Product consultants and the plastic surgeon

I don’t have to tell you that the landscape has changed for today’s plastic surgeon. Malpractice insurance costs, hiring good employees, maintaining patient satisfaction . . . must I go on? The plate is full for the modern surgeon in the age of the Baby Boomer, and it seems that things are getting more confusing every day.

Aside from the daily demands placed on some of society’s most valued surgical specialists, two key decisions are becoming critical: Do I sell products out of my practice, and what products do I buy to offer new treatments? From lasers to lotions, there appear to be as many products on the market as there are promises to offer the ultimate anti-aging results. With patient care the utmost priority, how does the practitioner find the time to gather the appropriate information to make the correct decision?

Historically, the office manager or head nurse has served as the product champion to shield the physician from the onslaught of company representatives that request some of his or her time. Selecting which products to evaluate, scheduling demonstrations, and dealing with sales professionals often fall to a valued practice associate already overloaded with tasks.

During my 15 years’ experience representing a variety of medical-device and aesthetic-product companies, I have witnessed the challenges that a physician faces when it comes to products and promises. Separating hype from hope when it comes to the latest and greatest in technology is one thing. But having the time and energy to discern what to pursue and eventually add to one’s practice is another.

Information Overload

The desk of the average physician, I have observed, usually is hidden by mountains of periodicals, journals, and “throwaway mags,” as they are often called. Between patient charts and the barrage of interoffice paperwork, the piles and files can look like an accountant’s workload during tax time. How much money companies spend to mass mail information is beyond my knowledge, but considerable thought and effort must go into the endeavor.

The typical professional trade show offers no relief from the inundation of product information. It seems that every year, another new product’s literature either claims to have the solution for your skin or the same answer as the one offered by a competitor.

I used to think that having a plethora of companies represented at trade shows was a good thing—options and alternatives offer choice. However, redundancy often creates inefficiency. A lot of great products and companies may be out there in the aesthetic industry, but there are so many choices and so little time.

I have nothing against sales and marketing personnel; I have been one for years. But when it comes to selecting what’s best for you and your patients, you need your own ideas—not the opinion of someone who is trying to earn a commission. The day when a sale was about closing should be in the past.

Great sales professionals should project a sincere regard to the impact a product will have on your practice, not just on the manufacturers’ bottom lines. Selling the “sizzle” with an array of features and benefits may be the norm, but a true sales consultant can be an anchor in the stormy sea of plastic surgery products.

Stock Tips

Most investors have brokers or fund managers, advisers that have their finger on the pulse of a particular market. A few television shows are even dedicated to providing insider information on specific companies and offering stock tips. Experts pontificate on where to put your money and offer suggestions based on extensive research and analysis.

When it comes to investing in capital equipment or adding a product line to your practice, where are you getting your advice? Are you listening to sales professionals who represent a specific company or product line, or are you just wandering the aisles at trade shows?

With the barrage of new products hitting the shelves almost daily, the professional journals and product magazines are a great starting point for obtaining product information. But where do you go from there? Randomly calling companies who ultimately refer you to their local sales representatives has worked in the past. Who do you designate to make the calls, do the research, and comparison shop? Infor­mation is the key to success in business, so who can you trust to show you the real product results?

Partnering Versus Pestering

We all desire personal and professional partners who have our best interests in mind. Perhaps the best example I can recall of identifying the need for a product consultant occurred early in my aesthetic-product sales career. I was promoting a skin-resurfacing device during the “lunchtime peel” rage in the late 1990s. Multiple competitors had surfaced during my first year of involvement, and the microdermabrasion war was on.

A prominent plastic surgeon had requested a demonstration, and I scheduled a visit with the newly hired aesthetician. After driving 6 hours and arriving at the office on time, I waited patiently for my call to show and tell. Within minutes, in walked an obvious competitor wheeling his shiny new product behind him. A different name was stamped on the box, but the product provided the same treatment as mine did.

Obviously, the practice’s aesthetician had double-booked the consultations. My slick competitor quickly reminded our contact that he was local. Therefore, he would let me take the appointment since he lived so close and could come back anytime for product demonstrations or service.

As I was escorted back to the designated aesthetic-treatment room, it was apparent that things were not well. While I set up the system, I heard sobs coming from the hallway. The practice’s aesthetician tearfully detailed a not-too-uncommon story to me. She had convinced her physicians that they needed this new device for their practice, so they had given her permission to contact companies and attend a trade show. Unwittingly, she visited every booth at the show and filled out an interest card.

She told me that within days of returning home, she received at least five calls per day from sales representatives offering the latest and greatest products. Her patient priorities, combined with handling all the sales calls and demonstration schedules, had caused her to lose track of everything. As a result, she inadvertently scheduled two product evaluations on the same day at the same time.

The point here is that she had little time, and even less experience, to deal with everything required to evaluate and purchase a new product for her practice. She needed a partner, not a persistent pest. A product consultant can offer that reprieve for most practices as an alternative to placing additional demands upon key staff.

One-Stop Shopping

Why should practices consider promoting products or new treatments? Most practices I have seen—at least the smartly run ones—already do. Patients want convenience, and time is a critical commodity today—remember the “lunchtime peel”?

Look at the largest retail distributor in America: Wal-Mart. There, everything is under one roof, providing one-stop shopping. Why not enable your busy Baby Boomers to buy most of their cosmetic products from you while they are in your “store”?

As much as many of you may hate to admit it, your practice is a “store” with a menu of services. Consumable products should be an appetizer—or dessert—to complement your main entrée.

Many “physician-only” product lines are available exclusively to the medical professional so as to not compete with mass marketing and retail. The perceived value to your patients can be significant as long as the product’s actual benefit adds real value, which most do.

Yet once again, the products offered are diverse and their indications are many. Instruct whomever you designate as your product consultant to make sure proper due diligence is applied. Patients are becoming highly educated, and they are inundated with all the skin-care claims they see in the mass media. Separating hype from hope will be your challenge, and your patients will know the difference when it comes to results.

A Team Sport

Good help is hard to find, as physicians discover right out of medical school. The most successful physicians I have seen acknowledge that fact and build a loyal staff while delegating critical specific tasks. Patient care most certainly is priority No. 1, yet physicians that learn to leverage their valuable time seem to not only prosper but provide maximum care.

Great leaders and managers keep an eye on the big picture and have the vision to see beyond it. Transferring that vision to your team creates belief in the leader and increases efficiency. Business and medicine are team sports, and a product consultant may be a good addition to your practice team.

Aside from researching new products and treatments, a product consultant can help create marketing campaigns. Regardless of a new product’s efficacy, your patients have to become aware that you offer a new service or product and how it will benefit them. Having already conducted the research and studied the competitive offerings and specific features, who is better than your product consultant to help promote it? From internal marketing to external campaigns, a product consultant can maximize your investment and reduce the demand on your existing staff.

Everything from scheduling product demonstrations to even negotiating prices can be handled effectively by a good consultant. You and most of your staff members would much rather provide care to your patients than deal with product evaluations, research, and the purchasing process.

A Free Agent

Just as you need to consider many things when purchasing a product for your practice, you should be just as careful if you choose to add a product consultant to your team. There seem to be a lot of independent distributors, or free agents, in the aesthetic-product sales industry. Repre­sentatives of some of the larger companies are not independent, but many sales professionals represent multiple product lines. That was how I got my start in the business, after 10 years as a direct employee selling surgical instruments. The rule of thumb once one became an independent representative is to constantly keep new products in the bag.

These free agents—having been exposed to a variety of devices, products, and new treatments—can make excellent product consultants. In addition, because most companies require the purchase of demonstration equipment and marketing-support materials, potential representatives are making an investment themselves. Before I ever picked up a new product line, I made several phone calls and did extensive research. From competition to suggested selling price to warranty issues, I was a customer as well.

So if you’re serious about improving the results your patients enjoy, and realizing a better bottom line with product purchases and sales, you may want to consider partnering with a product consultant. Although current independent sales representatives make great potential consultants, keep a few things in mind:

Networking. A lot of these folks have existing networks of business associates and friends. Make sure the products they recommend are based on results, not relationships.

Contracts. Companies offer territory rights, or “contracts,” to reps, and these may extend for years. A consultant should not make a commission from the sale, only from your partnership.

Service. Make sure your consultant values your entire team and realizes the importance of staff training. Service after the sale is critical, and serving as a practice partner is part of the job. Nothing leverages your time better than well-trained and motivated personnel, and your consultant should be able to assist here.

Compensation. Most consultants are paid as independents and are provided with a 1099 form at year’s end. Specifics vary, but I have usually been paid with a monthly retainer and offered a contract for a set period of time—6 months to 1 year is standard. For a new practice with lots of purchases and start-up costs, you might want to retain your consultant longer.

Playing Your Instrument

One of my mentors in business is Robert Kiyosaki,  author of the best-selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of books. He tells the story of how his real (poor) dad taught the traditional values of getting a good education, getting a good job, and letting the company or the government take care of you when you retire. His “rich dad” (a childhood friend’s father), taught the idea of building your own business rather than minding a business owned by someone else. The importance of ownership was enhanced if you had leverage, meaning that your business made money even when you weren’t there.1

Now, of course, no product can ever replace the hands of a plastic surgeon, no more than a machine will produce a work of art like Picasso did. Yet history shows that the most successful business owners knew their roles and played their instruments well. Henry Ford knew little about making automobiles, so he surrounded himself with those who did. Steel-industry founder Andrew Carnegie admitted that he was ignorant about how to manufacture steel, so he found others who helped him build a dynasty.

In Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Kiyosaki relates his rags-to-riches-then-back-to-rags business story. He learned the most from his failures, as we all must do. But perhaps his biggest failure was assuming that he could be “head chef and bottle washer.”1 Smart businesspeople delegate, build a team, and know their role. It’s like a great jazz band: Each member plays his or her part, and together they make beautiful music.

The most successful practices I have seen work like a clock—all the pieces combine to tell the right time. Don’t become an accountant if your talent is providing care to patients; hire someone else to do the books. Retain a product consultant that stays up to speed on what’s hot and what’s not; you cannot cram for an exam when it comes to all the new technology out there.

Quite frankly, I have never told a physician how to practice medicine or perform surgery. But many physicians have told me about marketing and sales. To specialize in plastic surgery indicates a desire and ability to do a thing very well. Multitasking may be a recent catchphrase, but the truly successful avoid it at all costs. Some schools of thought spout the notion that being well balanced or becoming a jack of all trades can enhance your worth. I have found the opposite to be true, and evidence abounds to support that claim.

Marcus Buckingham, a leading authority on employee productivity and the practices of leading and managing others, says it best in his latest book:2

“Focus on those activities that strengthen you and avoid those that weaken. Your ability to filter out tasks you dislike and focus on the specific things you do well, will dictate much of your sustained success. People who are already successful became so precisely because they were unwilling to tolerate aspects of their job they didn’t like. Their intolerance caused their success.”

If you don’t like researching all the new products out there, don’t do it. Outsource! If your staff members claim they don’t have the time to deal with companies and salespeople, don’t make them do it. You are managing a business, leading others, and serving patients first. Take a lesson from Buckingham:

There seem to be two types of people in business today: those who have learned to cooperate, and those who insist on competing. There is already enough competition for your dollars and your time in the market today. I believe a cooperative effort by you and a product consultant will benefit not only your practice but your most important asset: your patients. PSP

Chris Doster is a marketing consultant with more than 15 years of experience in medical- and aesthetic-product sales and marketing. He has helped develop several topical cosmetic product lines and works with companies as well as physicians. He is a coauthor, with Jerome D. Chao, MD, of the soon-to-be-released book, Skin Is In—Secrets of a Plastic Surgeon (MD Publications). He can be reached at [email protected]

References

1. Kiyosaki R, Lechter S. Rich Dad Poor Dad . New York, NY: Warner Business Books; 1998.

2. Buckingham M. The One Thing You Need to Know . . . About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success. New York, NY: Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc; 2005.