Working with Distributors and Manufacturers

By Simon Haroutunian / 25 May 2023

Business consultant Simon Haroutunian shares his advice on working with the right companies to promote clinic success and patient safety

Choosing which products to offer your patients is a key aspect of your business, as well as the services you provide.

The aesthetics market is booming, and there are multiple products and companies out there vying for your attention. Whether you attend a brand’s masterclass, re-evaluate your next patient consultation, attend a conference or meet company representatives, the number one priority is patient safety. After 14 years in the industry, I’ve not yet been challenged on this opinion.

I hope most of you, if not all, would agree with this statement. We would like to think that all manufacturers and distributors have the same values too. So why the need to take a deeper dive into the decision-making process regarding products?

Having worked for a pharmaceutical company who manufactures toxins and a range of dermal fillers, I hosted and organised many medical educational training and meeting events. When asked on our pre-event survey which products the practitioners currently use in their clinics and why, the overwhelming majority answered, “I use product ‘x’, because that is what I was first trained on when I entered aesthetics.” One year may have passed for some, 15 years for others.

The decision to use a product continuously on your patients is customarily based on an initial training course which most likely stipulated which products to use on the day. If you are content with the product in hand, you have patient satisfaction and most importantly patient safety at the forefront of your practising values, you are on the right path. However, I feel it is unequivocally worthwhile to consider what product you are using and what support you should be getting from the manufacturer or distributor to continue your development as a practitioner and aid your patient safety journey.

Evaluating choice in a big market

In the UK, we have an undeniably wide range of fillers, devices and skincare products on the market. In the past 12 months, even the toxin marketplace has doubled in size for the first time in about 15 years. There is a lot of choice out there. However, with choice comes multiple marketing avenues, numerous representative visits and a range of hard selling and relationship-building sales pitches.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape of our industry has changed for the better in some areas. Online delivery of medical education was not really established pre-2020. If you wanted education, it was in the form of conferences and in-person events only. While I personally believe face-to-face networking and peer support is unchallenged, sometimes there is a need for online education. We now have the opportunity to learn even more, in our own time, from the comfort of our own homes. There are certain manufacturers and distributors within our field who have evolved about a decade in the past two years.

I recently asked Rick O’Neill, digital consultant to the medical aesthetics industry and founder of award-winning digital marketing agency LTF, his thoughts on the digital arena within aesthetics. He told me, “As competition increases and digital expectations are at an all-time high, it is only the manufacturers and brands that can offer truly valuable and accessible business and clinical education, in an omni-channel fashion, that is worthy of your custom and loyalty. Those that offer this to all, regardless of spend, show a commitment to raising education and digital experiences for the whole market, not just their key accounts.”

We only need to look at recent in-person events like ACE and CCR to see how many companies are exhibiting their products. Across areas including injectables, skincare, devices and many more, there were 150+ companies exhibiting.1-3 Just recently in Monaco, the AMWC conference hosted more than 230 companies at its annual congress.4 Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: what are we looking for in a company if we are going to invest our time and money into their products? Surely, we won’t be lured in by a few impressive before and after images on their marketing materials.

What and who should you say yes to? Naturally, there is no set-in-stone answer, but it is worth considering the following:

  1. Have you been assigned an account manager/representative to support you and answer any questions which might arise?
  2. Are you offered continued medical education and product training support?
  3. Do you have easy access to online learning videos to advance your understanding of best practice using your products?
  4. Are you being offered clinic business support?
  5. Are other employees in your clinic, not just the medical practitioners, supported?
  6. Are clinical papers and evidence on the product readily available from the company so you can ensure efficacy and patient safety are being upheld?
  7. Do you feel you have the right support should you ever need to report an adverse event?
  8. Do you understand their company values, and do they align with yours?
  9. Are you being supported with marketing materials to help promote your services?

It is also worth thinking about where you are on your career journey. The above points are relevant to all practitioners, but if you’re just starting out, making sure you get the right support when reporting an adverse event should be absolutely critical, and if you are well-established and have aspirations for more advanced teaching and learning, a company who can provide this may be higher up your list.

Practitioner perspective

Of course, I am not in the shoes of a day to day, practising medical aesthetic practitioner, and I wanted to get the thoughts of one who is. I asked Anna Baker, an award-winning aesthetic nurse prescriber, trainer and qualified educator, what she believes is crucial support right now in our industry.

According to Baker, “Ongoing and consistent support is a key attribute which I would consider as fundamentally important when it comes to manufacturers and distributors. In particular, the level of support, notably with regards to medical concerns over potential adverse events. I would also place value on commercial and educational support, as well as timely responses to queries and questions.”

Maintaining the relationship

As we well know, companies and representatives change, and more often than not, these changes are not communicated with you. Therefore, it is vitally important that you build a strong, trusting relationship with your account manager/representative from that company. It is good practice for the company representative to reach out to you for regular meetings and check in on your business. However, remember that they are your representative, so make sure you also contact them should you have the need to. A reputable and credible company’s account managers will be available to assist you across all medical, marketing and sales related questions. If you feel like you are nothing more than a profit margin for them, it might be worth cutting ties early on. This cannot be stressed enough when thinking about any products, more so if you are currently considering investing a significant sum of money in an expensive device. The stronger your initial relationship with a company, the smoother any transition should be because of mutual trust.

Discover what support and growth you desire personally as a practitioner, and see if the manufacturer/distributor can help guide you on that journey. Aesthetic practitioners come in many forms. Some are content with seeing their local patients and running a successful clinic, while others wish to run clinic chains up and down the country and aspire to take to the stage at national and international events as brand key opinion leaders and ambassadors. Most practitioners are somewhere in the middle, with a balance of personal and professional ambitions for high quality medical education development, and trying to incorporate good practice in everything they do. Whenever I talk with practitioners, this philosophy seems to be at the heart of everything we do. Good practice, ethics and patient safety is always the number one priority, so make sure you take time to research the company and don’t be afraid to challenge the representative and get a true understanding of what their values are.

Exploring your options

I appreciate that one of the biggest challenges we can have when contemplating using a different product, distributor or manufacturer is loyalty. Sometimes, it is difficult to leave something or someone familiar that you have been working with for a long time. Often you will not be forced to leave, but if they are not ticking all the boxes, could you potentially be missing out on developing your career and offering your patients more?

Putting your patients first does not mean buying your products at the cheapest price. As a business owner, price points are important, but ensure that this is just one of the criteria you consider in what a manufacturer or distributor can and should offer you. Whilst maintaining its roots and foundations, the industry provides its professionals with so much more than it did 20 years ago. I urge you to go forward and explore the options and opportunities available to you from manufacturers and distributors and take the time to analyse the question: what is best for my patients as well as me and my clinic?

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