Raising the Bar on Photochromics Sales - Tips and Best Practices from Labs that Do it Best

By Julie Bos
Believe it or not, optical laboratories are a lot like Olympic high-jumpers. Both operate in highly competitive situations—and both need to consistently raise the bar on their previous efforts in order to survive.

For Olympic athletes, a successful performance can mean winning a competition, earning sports notoriety — possibly even setting a world record. Likewise, great laboratory “performances” can lead to higher profits, a sharper competitive edge, and long-term business success. One lens category that holds great potential for “bar-raising” is photochromics.

Boosting sales in this niche can almost always guarantee a significant rise in profits, while cementing customer satisfaction and a better bottom line. With the impending release of Transitions VI, labs and ECPs now have a new reason to talk about the benefits of photochromic lenses.

“Let’s face it, when labs and ECPs are all talking about—and selling—photochromics, everyone wins,” said Anthony Fulco, vice president of sales and marketing for 21st Century Optics. “Unfortunately, many ECPs just don’t get it. They’re not always as business-savvy as they could be—and technical competence alone does not ensure success.”

“We try to teach them that if their business is not growing, it’s shrinking by attrition,” he added. “The market is flat, and patients often go to other practices. Therefore, ECPs need to find a way to upgrade their existing patient base—from plain lenses to AR lenses, from plastic to polycarbonate, from polycarbonate to high-index, or from standard to photochromic lenses.”

Just how, exactly, can your lab increase its photochromic sales? How can you inspire ECPs to discuss these lenses with their patients? What are the secrets to success? To find out, we asked some labs that would know best—those that have actually done it.

We talked to several current and former Transitions “Lab of the Year” winners—and have consolidated their advice on the matter. Our experts included Anthony Fulco, as well as Ronald Cooke, Jr., chief operating officer at Diversified Ophthalmics, Inc.; Melinda Hunter, sales professional at Soderberg Optical; and Jeff Szymanski, vice president of Toledo Optical. Although these labs’ awards were based on selling the Transitions brand specifically, their insights and suggestions can be easily applied to the photochromics niche in general—and even expanded to the pursuit of all second-pair sales. Check out what they had to say.

Emphasize Education

It should come as no surprise that education plays a huge role in increasing photochromic sales. In fact, all four Transitions Labs of the Year cited education as a predominant factor in their success.

“Our biggest benefit comes from our quarterly Transitions Lunch-n-Learn events,” said Hunter. “We invite a certain group of ECPs—either top customers or low-usage customers—and enjoy lunch together as we go through a seminar topic. While we’ve got their attention, we can also share our personal stories, and promote the merits of photochromic lenses.

Diversified Ophthalmics agrees that Lunch-n-Learn events hold great value for increasing photochromic sales. “For our partnering lab accounts, we try to do a new training on photochromics quarterly,” said Cooke. “Specifically, we teach them how to bring up the topic, how to overcome objections, how to get ECPs to discuss photochromics and how to avoid focusing on the price point.”

Point Out Compelling Statistics

A 2006 survey from the Vision Council of America states that independent ECPs account for about 60 percent of all the eye exams in the country, while the large national chains only perform about 40 percent of these exams. Those numbers are reversed, however, when it comes to selling eyewear. Chains sell about 60 percent of all the eyewear, while independent ECPs (and labs) sell only about 40 percent. Clearly, there’s a challenge.

“We need to get ECPs to better understand what these numbers really mean—and what profits will look like if this trend continues,” said Szymanski. “The more time they spend cultivating the medical side of their practices, the more they are ignoring their largest profit center—that of selling eyewear. By talking to ECPs about these statistics, we can open their eyes to the need for change.”

Promote the Merits of Doctor Recommendations

Another great way to increase photochromic sales is through doctor recommendations. “ECPs have a lot of power to increase sales,” added Szymanski. “By asking some simple eye-health questions and using a simple lifestyle questionnaire, ECPs can quickly uncover the real eyecare needs of their patients, so they can make proper recommendations. In fact, one product suggestion from the doctor carries a lot more weight than one from a dispensary staff member who may come across as just wanting to make a sale.”

What’s more, recommendations from ECPs often help patients feels like they’re getting more personalized care, which leads to increased loyalty, growing practices and higher revenue.

“We’ve been much more aggressive trying to get our ECPs to get back into the dispensary again—to be more aware of all the products available to help enhance their patients’ lives,” said Szymanski. “It’s not a matter of selling—it’s simply a matter of educating patients on new products that are available to meet their needs.”

Practice Consistency

When trying to increase sales of photochromics, don’t discount the value of consistency…and persistence.

“I personally mention Transitions on every call,” said Hunter. “If the practice has a low usage, I ask them why—and whatever objection they may give me, I’m always prepared with a logical and compelling response.”

Fulco agrees. “Many times, sales reps move away from specific product messages because they may have mentioned it last time or focused on that category last quarter,” he said. “But labs need to remember that photochromics should always be a focus—it’s an integral part of business growth.”

Get Personal

“If I’m talking to a low-usage office, I always share a personal story that I hope will stay with them,” said Hunter. “I was at a social gathering where I was playing volleyball outdoors part of the time and indoors for part of the time. Several people asked why I never had to change my glasses and I explained that I was wearing photochromic lenses, which darken outdoors and lighten indoors. The sad part was that several of them said they had just gotten new glasses and their doctor never mentioned photochromics, she added. Had he or she done so, they would have bought a pair.

Put Marketing Programs to Work

When trying to hit your mark with photochromics, don’t forget about marketing efforts. All our interviewees mentioned the value of good marketing programs in their overall photochromics strategy. One lab gives a free clip for every photochromic lens sold. Another provides targeted communication—such as point-of-purchase messaging, telephone “on-hold” messages and product news articles.

“Almost every newsletter we create has an article in it about photochromics,” said Ronald Cooke, Jr. “It’s just a matter of keeping it on the forefront of people’s minds.”

In addition, packaging photochromics with another product is also huge.

“If ECPs can successfully include photochromic lenses in the package, it’s much more successful then when they simply talk about photochromic lenses as an ‘extra.’”

Objections: Obstacles or Opportunities?

When it comes to selling photochromics, ECPs can count on hearing at least a few objections. The key to overcoming them, however, may lie in how they choose to respond. It starts by viewing objections as nothing more than sales opportunities in disguise. Here are the two biggest objections ECPs will likely encounter in their conversations—and the advice you can give on how to overcome them.

Objection #1: Photochromic lenses don’t darken behind car windshields.

Sales Opportunity: Have ECPs use this as a chance to either promote DriveWear lenses—the revolutionary lenses that do darken behind car windshields—or to sell add-ons, such as tinted clips or regular sunglasses.

Objection #2: Photochromic lenses are too expensive.

Sales Opportunity: Encourage ECPs to take some time to explain the features, benefits (and associated costs) of the total lens package. By the time the patient adds in the costs of a scratch-resistant coating, UV protection and variable tinted lenses, the all-inclusive cost of a photochromic lens is much easier to justify.

Promotions with Proven Success

Promotions can be another valuable way to get offices to focus on photochromics (and other lens categories). As you think about your options this year, consider some of these tried-and-true favorites: Transitions Authenticity Card

With the sale of every Transitions lens, ECPs pass out these cards to patients. When the patient completes the card and registers their Transitions lenses online (or via mail), he or she is entered into a drawing for rewards, prizes and trips. Once the patient’s card is drawn, the prescribing ECP also wins a prize— making it an exciting program for all.

Sales Incentives for Top Producers

Take your top accounts on a trip to thank them for their business. By limiting the number of attendees, you’ll create some healthy competition, stir up excitement about the program and encourage sales success.


Labtalk June 2020