Low Prices Buy Forgiveness for Medical Devices, But…

Medical sales representatives have something in common with their customers: they are consumers. We all buy goods and services. It’s normal to want the best product, with the best service, at the best price. If we can’t have all three, we might be willing to compromise if one or two are significantly high to outweigh the third.  Carelessness, however, annoys us, even frightens us. We ask ourselves, “If a company is careless with what they allow us to see, are they also careless behind the scenes?

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Recently, I bought a new pair of eyeglasses from an online optical retailer. After decades of procuring my spectacles from brick and mortar stores where all I had to do was show up with a prescription, pick out a frame and wait, I decided to go virtual.

Why?

Price.

 

Service Matters…to a Point

I teach medical sales reps how to differentiate and position their products such that healthcare decision-makers buy value instead of price. When the price for the high-service option is 5X that of the reduced-service option, however, price is hard to ignore. With such substantial savings, a reasonable person will try the lower cost option to see if it’s doable.

Buying glasses online brought several compromises into the buying equation. First, I could no longer try on the frames to see how I look in the mirror. But I could upload a photo of myself and the site’s software would superimpose any frames I selected over my face. Not optimal, but good enough.

Next, I had to research the different lens options: high index, tints, lenses that darken, anti-glare coatings, anti-scratch coatings, etc. Normally, the salesperson in an optical store would ask about the activities the glasses would be used for and make recommendations. Now I was on my own, but I didn’t mind. Other than the time it took to do the research, I felt more informed and made a better decision.

I had to enter the prescription information into the webpage and triple check my accuracy. If I messed up, it would be my fault, not the eyeglass site’s fault. I did all I could to avoid screwing up the prescription and buying an expensive paperweight.

The deal cincher for me was when I entered all the information and saw the price. My glasses with high-quality, name brand lenses with all the protective coatings and a stylish frame cost $138. When I priced out the same glasses locally, the price was over $600. That is a very significant difference. I clicked the buy button waiting for the site to email me and tell me they made a mistake on the price, but they didn’t.

Ten days later my glasses arrived. This was the moment of truth. Would I be happy enough with the price savings to justify losing the valuable services that come with buying locally? For example, glasses never fit properly right out of the box. The optician does a number of adjustments (and tells you how good you look in your new glasses). And if there are any problems, they fix them, usually on the spot.

I opened the box and removed an elegant hard case. When I opened it, there was a microfiber pouch which contained my new, shiny and glistening glasses.

So, I put them on.

Yikes! They were crooked. Very crooked. And you can’t see through crooked glasses.

I took them off and read the card that was in the package. It listed a website with instructions on how to adjust my new glasses.

The website said the glasses were shipped in “four-point adjustment.” This means that if the glasses are placed upside down on a flat surface, they will contact the surface at four points indicating neutral alignment. Actually, the alignment was way-off. One ear piece was a half inch up in the air. Strike one. They didn’t ship the glasses the way they said they shipped glasses.

There was an online video that explained how to adjust the temples and nose rests to make the glasses fit. It said to bend it this way or that way, but my frames have flat temples that are not easy to bend. In fact, I had to go to another company’s website to find a video on how to adjust flat temples. Strike two.

Finally, after an hour, I got my glasses to fit properly. The optics are stunning. I can see much better than I did with my old glasses. Very impressed…then I noticed that one of the lenses was not completely inserted into the frame. Fortunately, it was an easy fix. I just loosened two screws, popped in the lens, and tightened the screws. Was that strike three for me? Did I return the glasses?

No. I love my new glasses. I can see great through them.

How can I justify the inconvenience and carelessness? Only one way: Price. I paid 1/5th of what it would have cost me at a full-service optical outlet. 500 bucks buys a lot of forgiveness.

In the medical device world, it is unlikely that you, as a medical sales professional, will ever receive that level of forgiveness. Pricing for similar devices tend to be closer, so your HCP customers expect a high-level of service. Sure, if they’re paying 1/5th the price like I did, they’ll forgive a lot, but that’s probably not the market you play in.

Medical device sales professionals don’t have the luxury of ignoring the details. Something that might seem minor to you is likely not to seem so minor to the buyer. Careless is careless, and when there is not an X-factor price difference like I experienced, your customers will usually choose someone who is more caring.

We’ve been living in the Age of Quality for the last 20 years. We expect all products (and sales reps) to perform and be delivered as promised or we’ll take our business elsewhere. Whoever assembled my eyeglasses was careless, but the company that employs them was saved by their low price.

In healthcare, few entities offer a price differential that absolves carelessness. Never forget that at the other end of the sales lies a patient–a patient who deserves the best that everyone in the chain of care can deliver, including you. Do anything and everything well.

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