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Robert Bell

A Great Question: Are You Giving Advice or Making a Suggestion?

Try softening your language to turn your expert advice into a suggestion.

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ON A RECENT MORNING my girlfriend was deep in thought. She turned to me and asked, “What’s the difference between giving advice and making a suggestion?” Uh oh.

“Um, which one am I about to get, honey?”

She laughed and said, “I’m serious. What do you think the difference is?”

I smiled. “What an incredibly great question!”

At first glance, one might think they’re the same. They’re not. There is a subtle distinction which can make all the difference in the world in successful selling.

One only need look at the optometric and optical forums on social media where everyone has an opinion and cannot wait to give advice. In fairness, sometimes that’s exactly what is asked for. Yet, when it’s not, advice is not only given anyway, it’s given with such passion, one feels there are no other options. In other words, comes off as harsh. I’m not pointing fingers here, I’ve been guilty of this too.

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Thank goodness, I’m dating someone smarter than me who posed this question so I can make the proper adjustment. I’ve giving this a lot of thought and discovered:

Advice, when not specifically asked for, can ignite someone else’s defense mechanisms. We’ve all heard the phrase, and some of you may have even used it, “Well, thanks but when I need your advice, I’ll ask for it!”

Yet, here is the challenge: Whether they’re conscious of it or not, your customers are coming into your office looking for your advice. Still, unless they literally ask you, “What do you think I should do,” don’t give them advice. Hell, even if they ask exactly that, don’t.

What to do then? Well, may I make a suggestion? I propose you soften your language to turn your expert advice into a suggestion.

How? I’ll leave that up to you since each of us has our own style of speech. With that said, I’ll float the idea that you look to tailor your language based on the subtle difference between “giving advice” and “making a suggestion.”

I deem “advice” as something one can take or leave, in an all-or-nothing kind of framework. “If you take my advice, everything will be fine. If you don’t, you’ll most likely suffer the consequences.”

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I see a “suggestion” as something to be considered. Something that’s given so someone can give it some deep thought. It’s giving the customer the opportunity to make a choice. A choice which is best for them based on the expertise of the one (you) making the suggestion. How great is that?

Robert Bell is the founder of EyeCoach, a Sales & Marketing Practice. He is one of the most inspirational, innovative and effective speakers/trainers in the eyecare industry. His workshop “Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only Selling” is highly coveted. Email him at eyecoachworkshops@gmail.com

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Robert Bell

Be a Sales Contrarian

Just like Robert Bell.

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OVER THE YEARS, people have said the most illogical things to me. So, I thought we’d start the new year by debunking some irrational thinking when it comes to sales and selling.

“Selling is persuading or convincing someone of something.”

On the contrary … selling is helping someone acquire what they need.

“Selling is really hard, especially for eye doctors and opticians.”

On the contrary … selling is the easiest thing in the world if you’re not trying to persuade someone of something. And, if selling is helping someone acquire what they need (see above) and since eyecare is a “needs” based biz, helping someone with their visual needs is pretty simple. Why are you making it difficult?

“Eye doctors and opticians aren’t really salespeople.”

On the contrary … who told you that, anyway?  Eye doctors and opticians don’t see themselves as salespeople because they think selling was about persuasion. So yes, I agree, if ECPs think selling is about persuasion then, you’re right: eye doctors and opticians aren’t salespeople (or, at least, they shouldn’t be). Again, selling is helping someone acquire what they need. ECPs are in a needs-based business so isn’t being a salesperson (with our new definition) more of a natural extension of who you are anyway? Isn’t it your primary job to help patients and customers acquire those products that will help them alleviate their visual needs?

“But Robert, don’t we already do that? I mean, we tell them about their needs, we tell them about all the products they need to help them and we tell them why they need them. Isn’t that helping them acquire what they need?”

On the contrary … every time you use the word “tell” you’re actually saying you’re trying to persuade them that they need these products. No one, and I mean not a soul, likes to be told what they should do. When you’re “telling” someone something, you’re talking at them. Their defense mechanisms flare up and they are resisting everything you’re saying.

What, then, would a sales contrarian do instead of tell? Ask! Instead of telling people, you should be asking people. Ask a question. Why? Because asking a question or a series of them is the best way to get people to engage in conversation. When you’re telling someone about something, it’s a monologue. You want a dialogue!

“But, I just don’t know the right questions to ask.”

Au contraire, mon ami … you’re just afraid to ask them. You think asking customers questions makes you look less professional. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s what a true professional does: asks questions. Lots of them. Inquire about how they use their eyes during the day … at home, at work, at play. C’mon, you know this!

After asking all these questions and gathering all this information, ask them for their permission to help them. Sounds like, “Ok, great. I think you and I pinpointed the challenges you’re facing. Would you like me to talk about how we can best help you?”

This is the only time you can tell them about the products and services you provide. Why? Because you just asked them for their permission to do so.

“Well, I can’t sell like you, Robert.”

On the contrary…You can sell better than me!

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Robert Bell

The Terrible Twos and Overcoming that Multiple Pair Problem

If the average patient needs three pairs of glasses, why aren’t doctors writing three prescriptions?

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TWO PAIR. It must be awful. In fact, that second pair of glasses must be terrible! Why else are independent ECPs only selling them 7 percent of the time?

Here’s the crazy part: That percentage was around 10 percent a few years ago and now it’s dropping. Again, terrible! Here’s something else to ponder, I have a friend that insists it’s less than 7 percent, that it hovers around 5 percent. Worse than terrible!

I’m not an eye doctor nor a licensed optician so I can only speculate as to why this number is so ridiculously and embarrassingly low: a second pair isn’t important to the customer and/or the ECP doesn’t think there is a need for it. It’s that obvious.

Or is it?

I wasn’t sure, so I asked this question of ECPs on social media: In a sentence or two, explain what you think the job description is for an optician?

I received some interesting responses but I was looking for a congruent mindset to help me better understand this dismal percentage. And, without fail, I saw it. This mindset is best illustrated by the following response — Read it three times and read it carefully before you continue with the rest of this column:

“An optician utilizes the doctor’s prescription and recommendations in order to help the patient find their ideal frames and lenses for seeing well and looking fine.”

Did you see what I saw? This doctor wrote the word “prescription” (singular) and the words “frames and lenses” (plural). In other words, do doctors expect their opticians to sell multiple pairs when they are only willing to write just one prescription for a patient?

The irony is that I have not met an OD yet (or optician, for that matter), who doesn’t tell me that their average patient needs three pairs of glasses. Ok, doctors, are you writing three prescriptions on average then? Just asking.

The other part of this multiple pair challenge, in my opinion, is that the majority of opticians have literally given up on second pair sales. That saddens me, of course, but it’s not that I don’t understand it. Whether or not they sell a second or third pair, most opticians will not make an extra dime from their efforts. So, why make the effort at all? After all, the second pair “conversation” seems to be a walk up hill and against a mighty wind. It’s a lot of work, though it doesn’t have to be (a solution is coming towards the end).

So, what we have here the majority of the time is:

  • Doctors writing only one prescription;
  • Opticians not wanting to make the effort of the dreaded second pair conversation; and
  • There is no incentive for them to make a concerted effort in making multiple pair sales.

What to do? My suggestions:

1. Doctors, at the very least, write a second prescription for UV protection (sunglasses).
2. Opticians, to make the “conversation” of a multiple pairs more comfortable for you and the patient, ask/talk about the second pair first. It sets the stage and, immediately and gently, changes the “just one pair” perception of the customer. In just doing this, your multiple pairs should skyrocket.
3. Business owners, please consider a bonus program for every one of your employees. I’m not a big proponent of spiffing individuals with a bonus as your entire office should work as a team. So, examine the possibility of rewarding everyone on staff, financially, if certain goals are met in regards to multiple pair sales.

If you were to only initiate one of these ideas, your multiple pair sales will increase. Can you imagine how powerful this becomes if you employ all three?

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Robert Bell

How to Handle Cold Calling Reps, Bonus Downloadable Form!

It’s hard to determine which sales reps could be valuable to you. Here’s a form that will help.

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ON THE SURFACE, this is usually a column about selling techniques for ECPs. Yet, what I like to think this column truly does is encourage people to make effective decisions and in a timely manner. A timely manner!

Time is important. Lack of time is a killer. And, according to most of you, there isn’t a bigger time-suck than the sales rep that makes a cold call. Many of you get so angry and frustrated with the reps for doing this to you, and I understand why, but wanna know the irony? You’re doing this to yourself.

Y’see, no one has ever taught you how to best deal with a cold calling rep and the paradox is, no one needs to. I haven’t met a single one of you who couldn’t figure this out on your own. Have you spent any time thinking about this? C’mon, seriously. Have you sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and spent at least 15 minutes scratching out some ideas?

If you haven’t, let’s see if I can offer you some.

Keep in mind a few things…

They’re just doing their jobs (like you’re doing yours). This is the way they feed themselves and their families. So be considerate!

As much as this annoys you, you want these reps knocking on your door. In fact, you need them knocking on your door. Why? They are your direct link to the industry side of your business and profession. They are your direct link to new (and sometimes, ‘must-have’) products or services, new technologies, new best business practices and, usually, a fount of valuable information. They are the source!

You are generally in one location 40 hours a week. They’re in up to 50 or so a week seeing the best (and worst) of your competitors and peers. For the smart ECP, this can be extremely advantageous.

Now, I hope you’re shaking your head and thinking: “Ok Robert, but still, we can’t see every rep and a lot of them do waste our time!”

Of course, but how do you determine which rep and/or company may be extremely valuable now or in the future?  Aye, there’s the rub.

Download the Frame Rep Form here, then do this:

REP: “Hi, I’m Ish Kabibble with Gloriosky Optical Company and I’d like to speak with the buyer.”

YOU: “Hi Ish. Thanks for coming in, we appreciate it. But, we’re very busy, so the buyer asks that all reps that come in fill out this form.

Now, this is just an example of a form for frame reps and the questions you might ask. Like it? Great, feel free to use it. Want to change some things, ask questions that may be more relevant for you? By all means! Want to create specific forms for reps from labs, lens companies, contact lens companies, etc.? I highly suggest that. In a way, this is an employment application, so ask what you want to ask.

For smart sales reps reading this, you’ll know exactly what to do to set yourself apart.

But, most importantly, whether you’re a rep or an ECP, always be respectful of someone else’s time.

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