… today's not the best day. Well, that's good to know, as I scheduled this over three weeks ago. Hmmm, how do I help them schedule their time more efficiently? I have great ideas but until I earn some respect, it will seem self-serving.

We finally get a break. She leads me to an empty (and quiet) exam room to go over things. I tell her a bit about my frame lines in our dimly lit space. She then spends the next 45 min- utes trying every… single… one… on. Yes, they do look amazing on you. She complains that some are just not her style. OK, so now we're stocking inventory that looks good on one person? At this point, I would love to take her to the frameboards to see what might be missing from styles, colors and materials as well as talk about their patient base. However, today she doesn't have time. I want my product to shine!

My first visit has turned into a marathon event. Every available staff member tries on every frame. Cute! Oh, fun! I want a pair! I do my best to continue to smile. I love my job, but it's been over two hours of complimenting the entire staff. I am concerned I will be late for my next appointment, and I am struggling to stay composed through the fashion show.

The skeptical doctor comes in. He wonders sarcastically what big deal we have going on, and how he "got screwed by a frame rep four years ago… they're never coming back here again!" He mumbles something else and carries on his way. Ah, the welcome team! Get me outta here! Here is where I gain some ground by introducing myself and creating a relationship with him. I give him my card and let him know if there is ANYTHING he is not satisfied with to contact me. I am determined to be a rep he remembers for how efficient I am as well as the sell-through on the product. This is a partnership.

The optician flips 45 frames. Nice. These frames all look good on her and are starting to resemble the rest of the inventory here… I see a pattern. I'm excited to get a big sale, but have a funny feeling I'll be exchanging most of them. There is no accountability here. I will close this call by making an appointment to review the initial sell through on the order and request time looking at inventory to be sure the best product is there for them. The doctor does not want to be involved. I have a feeling there will be some headaches down the road with this one. Shoot. I'm running way behind with one of my favorite accounts. That was an experience. Kind of reminds me of yesterday. And the day before. I need an organized office that can knock this product out of the ballpark. This story is getting old.

AN ACCOUNT ON THE PERFECT REP:

Give me a rep I can trust. I feel like I get the same "speech" with almost all my reps (frame, lens, pharmaceutical, etc.). This predictable formula has run its course. I am craving a partnership where I can trust my rep, we have common goals and they can help me be the best optical around.

I've been burned many times before. Yes, other reps have ruined it for you. They've padded my orders, done deals with my opticians under the table, not followed through, been jerks when I needed help with exchanges, and unreachable when I needed them most. I've been played many times, so it is hard for me to trust you. How will you be any different?

I'd love it if instead of gift cards and spiffs, you gave us more support through brand training, continuing education credits, tips on selling, sending us to conferences and giving us the tools to differentiate our optical. You've seen a thousand opticals—what can we do different?

Who is doing something extraordinary? What are the best practices out there? If you invest in our growth, we will be loyal with you. I'm looking for a longterm partner/relationship, not an optical one-night stand.

A REP ON THE PERFECT ACCOUNT:

I am taking cues from your "flow." I can't come in and tell you how to run your business. I've had to bite my tongue more than once… this week. I play by your rules even if I know things should be run very differently. The infrastructure should be established so a rep understands who is responsible for certain decisions. Your opticians are running the business here. That can work, but it's not in your case. Your doctors need to be involved. It is easy for me to work with the frame buyer, but the owner needs to know more about this side of the business. A frame selection team is an approach to be sure that all demographics are covered.Rules and guidelines for vendors and reps

Be honest, focused, goal-oriented and strive to create partnerships based on business first. Establish what your needs are. What are your goals? Where are you headed? I have tools and resources that I'd love to share with you. You're not utilizing me. Share your needs and desires, and let me know when something needs attention. If we can establish better communication lines, and we're all on the same page, there's no wiggle room for surprises. It works great when there is accountability on both ends. I too crave more trust. I apologize what's happened to you in the past, but I'll do my best to exceed your expectations so we can move forward together.

GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE

Both sides agree: Expectations and guidelines need to be established. We need to be on the same page. If we are to become a true partnership, things need to be laid out clearly so there are no surprises. Here's a suggestion: Start with a Vendor Relationship Agreement (taken from iKare Optical and Clinic Services). It will help you get some foundational understanding and background of your rep and the frame company. It works in both directions too. A rules and guidelines for the partnership is also appropriate to outline your expectations (see example). Also, be sure that the practi business owner has seen these forms so it sets an expectation for the relationship.

The rep should ask questions of new accounts. This will help organize your account and make them think about their policies and expectations if they seem a bit unorganized.

MAKE IT LAST

These questions (and ones you come up with) will help get you on the same page. They take the guesswork out of it all. If either side is not holding up their side of the agreement, then it's easy to go back to these expectations. It takes two to tango. Be honest, trustworthy and hold your end of the bargain. Support this partnership and develop a long-lasting partnership.