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Robert Bell

Robert Bell: You’ve Been Brainwashed

When did optometric practices decide to go into the insurance business?

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WHEN WE WORK with a client, one of the first things we do is to scope out the local competition with a “blind shop.” We gauge a variety of things: Is the place well lit? Is it clean? What’s on the frame boards — and is it organized? But the most important objective is to assess how the staff interacts with a complete stranger who walks in off the street.

Recently, I walked into 11 separate private practices in an economically booming Northern California town. At each one, I said, “Hi, my wife and I are moving out to this area from New York. I’m just doing a little house hunting and I was driving by and saw your place. My wife and I are complete eyeglass junkies. Would it be OK if I just look around?”

Of the 11 practices, staff at each replied in a very similar way: “Sure, what kind of vision insurance do you have?”

Are you kidding me? That’s the very first thing you ask a potential patient? A potential customer who is a self-professed eyewear junkie, no less? Was I in an insurance agency or an optometric practice?

When I explained that I’ve never had vision insurance, do you know what happened? Nothing. With the exception of the very last office I visited that day, nothing happened! And when I say nothing, I mean I was left to my own devices at the frame boards for 20 to 30 minutes until I walked out the door. In the last office, the optician/frame buyer went on to explain to me the features and benefits of a vision care plan even after I told her that I don’t have that coverage. At least she made an effort to engage me on some level.

But why? How did she become so conditioned to immediately play the insurance card with me? Why is it the first thing most ECPs talk about?

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What’s that? It’s because a lot of your patients have a vision care plan, you say? Not to be rude, but so what? Initiating the insurance conversation is the path of least resistance. It’s a white flag of surrender. What are you truly afraid of? (Tell me via email, if you’d like. My contact info accompanies this column.)

Let’s look at this another way. Did you go to Insurance School or Optometry School? Are you an insurance agent or an optician? It doesn’t read ABC Optometry & Insurance on your sign, does it? Does it read XYZ Optometry & Financial Planning? Yeah, didn’t think so. I can assure you that insurance agents or financial planners are not asking their clients about eyewear. Ever!

Look folks, I know you don’t want the insurance companies to dictate to you what services and products you should provide patients. I know that you don’t want these companies limiting your ability to do your job, professionally or financially. And yet, you allow it. In fact, you invite it! How? By initiating the insurance conversation with the patient.

So, what to do?

Change the conversation!

Take control and turn it around.

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If a patient doesn’t mention insurance, why bring it up? And if it does come up, ask the patient whether they’re more comfortable with an insurance company dictating what services and products they should have — or would they prefer to follow the advice, counsel and guidance of their eye doctor? Seriously. Ask it, then don’t say another word until they answer you.

Here are a few EyeCoach “commandments” that may help you look at this in another way:

  • Thou shall never initiate a discussion about vision care plans with the patient.
  • Thou shall not tell a patient your plan “covers” this amount or your plan “pays” for that amount.
  • Thou shall never say “your plan is like a discount.”
  • Thou shall substitute the word “contributes” as in “Your plan contributes to the retail price of…” Amen.

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

“Thank God yes! It’s Monday!!!”

Channel that sort of excitement every Monday with your own Monday Morning Mission Statement.

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MONDAY, MONDAY… SO good to me. Monday mornin’, was all I hoped it would be.” — The Mamas & The Papas

You’re asleep. The alarm goes off.  You awake.  Your first thought is, “Oh lord no, it’s Monday morning.” Groan!

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You’re asleep. You awake a minute before the alarm goes off. Your first thought is, “Thank God yes! It’s Monday!!!”

Who do you think is gonna have a better week?

(If you’re currently the former, try re-reading my February 2017 article, “Go to the Hat!” at invisionmag.com/021901 for a jump start!)

The biggest challenge for a sales trainer and coach, like myself, is to change someone’s attitude. It’s hard enough accomplishing this in person but even harder, still, in a magazine. Yet, I’m gonna try by challenging you today. We’ll call our challenge the Monday Morning Mission Statement.

I want you to write out two personal mission statements for Mondays but I’ll add a little twist.

First, a personal mission statement can be defined in a variety of ways but, for our purposes, let’s define it as a statement of what you’d like to achieve, what goals you’d like to accomplish… on a Monday. Here’s the twist: I’d like you to write these statements with a very specific challenge in mind.

The specific challenge for the first mission statement is: write it in a way that makes the experience your patients/customers have with you blasé and where you recommend products that make their lives unproductive. Here’s an example: “My mission on

Monday is to work with my customers in an ‘I don’t give a rat’s behind, half-assed’ sort of manner and to not make any effort, whatsoever, to share with them the products available that would certainly improve their lives.”

Don’t use my example, write down your own. Yes, I’m serious!

The specific challenge for the second mission statement is: how will you make your patients’ lives more dynamic today? Here’s an example: “My Monday Morning Mission is to recognize and act on the fact that I have the skills and products to dynamically change my customers lives at home and at work. I will always be exuberant in my efforts.”

Don’t use my example, write down your own.

Now, take these two Monday Morning Mission Statements and on Sunday night, put them, side by side, somewhere where you will see them before you leave for work the next morning. Read them. Decide how you’re gonna spend your Monday. By the way, this will most likely dictate how the rest of your week will go.

Or, if you’re a practice/business owner, write out these two Monday Morning Mission Statements and post them in your break room. Perhaps, have every employee (including yourself) initial the statement they’d like to follow before they begin work. Maybe in following weeks give each of your employees the opportunity to post their own two Monday Morning Mission Statements to place in the break room?

Monday morning, so good to me!

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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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