Main Issue September 2012

How Not to “Sell” Skin Care Products

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Inever went back to that dermatologist, that practice just wanted to sell me creams.” I’ve heard this more than once. I have also heard similar remarks about other healthcare providers that sell things in their offices. My mother was having lens replacement surgery and her ophthalmologist recommended a lens that was not covered by Medicare, with an out of pocket cost of thousands of dollars. His aggressive approach made her very uncomfortable. Such patients now view their healthcare providers as salesmen and won’t go back. In addition, they will probably tell their friends about their bad experience. It’s the worst kind of negative advertising.

In reality, many of these health care providers were simply trying to tell patients about a product that they really believed would benefit them. However good our intentions or correct our recommendations, because we have no training in sales or business, we are unaware we are walking into a minefield. These providers talked about their products in the wrong way at the wrong time, ultimately ruining their relationship with the very patients they were trying to help. These common mistakes are totally avoidable.

Early in my career I worked for a Dermatologist who proudly stated that he did not sell skin care products out of the office. His reasoning was simple: “I don’t want patients to feel like I am trying to sell them things.” At the time, I thought this approach made sense. But soon I began to realize that the right skin care products are an essential part of many treatment plans. I gained experience working in offices that dispensed skin care products. I learned that in-office dispensing does have real benefits for the patients. It leads to better outcomes, it’s convenient for patients, and many patients prefer the security of buying a product from their dermatologist. Although hard to measure scientifically, doctor-only dispensed product lines tend to be of superior quality. Patient feedback is generally excellent and it keeps patients coming back.

Once a clinician decides to dispense skin care products he/she must reprogram the way they think about “selling.” America has such a high pressure sales oriented culture that when we sell skin care products, there is a powerful kind of behavioral gravity that pulls us towards the mannerisms and techniques of salesmen. This happens largely on an unconscious level. The cultural programming is so ingrained, I still find myself fighting it to this day.

Because we have no frame of reference for selling things other than retail/high pressure sales, you have to reprogram yourself and your staff. (Dispensing products is a team effort). Repeat this mantra daily to yourself and post it on the wall of your nurses’ station: We do not “sell” anything! We educate patients about skin care products. Your staff may be a little puzzled at first, but they intuitively understand that the last thing a patient wants when they go to their doctor’s office is to feel like they are being “sold.” You need to follow up by saying, “We are not salesmen. We are not the cosmetics counter at the department store. We are trusted skin care experts here to help people.” Once you and your staff change your mindsets, implement guidelines and techniques to present (not “sell”) products in a low-pressure, educational way. The patient should never feel that they are being “sold.” Your goal as a healthcare provider is to educate and assist your patients about using the right type of skin care products just as you would any other medical issue or prescription medicine. Obviously this assumes that you and your staff are well educated about skin care products yourselves. If you aren’t, think twice about dispensing products.

If you do a lot of cosmetic procedures, consider bundling the cost of the recommended aftercare products into the cost of the procedure. You can present the cost of the procedure like this: “The price is $1000 that includes $100 of high quality aftercare products to speed your recovery and all follow-up visits.” Patients are very happy leaving the office with all the products they need and knowing exactly how to use them. They may even feel they got the product for free! This is good medicine, good service, and good marketing.

The profit from dispensing skin care products is very small compared to the revenue obtained from medical and cosmetic services. While a practitioner may examine the risk/benefit of dispensing and decide not to do it, there is a virtually risk free method of presenting skin care products to your patients in a professional manner. When properly implemented, you will be able to educate your patients about proper skin care, improve outcomes, provide access to higher quality products than are available over the counter, add a new revenue stream to your practice, and give patients yet another reason to return to your office.

Step 1: Asses the patient’s skin type and talk about the type of product the patient should be using first. Your goal as a medical professional is not to get people to buy your products but to make sure they are using the right type of product for their condition. Talk about skin care products in the same manner you do prescription drugs, by discussing active ingredients and properties. Discuss the pathophysiology of their condition and how the right type of skin care product can help. Often times the first step is discussing the patient’s skin type (oily, dry, sensitive, etc.). If you jump right into touting the advantages of your product or even mention that you sell products, people will immediately think, “He’s selling me something.” Patients will stop listening, become uncomfortable and possibly visibly upset. If this happens, make an immediate course correction and figure out what you did wrong. Do not even let the patient know you sell products until step 3.

Step 2: Assess the patients’ interest in the product. If there is no interest, drop the matter and move on. People feel they are being “sold” when they are approached about a product they do not want or don’t see the value of. Even if it’s the perfect product for them and will improve their condition, if the patient isn’t receptive, don’t force the issue. In most cases, a product will not be crucial to their medical outcome and can be discussed during future visits.

You can assess a patients interest by asking probing questions. For example, let’s say you have a patient with rosacea. You ask the patient their skin type and he replies “it is sensitive and dry.” You explain that rosacea is a form of sensitive skin and tell him that he should be using a gentle soap free cleanser and an intensive, hypoallergenic moisturizer. Then you ask, “What cleansers and moisturizers are you currently using?” An example of a high-interest response would be: “I’m using product X, but I’m not sure it’s doing me any good. What would you recommend?” This is a green light; the person is not happy with the products and is interested in your recommendation, which is a sign of trust.

A low-interest response might be: “I use product line X and have been for years. I really love them.” At this point, unless there is a real reason to go in depth about skin care, just reply “That’s great, those are good products.” Men often times don’t understand the value of good skin care products and may give you a response like this: “I’m using something my wife gave me. It seems to work fine.” For this patient, reinforce the type of product you want him to use without specifically recommending your product line, provide written information, and move on.

Step 3: Provide the patient with written information and recommend your product at the very end. Healthcare providers educate and empower people by providing the information they need to make their own decisions, in their own time. Salesmen pressure you to buy their product now. Giving patients user-friendly written information is vital when discussing products. The information should include price and clearly spell out the key ingredients and properties of the product. The best way to present product information is to design patient education sheets for specific conditions with recommended products included. This gives the patient integrated information on all the parts of a successful treatment program: prescription drugs, in office treatments and skin care products. Doing this reinforces the point that skin care products are an important part of the treatment program. You can even organize the skin care products by skin type. Besides increasing compliance, taking the time to do this establishes you as an expert with a plan. It is a powerful tool.

Hand the person the written information, circle your product recommendations and say, “I’m recommending some products that I get a lot of good feedback on. The most important thing is that you get the right type of product. All the information about the products properties and key ingredients are clearly listed on this sheet. If you want to take the guesswork out of purchasing the right type of product, you can purchase these products at the front desk. Do you have any questions?”

You might be thinking that this seems like a lot of steps and will take a lot of time. In fact, these are the exact same steps that you use everyday when discussing diagnosis and treatment. I call them the three A’s: Assess, Advise, and Assist. With practice, they become automatic.

Assess: Diagnose the patient and find out their skin type
Advise: Recommend the right type of skin care product
Assist: Provide written information and offer the patient the convenience and security of purchasing the right type of product in your office.

Keep in mind you don’t have to have an in-depth discussion on skin care at the first visit. The majority of times, I introduce skin care during the first visit and gauge the patient’s interest. Unless it is very high or unless a certain product is crucial to improve the patient’s condition, I save that discussion for the follow up visit. I provide written only guides and say a few words about the importance of using the right type of products. On the first visit I focus on obtaining a thorough history, discussing prescription medications, and doing basic patient education. Can you imagine diagnosing and treating a patient while skipping any of the above A’s? It doesn’t work in medicine and it doesn’t work when educating patients about skin care products, either.

We are Educators not Salesmen

Being viewed as a salesman is the kiss of death for any healthcare provider. If you don’t want to be viewed as a salesman, then don’t act like one! Salespeople pressure customers to buy things they may not need and do not provide information to empower them to make their own decisions. They stress buying their products before buying the right type of product. Healthcare providers educate patients, provide information, stress the right type of product first and their product second. They never, ever “ask for the sale.” By changing the mindset of yourself and your staff and following the steps above, you can help patients get better outcomes and add a new revenue stream to your practice. Most importantly, you will remain a trusted health care provider in the eyes of your patients.

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