Cultivating your most important dental relationship

One of your most important relationships is with your local distributor.

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While reading some threads on a popular dental forum recently, a couple of posts caught my attention. In one, a dentist was asking for answers to his quandary on which used autoclave to purchase for his practice. In another post, a dentist in the middle of constructing a new dental office was distraught to learn that the vacuum piping was being installed overhead rather than in the floor as he had specified.

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From the conversation on these threads, it appeared that neither dentist had a business relationship with a local dental products distributor. I’m certain that they must have, at the very least, some rudimentary, transactional-based business relationships with local distributors, but there sure didn’t seem to be much local distributor help with their current dilemmas. These dentists received some good, and some misdirected, advice from the forum members. While the respondents cared enough to take the time to respond, none of the forum participants had any vested interest in these dentists’ success and happiness.

I wonder why a local distributor was not involved in resolving the problems these dentists faced? Fearing the possibility of higher costs, perhaps they did not want to ask for a distributor’s consul. Or past experiences may have shaken their confidence in a distributor’s advice. It could be that the dentists felt uncomfortable asking for help when they aren’t currently clients of a local distributor. These seem to be the most common reasons for going it alone when purchasing dental equipment, remodeling a dental facility, or moving to a new office. Let’s look at each of these concerns.

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Higher costs

It is very important to understand and appreciate the difference between “price” and “cost.” The price is the amount you will pay for a product, as seen on an equipment proposal, quote, advertisement, or catalog. The cost includes the price and encompasses many other factors, including the value of:

1. The distributor’s labor warranty
2. The distributor’s installation services
3. The distributor’s advice and experience
4. The time you saved in the purchase and installation process
5. Quick, easy, and cost effective resolutions to problems that can occur when adding or replacing dental equipment for your office

You may find that your local, full-service distributor’s price is higher than the price from a source that offers no services, but all things considered, the cost of doing business with the local distributor is usually significantly less. Considering the gross production per hour of your dental practice, it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate how a few problems with new equipment that require your personal attention can drive up the cost of your purchase.

Looking at the doctor’s autoclave purchase dilemma, let’s assume that he moves ahead with purchasing a used product from an online auction service, and pays $2,000 less than if he buys a new one. Common sense and experience tells us that he is more likely to have problems with the used autoclave than with a new one. It is his only autoclave, so when it is not functioning, how long can he continue to practice? Depending on his inventory of instruments, it is probably only a half to full day of production. If the office produces $400 per hour, the office loses five hours of production to erase any savings. If the doctor buys an autoclave from a local distributor, he could probably get support for the product in time to avoid any loss in production.

What about the doctor building the new office who is challenged by the vacuum line installation problem? If the overhead vacuum lines are not sized and installed correctly per the vacuum manufacturers design requirements, the vacuum performance will suffer. Imagine the expense to resolve the problem after the building is completed! Fixing a problem like this would have a huge impact of the “cost” of the vacuum system, wiping out any savings anticipated from buying the vacuum from a source that does not provide installation consultation services. Construction and installation advice and supervision from a local distributor would prevent this type of problem.

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If you have not received good advice from a local distributor in the past, don’t stop asking for help. You might be asking the wrong person or company. Training, experience, and business philosophy can vary greatly. It starts with the distributor’s mission statement. Is the company truly customer focused and interested in the long-term well being of the dentists they serve? The company may have your best interest in mind, but their representative may not have the experience or the training that you need. If you’re not confident with the advice you’re receiving, ask to speak with someone else at the company, or consider another distributor.

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Not doing much business with the distributor now

Just because you haven’t done much business with the distributor does not mean that you can’t get help. Just be up front with the distributor and give them a chance to earn your business. If you have no intention of buying from them, be respectful of their time and don’t waste it. On the other hand, share your expectations with them, and explain what they need to do to earn your business. They should be eager to help. Reward them with your order when they have earned it. Your purchase could be the beginning of a much bigger and more important business relationship.

Start now!

If you don’t have a trusting, mutually beneficial business relationship with a local distributor, work at developing one! It is critical to your success and to reducing your daily stress. Seek out a distributor, and most importantly, a sales person and technical service person, who are knowledgeable about dental supply and equipment products, the clinical and business aspects of dentistry, and who have your best interest in mind. Interview salespeople, and explain the type of business relationship you’re seeking and what you want to accomplish. If you don’t get the feeling that they’re on the same page with you, move on. With a little thought and effort, you’ll find someone who will partner with you and help with your success.

Of course, for this relationship to work the distributor salesperson and technician must have great training and experience, and be interested in helping in their client’s success. They must look beyond today’s transaction opportunity and stay focused on the long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. In my experience, most distributor salespeople understand this “big picture” approach. Some are just better than others at developing this type of relationship.

Had the two dentists who sought help on the dental forums developed this type of business relationship with a local distributor, getting them involved in the decisions, their time consuming and potentially costly problems might not have occurred. They certainly would not be spending time on forums, seeking advice from total strangers. Life just gets easier and more enjoyable when you have a business partner who cares about you and is helping with your success.

For the past 30 years, Dave Anderson has worked with one of the largest distributors of dental products and services in the U.S. in sales, sales management, marketing, office design service, and business management roles. He also worked with one of the world’s largest dental equipment manufacturers for a number of years. In these capacities, Dave has worked closely with dentists, and has an understanding and appreciation for the challenges that dentists face when making purchases. He has created a website with information and reviews on dental capital equipment and related services called The Dentists Voice, at Contact him at, or (253) 858-1506. On Twitter go to@DentistsVoice.

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