Sales Training for Your Accounts...It's Child's Play

By Christie Walker
For most businesses, training employees is essential. But optical labs get hit with a double whammy. Not only do they need to train their own employees to compete in the marketplace but they also need to train their accounts in order to thrive. It’s no easy task and yet it’s a crucial element for a lab’s success.

Robert Bell, of EyeCoach, an industry veteran and the creator of The EyeCoach Selling System, believes most labs do a terrific job teaching and training their clients in product knowledge. But he cautions labs and eye care professionals that this kind of training should in no way be seen as sales training. To that end, sales training should not be seen as product knowledge training, either. Bell believes these two items are mutually exclusive. One without the other is a recipe for stagnant sales and disastrous customer service.

“Imagine teaching a kid everything there is to know about how to hit a baseball,” explained Bell. “Then you send him up to the plate without a bat. He’s going up there with only half the tools he needs to succeed. Or, turn it around…you send the kid up to the plate with a bat but never taught him a thing about how to hit the ball. His chances for success are very limited. He needs both sets of skills to succeed.”

The same is true with labs and their customers. Labs have become very proficient in training their accounts in product knowledge. Bell has a different strategy for training your accounts that gives them the complete skill sets they need to increase their sales and therefore, your sales as well. Listen in on my conversation with the EyeCoach to learn more.

Why do ECP’s seem to be so uncomfortable with the “selling” process?

“Because, like most people, they equate selling with persuasion. That’s the misconception. That’s the trap. ECP’s, once they have their product knowledge down, will then try to persuade someone of the features and benefits of a certain product. Trying to persuade someone to buy something, even when it’s truly needed, is a monumental and stressful task. In fact, that’s where all the negative stereotypes of selling come from. Yet, selling has nothing to do with persuasion,” said Bell.

Then what is “selling”?

“Selling is just the act of helping someone acquire what they need for compensation. Period. And here’s the best part: ECP’s are in a “needs” based business. Isn’t assisting their patients in acquiring all the right eyewear just a natural extension of what an independent ECP should be doing in the first place?” Bell asked.

So in your opinion, what role should the lab play in training their accounts?

“I believe that, in addition to all the great seminars labs provide to their accounts to educate them on new products, dispensing skills, etc., they should also provide sales training for the complete picture. If the labs cannot provide the sales training themselves, they may want to bring in a sales trainer to train their clients.”

Someone like you?

“Happy to help.”

You’ve said you became interested in coaching ECP’s to communicate more effectively with their patients because of an “irony” that has always troubled you. Can you explain?

“Of course. If you ask almost any ECP, ‘How many pairs of eyewear does your average patient need?’ you will hardly ever hear, ‘One.’ The answer I usually hear is three. Yet industry experts tell us that eighty percent of the time, patients only purchase one pair of glasses. That irony alone just knocks me out.”

That really seems to bother you.

“I find it troubling. Who would be okay with any other kind of health care professional that would allow their patients to leave their offices with less than what they actually need? We, as an industry, need to improve upon that.”

Why do you think there’s such a large divide between what optometric patients need and what they actually purchase?

“First, it goes to the ECP’s misconception about selling. Second, the majority of optometrists and opticians I speak with, tell me the problem is cost; that their patients can’t afford a second pair. Really? Eighty percent of your patients can’t afford it? Hard to believe, isn’t it? My impression is that most ECP’s lack the sales skills necessary to help their patients acquire what they need. A patient will only gripe about cost/price when they don’t understand their vision needs and the value of how certain products can truly meet and exceed those needs. It’s a huge miscommunication on our part.”


“Because ECP’s, like most people working in a retail environment, are making their presentations to their patients at the wrong time. What’s extraordinary about this is that it shuts off the patient’s hearing immediately, like an on/off switch.”

Is there a right time to make such a presentation then?

“Yes. Only after you get the patient’s permission. If someone gives you their permission to make a presentation, they will always listen to you.”

So, how does one go about getting their patient’s permission?

Bell laughs, “Just ask.”

That’s all there is to it?

“Pretty much. I’m not suggesting that you ask, ‘Mrs. Jones, may I make a presentation to you on this new lens technology?’ That’s pretty ludicrous. But what I am saying is that there are a series of four to five very simple questions I teach that engages the patient in a conversation in which they become part of their own solution. Once these questions are asked and answered, the patient has given their permission. What also occurs is that the ECP is gathering crucial information about the patient’s vision and how their patients are actually using their eyes while engaging in different tasks. With this method, both the ECP and the patient quickly discover any challenges the patient is experiencing.”

It would seem that the ECP could then easily offer a solution or two.

“Ta da!”

How are you different than other sales trainers in the industry?

"The crucial difference is that I’m NOT an optician or an optometrist. I’m a professional salesperson. I teach professional selling techniques. What I don’t teach is optics. I’ve been in the optical business twenty-five-plus years. I am ABO certified. Hmm, I guess I could teach optics. But shouldn’t ECP’s learn about optics and dispensing from an optical expert? Shouldn’t they learn how to sell from... gee, I don’t know... a sales expert? The nice thing is, everyone can decide that for themselves.”

How would a lab benefit from your services?

"Well, let’s do some math. If a lab’s average account is selling only twenty percent in second pairs and by teaching one account more effective selling methods, they improve just minimally to thirty percent in second pair sales. Is that more business for the lab? What if it were forty percent? Fifty percent? What if it were more than one account? I hate to assume anything but I’m guessing more business for labs would probably be a good thing,” Bell smiles.

How long does it take you to train a practice?

“Well, prior to the sales workshop, I first gather information about the individuals in the practice through an anonymous online questionnaire. Then I come in a day before the workshop to do a simple and brief blind shop.The next day, I conduct a six-to-eight-hour multi-media sales workshop, which is always a lot of fun. The day after, I coach each member of the staff, including the doctors, in private one-on-one sessions.”

Is that it?

Bell laughs, “Not quite. I continue coaching, on a timely basis, throughout the year for up to twelve months. Reinforcement is crucial when learning anything new.”

Any parting words of wisdom?

“I just have a question…Does it bother anyone else that eight-out-of-ten optometric patients are leaving the offices of their ECP’s with less than what they need?”

Robert Bell, president of EyeCoach and the creator of The EyeCoach Selling System, is the author of the monthly series, “Optical Briefcase” in 20/20 Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or the EyeCoach Web site:


Labtalk June 2020