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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

Peak Performance Selling Techniques

Plot twist: Robert Bell decided not to teach you a damn thing a long time ago.

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GUESS WHAT? THIS issue of INVISION marks my five year anniversary writing this column for them. That means I’ve written about 50 articles for INVISION on selling philosophies, strategies and techniques. The challenge, for me, has been: How do I teach you how to sell in 500 words?

It can’t be done. So, I decided not to teach you a damn thing.

Instead, my goal was, and remains, to make you think! To make you think in ways you never had before. To inspire you to look at things from different angles or points of view. To encourage you to let go of your traditional ideas of what selling is and to join me in embracing a new experiment in sales strategies and techniques.

So, let me dedicate this month’s column to those of you who want to be Peak Performers in sales with the following:

  • Let go of those traditional selling techniques that continue to fail. Where did you pick up those techniques, anyway? Think about that. Did it come from observing others who are mediocre at selling? Is what you were observing actual sales skill or was is just someone with a charming personality? You understand that’s it’s next to impossible to adopt someone else’s personality and make it your own, right? Sell like you, not someone else (including me). Customers can always pick up on someone being disingenuous and that never bodes well.
  • Read my articles (you can find all of them at invisionmag.com/robertbell) or hire me to come in and train you and your staff. Take the techniques I share and make them your own. It’s easy to do.
  • Lose your ego! Embrace your mistakes and foul-ups. It’s part of the learning process. When you screw up a sale, think about it. Is this a one-time thing or is it a pattern? Write down what it is you think you can do better next time.
  • You don’t have to do this alone. Ask for help. Go to your boss or co-workers and ask them what they think you can do better. Hey Bosses… ask your employees what they think you can do better at selling. Again, lose the ego. Accept the fact that there are no sales courses in optometry school and ask for help!
  • Find an article of mine that has meaning to you. Read and discuss it at your next staff meeting with everyone.
  • Ask your state optometric or optical association to bring in a speaker. I’m available. How cool would that be? We’d get to meet each other in person.
  • Ask one of your top vendors (frame, lenses, labs, etc.) to sponsor a training for your area or, specifically, for your practice. Trust me, they want you to sell more! The more you sell, the more you buy from them. Talk about a win-win.
  • Successful selling is not about you, it’s about the customer. Folks, I’m not going to comment on this as it’s fairly self-explanatory. If you don’t really get this, you’re doomed. If you get this and embrace it, your customers will buy enthusiastically.

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Robert Bell

In Sales There Are Not Two Sides to Every Story.
 There Is Only One — the Customer’s Side

You’re about to get much better at selling.

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YOU MAY NOT REALIZE THIS, but you’re a salesperson. Yes, I know, you don’t see yourself as such … you see yourself as an eye doctor or optician or ophthalmic tech or office manager in an optometric practice, etc. Yet, you are a salesperson as well. Why? Because whether you know it or not, if you’re not selling your eyecare services and products, you’re out of business.

I’m sorry I’m the one who had to break this news to you but, then again, who better than a professional salesperson and sales trainer?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
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Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
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Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
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Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

But, there’s a difference between you and me. I’m pretty good at selling and, you? Well … you’re about to get much better at it.

Do Your Homework

Know what you’re selling. Everyone who works in the business should be familiar with all the services and products offered. Know them inside and out, up and down, and know it better than anyone else … especially the customer.

Know Your Customer

Understand as much as you can about them and how what you’re about to sell them will precisely be of benefit to them.

Know Your Competition!

I don’t mean, “know of them.” I mean, know them!! Know what they’re good at and what they suck at. Know what they offer. When you know this, you’ll understand a lot better how to excel at what you do. You’ll understand what differentiates you from them. How can you expect your customers or patients to understand this if you don’t?

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive

Now that you’ve done your homework, and you’re so incredibly prepared, you’re probably bursting at the seams with all this knowledge and passion for what you do. You can’t wait to tell your customers about everything you know. Yeah, don’t! Why? Because you’ll come off as pushy. You’ll come off as a know-it-all. You’ll come across as it being all about you when it should be all about them!

So, ask them questions. Ask them if they have any concerns. Ask them about what they’re hoping you can do for them. Ask them what their visual and/or style goals are. Ask. Keep on asking questions. Oh, and listen! Listen very carefully.

You’ll gather all the information you’ll need to help them with their specific challenges. You’ll hear about what really matters to them… and this is where “doing your homework” comes into play.

Make a Connection and Establish Trust

Without a doubt, salespeople cannot sell if there is no connection or trust. But, here’s the good news: by asking genuine questions about what’s important to the customer/patient, you’ve already begun making that connection. You’ve showed them you’re concerned about them and not about yourself or “making the sale.”
When you begin to share with them (“share” being the key word) the solutions to their needs, they’ll need to understand how this benefits them. Share with them a story of how this solution was able to help another customer/patient (without violating HIPAA laws, please) in a similar situation. Share with them the success of the product(s) you’re helping them acquire. This is when trust begins to become established.

Are There Two Sides to Every Story?

Not in sales, there aren’t. There is only one side. The customer’s side.

Even though you may, physically, be sitting on the other side of the dispensing table from them, truthfully, you’re really on the same side.

How important do you think it is for your customer/patient to know this? Critically important! Your customers/patients need to know you’re on their side, that you’re partners, together, in helping them achieve their goals and acquire those items to get them there.

When your customers/patients realize your genuine desire to help make them successful, make their lives more dynamic with the right vision solutions, your sales will dramatically increase and it will make you feel incredibly good.

You’re a salesperson? Yes.

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Robert Bell

Stop Educating Your Customer!

You’re just doing it wrong anyway.

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JUST TO BE UPFRONT with you, I want to destroy the concept of educating your customer. Why?

Because it’s likely you’re doing it at exactly the wrong time and your product knowledge and expertise can be intimidating when used at the wrong time.

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

Think about this: Have you ever been in front of a customer and felt they were starting to get uncomfortable when you began telling them about your products or expertise? I know you’re an expert at what you do but people tend to get a little uneasy when you start using technical language and optical jargon when describing products.

This leaves your customers in a situation where they really only have a few options:

  • They can stop you and ask you to explain, in layman’s terms, what you’re talking about … (this rarely happens.)
  • Their eyes glaze over, their listening stops, and they just nod their heads waiting for you to give them an opportunity to say “no” when you mention the price, or
  • They begin to feel so uncomfortable that they look at their watch and say, “Oh, look at the time. I really have to run back to my office (or pick up my daughter from soccer practice, etc.)” and they get the hell outta Dodge! Where do they go? Probably online, maybe to a Big Optical store but they’re definitely not coming back to you. Ouch!

C’mon, you’ve seen this happen … more times than you care to admit. It sucks! But, you keep on doing it. Why? Well, let’s take a look at that and see if we can’t turn this around for you.

When I ask ECPs why they do this, I’m told it helps establish them as the expert, and builds credibility and trust with the patient/customer. But something else, entirely different, is actually happening.

Look, it’s great to finally get to the point when you truly are an expert. It comes from years of hard work. In truth, it’s incredible and you should be proud! So, when you start talking about your expertise and product knowledge, it actually feels good. It’s actually meeting some kind of inner need … your inner need. Yes, it’s important to know your products; it builds your confidence. But, this expertise of yours should enable you to ask the appropriate questions to determine your customer’s needs … and that’s the part that usually gets lost in the shuffle. But, guess what? That’s the most important part of being an expert!

What I’m saying is you tend to shoot yourself in the foot, from a selling standpoint, when you start to use your product knowledge, technical terms, jargon and expertise to make yourself feel better about you. Don’t feel bad about this, it’s common in the selling process. But, now that you’re aware of it, you can correct the situation.

Your value, as an eyecare professional, is in the information you gather from your customers, not about the information you dispense. Once you gather all that info on your customer’s needs, then, and only then, is the right time to “educate” your customer.

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