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Polish up Your Value-Added Services: They're Diamonds in the Rough
By Wayne Care

Just what are value-added services?

We know how to sell a product. You can touch it, see it, study its function, caress it (for those folks who might have a medical equipment fetish), but how do we wrap our arms around a value-added service and sell the concept to our customers?

Defining the concept of value-added services is easy: It consists of programs or services that go beyond the traditional role of simply providing a product on time, correctly, every time to the customer. When Amazon.com sends me an e-mail to inform me that an author whose books I have read before has a new one being released, I consider that a value-added service. It builds my loyalty to Amazon.com.

The menu of value-added services for distributors differs, but many include the following:

  • Pre-printed and customized client order forms
  • Usage reports
  • Scheduled quarterly business meetings to review additional ways to take costs out of the system, such as product standardization, product replacement, contract agreements, etc.
  • Technical or service hotlines
  • Inservice training
  • Customer educational seminars
  • Video libraries
  • Customer newsletters
  • Customer specials & incentive programs

One key to remember is that you need to prove the value to the customer. Many customers don't utilize distributors' value-added services-in fact, many do not even know they exist. Why? We do not put the effort into selling, explaining, and proving their value to the customer. When we hand over a piece of paper and say, "Look this over when you get a chance," we have relegated that information to the "round" file in the other person's mind.

(Imagine you are getting engaged. You take a 3-carat diamond ring, fling it on the table and say, "Look this over when you get a chance." I suspect the attitude across from you might be "fat chance." Remember: If you don't treat your programs like 3-carat diamonds then you haven't done the right selling job.)

Know Your Own Services
The first key to any successful introduction of value-added services is to make sure that you understand both the service and the worth to the customer.

  • Does it improve patient care?
  • Does it improve the efficiency of the back office?
  • Does it produce or enhance revenues?
  • How does this service add to the productivity or reduce the expense to the practice?
  • Will it improve or simplify the ordering process?
  • If it will make ordering easier, why should the customer care?
  • Is there an attendant cost or reduction in cost to the customer?
  • If others offer the same or a similar service then how is yours better?
  • What makes your offering different from someone else's offering?

One of the key differences is always you. Many services require some attention or intervention on the part of the sales rep; this is where you can be the deciding factor in setting your service apart from the competition.

Identify the Customer Need
Ask the customer what would help them. They might surprise you with their view of what enhances their practice-and sometimes this will present an exciting new opportunity. On one sales call, we were discussing updating the in-office lab with the customer. When the customer said they probably would not be doing that for awhile since they wanted to get a stress system, bingo! We quickly changed modes and discussed stress.

Let the customer talk about how you can make their job easier. Ask what you can do to make ordering easier, or what other problems they encounter on a day-to-day basis. You might find out that they need better back-order tracking, or perhaps they need a pre-printed order form. They might give you an idea for a new product or service that your company may wish to offer.

Many of you probably hand deliver your company newsletters to existing and potential customers. How do you treat that encounter? If you just hand it over and say, "Here's our latest edition of MD News" you're wasting a great sales opportunity. Show them that there's value to those sheets of paper.

For example, "Did you know that you now have to evaluate safe sharps? Here's an article that will help you." Point to the article, better yet, open the newsletter to that page when you hand it to them.

Or, here's another example: Perhaps there's a special in that issue that would be an exceptionally good value to the customer, which you can also point out. "I didn't want you to miss the opportunity for blue widgets since the savings are incredible. See?" Customers place significance where we show them value and reinforce that value.

Treat the Best Better
One of the more common concerns is that our best customers have a way of becoming "low maintenance." As such, they don't get the attention they deserve based on the profit and income that they provide. Value-added services are really important in these relationships. Go the extra mile to make sure they are aware of what you offer and that you have really helped them to utilize those services that suit the needs of the practice.

Personalize Your Value-Added Services
Your customer needs to feel that there is flexibility in your offering, and that you have given thought to the process and how it will affect their office. A generic "This will really save you time" is seldom enough to build enthusiasm. Try these instead:

  • "Betty how much time do you spend checking your shelves?"
  • "What could I do that would make ordering easier for you?"
  • "Considering how busy you are, and how valuable your time is to the practice, what can we do that will free more of your time for patient care?"

Ask and then listen. In some practices you may need to create an order guide that includes stock locations in the same order as their shelves. In another they might like it alphanumeric by manufacturer. Even rigid ordering guides can be presented in a way that is personalized to that practice.

Produce Usage Reports
Usage reports can be another very effective tool. Meet with the practice regularly for a business review. For practices with multiple sites, usage reports can be used to do some interesting comparisons. If the account provides the number of patients seen at each site, you can divide the dollars spent by the number of patients and determine a supply cost-per-patient visit. Such reports can reveal discrepancies between sites, and provide the opportunity to determine why.

Some of the causes might be a difference in patient demographics (one site has older, sicker patients), a difference in the number of in-office tests or procedures performed, using different and more or less expensive brands of products, etc. It also gives both the practice and you the chance to look for items that can be standardized between sites to reduce cost and increase efficiency.



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