Th Relationships First 01

Relationships first … profits second

Sept. 1, 2009
My journey and viewpoint as a clinician is slightly different from the norm. I have extensive experience both in clinical practice and globally lecturing and writing in my specialty of endodontics.
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My journey and viewpoint as a clinician is slightly different from the norm. I have extensive experience both in clinical practice and globally lecturing and writing in my specialty of endodontics. This has given me a panorama from which to understand both what doctors need from their suppliers as well as an understanding of what it takes to bring a product to market and assure that it is functional, economical, makes a profit, and is sold with top-quality service. My lecturing and industry experience introduced me to Proofs.

As I read each issue of Proofs and see the smiling faces and bios of people moving about in the dental industry (at both management and sales rep levels), I find myself wanting to know how committed they are to getting to know me as a clinician, customer and person, and not as a number. I wonder how many of them really care about their customers. For how many are their doctors just a commodity, a fishing hole from which to catch their limit?

I want my dental vendors to provide me with quality products, competitive prices, and follow-through after the sale. I also want a relationship with them. While the bottom line in business is critical, with the dental business being no exception, getting there can be done in a personal, positive, relationship-centered manner or through a profit-centered, short-term, “hit the number” mentality. I know which of these I would like to experience as the customer. I suspect each of the people featured in Proofs know as well.

One thing missing in this “hit the number” mentality of dental industry sales is that the long-term sale and corresponding trust is lost when short-term gain is sought. Customer feedback is also often ignored in this scenario. In addition, it makes sales representatives service their big customers better to gain more sales rather than plowing the field for new customers. They try to grow more crops from the same plot of ground rather than plant more fields which can then be even more exponentially productive.

As I read many of the quotes from dental industry leaders in surveys and news stories (and I experience their services as a consumer) in Proofs and otherwise, I find their answers often to be corporate boilerplate. This meaningless filler, translates to me, the end-user of their products, as “Business as usual, nothing special or different here that would make me switch to use their products.” In essence, their mentality is centered on the wrong thing.

“Business as usual” and “hitting the number” was clearly at play in the construction of my new endodontic office in Vancouver, Wash., in 2006. When my office was recently remodeled from scratch, the cost for construction was 50% over budget, and I was not told in advance that the over runs would be anywhere near this high. In addition, there were foreseeable problems in the design and final result that were ignored in a rush to finish and move on to the next project. This was the first office I ever built out from the 2x4s, and I learned a lot through the experience.

A dental distributor/dealer arranged the contractor, dental equipment, and supplies. Not a single person from the dental distributor ever called and asked me if I was happy with the outcome of the office. It was the consummate “wham, bam, and thank you.” I clearly helped that company hit their number and they were off to the next installation. I stopped buying from this company. I find it interesting that since I began buying my supplies elsewhere, no one has called to ask why I haven’t bought anything from them in several years.

While on the surface this might sound bitter on my part, it is not. As a customer, I want to like my suppliers. I want to get to know them. I want a relationship with them. I want to feel good about doing business with them. I want to be part of their larger family. I would like my local distributor to hold CE meetings, cocktail soirees, dinners, etc. I would like them to be a focal point for me to meet other clinicians in addition to the local dental society and meetings. I want the distributor to help expose me to new technology, new ideas, and perhaps ways that I can save money in the long term by spending money in the short term, especially if the ideas and equipment are clear breakthrough concepts. My experience spending approximately $360,000 in office build-out costs was just the opposite. No relationship, no contact, and no future means to connect with them. For the record, I did not call to complain to the local dealer involved — it was pointless. My only option (an unpalatable option at best) was to get a lawyer.

Aside from optimal communication about the build-out costs, it is clear to me that I was sold what the dealer had in stock, rather than being given a wide range of choices, even if it might have decreased the initial sale and delayed installation. It should be remembered that goodwill gained now is ultimately paid back in long-term faith and loyalty to the brand. I would have appreciated some form of “thank you” from the branch manager, an occasional drop-in by the local rep asking me if I needed anything, and to be asked how my business was going. I wanted them to care about the answer, to know that I existed and to see what I needed.

Seeing me as a person and not a sales statistic is vital to the long-term health of any business, but especially in the case of a dental business where word-of-mouth referral and personal recommendations are vitally important. I’ve never publicly or privately bad mouthed the dealer involved, but I clearly cannot recommend them and I get very quiet when their name comes up. This is especially unfortunate for them as, in my lectures, I am in a unique position to help elevate them greatly; in good conscience, I cannot. This is a massive lost opportunity for them and will ultimately cost them much more than the $360,000 that was spent building out my office.

Alternatively, there are bright spots in my interaction with the dental industry, places where I have the connection and good feeling about doing business. Two such bright spots are my experiences with SybronEndo and Ultradent. Having lectured extensively for SybronEndo, I have found their sales representatives to be knowledgeable, timely, and responsive. The quality of their products has matched the quality of their service, making it possible for me to enthusiastically use the materials in my endodontic practice as well as lecture on endodontic principles that are carried out with their brand. Ultradent is impressive to me for many reasons, but one is the vision and drive of their owner, Dr. Dan Fischer. I appreciate what is clearly a people first approach. Most certainly, if you have ever met Dan, people do come first and I’m sure that explains in part why Ultradent prospers. His enthusiasm and warmth radiate through the company.

My prescription for the dental industry in these difficult economic times as well as the boom times is simple — always take the long-term view, build human relationships first, and honor those over profits. Profit and a sales target that is met and exceeded will surely follow. I am a clinician and customer that wants a relationship. We all do.

I welcome your feedback.

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Dr. Richard Mounce offers intensive customized endodontic single-day training programs in his office for groups of one to two doctors. For information, contact Dennis at (360) 891-9111 or write [email protected]. Dr. Mounce lectures globally and is widely published. He is in private practice in endodontics in Vancouver, Wash.

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