If you are in any position in the dental field, you have met them at some point. They go by several different names, including “territory representative,” “growth advisor,” “practice advocate, “and even “practice development coach.” Whatever they call themselves, they all seem to have the same goal: getting in the back to chat with the doctor.
As an employee of the front desk, it may be your life’s work to keep that rep from going to the back at the request of management and/or everyone else in the office, but is that really the best idea? As an “impartial” or partial bserver, I’d like to shed some light on the dental rep position: why they’re in it and when you should be letting them break the ice and get to the next level in the relationship, so to speak.
The relationship with a good dental rep should be similar to a Supreme Court judge appointment. It should be a career-long relationship, and your rep should be consulted on every major decision your practice faces during that time. Are you a fan of The Godfather? Think consigliere (in my Mafia voice). One certainty in the field is that dentists and office managers alike seem to thrive on consistency. Many I have come in contact with are believers in the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They relish the routine of their team knowing how to place orders, what gauze and masks they like best, and pricing that never changes. Some are happy with their old equipment as long as it will simply power up. They are set on never making the jump to a CEREC, a soft-/hard-tissue laser, or a 3-D pan with all the fancy images and bells, buttons, and whistles.
The problem with this mindset is that these practices are getting left out of the dentistry boom. Every distributor worth his or her weight has unique ways of saving money for practices of all sizes. As for the expensive equipment? It may look like spending a suitcase full of money to the layman, but these things pay for themselves—both immediately and exponentially—and a good rep will prove it.
Dental salespeople are different in that it’s not their job to sell you a widget and then skip town. They are also not in their roles simply to make supplies as cheap as they can be for you. In fact, if that’s all you let them do, you are doing both of you a grave disservice. An average, efficient practice should only be spending roughly 5%–6% of total production on supplies anyway. If you’re in this business to grow, supply discounts should be the last thing you are worried about, for a few reasons:
1. You get what you pay for. You cannot simply go for rock-bottom supply prices without the expectation that you are suffering a decline in product quality. The only instance where that might not be the case is if you are going with your distributor’s private-label brands. Distributors can offer them for less because they are making them on their own. (Pro tip: Ask for samples before you make any moves.) If you like it, chances are that good distributors will stand behind their products and replace anything you don’t feel is up to par anyway.
2. It’s not worth their time. If you are going to reach out to your rep only for supply discounts and nothing else, you are wasting your time and theirs. The brass ring of the dental game is growth, and reps spend all their time learning how to reel it in for you. The fact is, you cannot skimp on new equipment for the duration of your career, and then expect to sell your practice for a hefty profit. The new generation of dentists does not want to jump into a practice that needs to be brought back from life support. Your sales rep wants for you what both buyers and their patients want. More on that below.
3. Reps know exactly what patients want. Good territory reps eat, drink, and sleep the dental business so you can focus on practicing. They know how to attract more patients, how to show you patient attrition statistics, and what supplies and equipment are best for you and your clientele in the long run. They talk to the masses. Patients want things new, clean, and fast. Other offices with the latest technology, new chairs with leather upholstery, and digital screens take patients’ minds off their dental work and lure your customers away from you. We get that you find it hard to believe some patients are leaving you because they see the same 15-year-old pan waiting to fire up for their x-rays yet again. It may also be very hard to understand that even your most loyal patients are done with you upon hearing that a CEREC machine at a practice two miles away from you can fit them with a crown in under an hour. There is no loyalty deep enough to overcome the fact that you can’t do relatively pain-free laser dentistry or diagnose sleep disorders because you haven’t checked out 3-D imaging yet.
4. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Consult your rep on long-term goals, including future expansion plans and equipment you’ve had your eye on, as well as long-term pricing options. (Pro tip: It’s a sign of commitment and trust when you consult your rep, and your rep will reciprocate the loyalty to keep you growing.) Put your faith in them and in their company. Use their service, supplies, and everything in between.
5. You want them on your side. There is amazing value in consolidating all of your business into one place, so much so that it outweighs a petty supply discount by a mile. When you have a dedicated rep maintaining your account, he or she can go to bat for you and show that you’re using them for service, equipment, supplies, practice management software, expansions, and even your long-term plan to retire and sell the practice. It makes everything more profitable—from equipment to service, earning loyalty reward points, and so on.
All that being said, isn’t focusing on a 10% reduction in 6% of your business a little nonsensical? We think so too. Your rep will be happy to explain the thinking behind this. We’re pretty sure that no matter how small or large your practice is, we can make a huge impact on your bottom line. At the very least, don’t kick your rep out before you know whether you like his or her approach. The good ones are worth having.
MATTHEW NEWMAN is the operations manager for the Baltimore/District of Columbia/Northern Virginia region of Patterson Dental. With 20 years of experience in operational management, he has spent the bulk of that time in both B2B distribution and hospitality. He can be reached via messenger on LinkedIn.