What You Need to Know About Marketing and Selling

By Michael Karlsrud

Over the last few months I have received several phone calls and e-mails asking me the same question “How can I increase sales in my laboratory?” Almost without fail when I begin with “this is a longer term process then you might be thinking. . .” the conversation ends and the phone goes dead .

What the caller really was asking was “How can I increase sales this month or this quarter?” The short answer is, “You can’t.” Sure, you can run promotions or have a sale, but in the end you are searching for and needing long-term customer growth.

Here are five things you need to know about marketing and selling today:

1.       Silver Bullets belongs to Coor’s Beer, not in a real sales conversation. The days of finding the magic promotion or sale to attract and keep a new customer are long gone. The consuming public (eyecare professionals among them) are wore out on sales, promotions and gimmicks. It has become “white noise” to many of them and they simply tune it out. Today, real customer growth comes from street level, hard, blocking and tackling. You have to engage regularly bringing value to their office every time you show up. Value, I might add is not in dollars and cents, but rather in anticipating problems and opportunities. A recent study of over 6000 buyers stated that they want a sales person to challenge them with how they are currently doing things and new ways of looking at conducting business. Customers will be only as good as those supplying them.


2.       The most coveted relationship in optical is between the laboratory and the eyecare professional. Having said that, it is a relationship that doesn’t change easily or quickly. If you thought that putting out new literature or placing a few phone calls will change that over night, think again. Their entire patient experience outside of the doctor’s time relies on the ability of the laboratory to deliver without fail. If the lab doesn’t deliver, the patient won’t call the lab and complain, they call the ECP. Changing this important relationship is earned, not given. It will take six to nine months of work to make even the first dent in changing it over from their current supplier to you.


3.       There is a seven stage buying cycle that EVERYONE goes through, and you need to prepare for it. The impact of each step cannot be discounted because of the emotional impact they have on the purchaser. Sadly, the majority of sales reps will quit long before the buyer is ready to buy. The steps are: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, refer. Each step is a progression of trust. After all, if they are going to give you one of the most important parts of their business, you will need to earn their trust. If you are calling on accounts over a four-week cycle, plan on this taking six months of solid sales calls…not delivering donuts. If you are on a six to eight week call cycle, plan on nine months. Does it seem like a lot of work to land a new account? Yes. That’s what separates a great sales rep from an average one. One plays to win, the other plays to, well, play.


4.       The new reality is not about you finding new customers. It’s about you being found. The buyers’ journey is their own journey, in their own time. If they have a problem with their current supplier, they will begin looking for options. This includes going to the first place we all go to with questions: Google. Research shows us that two-thirds of the buying cycle is done before the sales person shows up to the sales call. Simply put, you need to have a strong, compelling, interactive web presence that puts you squarely in contention for the business. You don’t need a perfect web site, you just need an effective one. This includes features like: videos, testimonials, “wow” statements like “99 percent on-time delivery,” invitations to learn more and calls to action. Invite your prospects to learn more from you. Provide white papers on AR, digital, lens designs, new treatments, and definitions of technology. Be THE resource for others. Once they are on the site, figure out how to engage them in real-time. A response to someone on your site in the first five minutes can lead to a 90 percent conversion rate to someone who will try your services. Putting up a new web site is awesome. Keeping it up-to-date is another challenge. But most importantly, just because you put up a web site doesn’t mean people will find you. Customers will not come knocking at your door if you haven’t told anyone you are out there. Many laboratory owners will dismiss this step to their own peril. You assume because you have been in business for 100 years that everyone knows who you are. Not true. The 60-year-old optician does, but the 30-year-old who is dispensing glasses doesn’t. There is a whole new generation of employees that need to be reminded of who you are, what you do and what you are known for in our industry. Advertise. And for goodness sake, advertise your own brand, in your own ads and pay for it yourself. I love Co-Op ads, but if you are out to build your own customer base, why would you share ad space with 10 other competing labs?

5.       Your web page is NOT the center of the universe. You put up the web page and did a bit of advertising and now you think you are done. You’re not. Social Media, which everyone has heard about and few understand, continues to be the defining marketing tool of the future. Before the Internet and Facebook, if I had a great experience with your laboratory I would tell about 10 people. If I had a horrible experience, I would tell 80. Today, the answer isn’t so easy because it depends on how many “friends” and “followers” I have in my lists. By the way, there are now 360 million mobile devises with access to social media. People have an opinion about anything and everything and now they have a forum to express it. If you don’t have a twitter account or a Facebook page, get one and get as many people on it as possible. Use Facebook as your personal communication tool to your customer base. It’s free, easy to post and update with information, but most importantly you can participate in your own conversation!


Todays’ environment for sales and marketing is so different than anyone ever anticipated. At a recent conference on the topic one presenter said “Everything you have ever thought of, been taught, or techniques used in the past in marketing, forget them. They no longer apply.” The consumer has more power, information, and flexibility than ever before. Which means that if we are not engaging our customer where they are, we are going to miss out on future opportunities for growth and expansion.

The new world will require us to spend money on marketing. It will require us to change the way we view customer interactions. And it will require us to go places we don’t fully understand. One thing is for sure…if you don’t go there you will get lost in the fabric of the old and won’t be found in the new.


Labtalk June 2020