Relationships Require Communication…

…including the one you have with your vendors. Here’s how to make the most of your vendor meetings to ensure a symbiotic relationship.

In my office, we like to think of our vendors as business consultants. During our meetings, we make it a point to have them advise us in our decisions by asking the right questions and figuring out exactly how they can help us be more profitable.

Finding Ways to Maximize Your Conversations
The best vendors are the ones that take the time to learn about the practice, our needs, and the ways we can improve even further. I like to use vendor meetings as a time to have conversations about what other practices in the area are doing. They’re the experts in the field and in your particular geographic region, so they’ll know what marketing strategies have been effective and ineffective in local practices. As vendors, they have an interesting perspective on other area practices. Because of that vantage point, they can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your practice and help you increase profit in all areas.

Some of my favorite meetings are the ones where vendors leave me with marketing materials to show my patients chair-side, whether it’s for a contact lens I’m using often or for a newer product. Having something tangible to offer my patients during an exam is a great way to improve sales, and that’s just a simple thing to add into a meeting with a vendor. I also like to utilize their guidance on where to place things throughout the office to ensure that patients see them and that it drives sales.

It’s important for me to ask about new products that can best serve my business and what marketing approaches they’ve utilized recently that have worked at selling products both new and old. I want to be sure I’m getting the most for my money on each purchase and also be informed of any potential deals where spending more money upfront will lead to greater profits down the line.

Though these are business discussions, having real-world conversations with vendors helps to create that strong relationship. Being able to talk about personal things allows us to have a more natural relationship, and it ultimately helps them to better understand the business end of things. Having easy communication makes me more likely to want to do business with vendors, because that means that they really care about their work and they’re providing the support that we need.

What’s New?
An important part of any conversation with a vendor is learning about new products that are available and how to best educate the staff on these new offerings. Staying on top of trends in both contact lenses and frames gives me the best chance to present these products to my patients. I also find that vendors have great training sessions available for staff members, which can also help drive sales, because when everyone is on the same page and knowledgeable about the products, we can best serve our patients.

Making the Most of Your Meetings
While vendors provide an invaluable service, it’s important that meetings are scheduled appropriately so as not to waste time throughout the day. More in-depth sessions that require staff members to participate and be trained on new products and services should be scheduled for lunchtime, so there’s ample time and everyone is available. However, when vendors pop in unexpectedly, they typically don’t get more than a few minutes of our time. If they want to have a formal meeting, we’re happy to schedule that at a time that works best for our schedules.
Another part of this is knowing when relationships with vendors have run their course. Though we often have longstanding relationships with some companies, if the products aren’t selling the way we need them to, or a new rep isn’t as thorough as a previous one, we know it’s time to cut ties and instead seek out replacements that better suit our needs.

David I. Geffen, OD, FAAO, is a partner in Gordon Schanzlin New Vision Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

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