Interview: Aaron Burton

Interview: Aaron Burton

In this interview Aaron Burton, CEO at Sciton, and Chris Stock, CEO of SalesMD, discuss all aspects of life and business. Aaron shares his insight as to things practices should consider coming out of the pandemic.

Chris Stock 

I’m Chris stock. I’m CEO of SalesMD. We’re a consulting and Plastic Surgery sales training company, focused on helping Plastic Surgeons convert leads into patients. And today we’re talking with Aaron Burton, CEO at Sciton. Aaron has been with Sciton nearly nine years, the last two years as the COO before becoming CEO in February of this year. So congratulations on that promotion Aaron. For those who don’t know, Sciton is a leading medical device company, providing advanced laser and light sources to medical professionals. I should say in addition, as if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Aaron is also on the board of directors at the Aesthetic Business Institute. It’s a real privilege and honor to have you on my show and have the opportunity to interview you Aaron, welcome.

Aaron Burton 

Thanks Chris. I appreciate it man.

Chris Stock 

Let’s just jump straight in because I know you’ve got a ton of meetings and stuff happening at the moment, so I don’t want to spend too much time, but I’m really keen to share with our audience a little bit about the personal side of this journey but also then what Sciton is doing to help it’s customers. And then what advice you have for practices as we start to look towards the recovery. So kicking that off. What has the last few weeks been like for you as you get your head around and grapple with this situation?

Aaron Burton 

Good question, Chris. It has certainly been a roller coaster. You know, at the beginning of March  we actually had our annual meeting in Silicon Valley. We had almost everybody from around the world, there were certainly hotspots where we didn’t require certain countries to come. So our Asia markets, Japan didn’t come, but almost all of our employees were in Silicon Valley at the very beginning of March. And I think on the 16th is when Santa Clara County, which is where our headquarters are, that’s when they started the shelter in place order. So it’s almost amazing. But you know, the difference between two weeks when we were all there celebrating an awesome 2019 to now. It’s been, what, five or six weeks and we’ve all been at home. So it has been a crazy roller coaster ride. I’ll tell you that.

Chris Stock 

From your own point of view, how have you dealt with those ups and downs?

Aaron Burton 

We do a ton of zoom calls and zoom meetings, which I certainly think has helped, you know, you’re trying to get information. Traditionally, you make decisions based on having information, having data, talking to a lot of sources that are knowledgeable. And then we’re kind of in an environment now where you’re making gaming decisions all the time and nothing is normal. So it’s almost a guess. And that certainly makes it harder. You go from strategic thinking to very tactical thinking and it certainly made things more challenging and more complicated. But so far I think our leadership team has done a really good job and it’s really helped us push through it.

Chris Stock 

Excellent. And what’s the biggest challenge that you have as a leader right now?

Aaron Burton 

I think the biggest challenge probably is just making the decisions, I guess, because you’re working in a fog of everything, but I think one thing at Sciton is we have a really, really strong culture and it’s been helpful for us and I think you can make decision so when you have a question or a decision you have to make and it’s a really tough one, I think you can turn back to your values and your mission and kind of look at them and say okay, here’s the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. 

You know, as leaders, we’ve talked a lot about the two easiest things that we could do right now would be one, fire all of our people, which we think is terrible, but when you’re watching your cash flow, you know decline every week the easy thing to do would be just to go lay off everybody or furlough everybody or go out and take a bunch of bad types of loans or bring on a bunch of bad debt. In the history of our company we’ve never had debt so we’ve really tried to focus on one, how do we protect our people? which has always been our culture, and two, how do we not bring on a lot of debt in the middle of this kind of crisis?

Chris Stock

I’ve seen that a couple of times in some of the dealings I’ve had, in terms of knee jerk reactions. I was talking to an investor a couple of weeks ago and it was interesting. He said “I’m not looking at now, I’m looking at what do you see in two years time, five years time, what’s the long term strategy?” And this is crazy, dreadful and you know all of those words to describe the situation, but actually if you look five years ahead, where will we be? 

So you mentioned ethos and actually it’s in one of the things that’s always struck me as an outsider looking at Sciton, in the past dealing with your team, but also what I see on social media and there’s a real strong team emphasis that comes across, in terms of who you are as individuals and who you are as a business. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to find a way of working with you guys. So what are you doing to maintain that during these times and also what are you doing to strengthen that position?

Aaron Burton 

That’s a good question Chris. We’re proud of our culture and I appreciate you saying that and that you’ve seen those things out there. I mean, I don’t want to say that we advertise it, but we definitely brag about it. You know, we’ve got a great reputation in the industry. I think even among people in the industry that know we build really good products. You know, we were founded by two physicists and you know, they were more scientists before they were business people. And our culture has always been about our people. And the reason that we have these great products is because we have really, really good people. I think when you’re faced with a crisis like we are now, I do think you sit back and you look at our values and our mission and our mission statement. It starts off by saying at Sciton our mission is to improve people’s lives. 

And as it keeps going it talks about number one, improving our people’s lives, improving our clients and our customer’s lives and improving the lives of patients who are getting our treatments. But it starts with number one, which is our people, so when we’re faced with these tough decisions and we’re sitting in a crisis, I got to tell you, our culture and our values help us a lot because we’re always looking back at how do we help our people, you know, how do we not send them to an unemployment line? And, you know, I have tons of sympathy because our industry has been hit pretty darn hard by this. I think just about everybody, I can maybe think of one, maybe two in our industry that haven’t had any type of Furlough’s or layoffs.

I sympathize with the leaders who had to make those decisions because I don’t think they wanted to do that, but I understand why they had to do it. We just go back to our mission and we say we’ve really got to avoid that. I mean, nobody can predict the future. I can’t predict the future. You can’t. So it’s hard to know how quick things return, but I can tell you every day our team’s making a decision on how to protect our people and not have to do a furlough. 

And you know, we’ve been fortunate. We haven’t furloughed a single employee, we don’t have any plans to do it. And all of our strategies and plans are all built on our mission statement, our culture, which is, how do we maintain that and how do we keep our people?

Chris Stock 

Yes, I think as you say, things change and they’re changing so rapidly. So you start with where you are and work from there. I think it was about 2001 when there was the .com bubble burst, I was working for Intel corporation and as a leadership team it was “Okay, we’re not going to let people go. We’re going to work with everybody.” Salary was on hold for a time. But they actually invested in my MBA, so right at the worst time, they put their hand in their pocket and paid for me to do my MBA. And I admire that but it’s a huge risk in so many ways because you don’t know what’s coming. You don’t know how long this is going to go on for.

Aaron Burton 

Yes and we do struggle with that. I don’t know if maybe we’re overly optimistic, but we believe that we can do the things you’re talking about. Focusing on education, spending money and doing things with our own team will make us better. We’ll recover here and we definitely believe in that.

Chris Stock 

Yes. Well, I’m a training provider, so I certainly believe in that! But I always remember when I went into this business my dad said “Why are you starting a training company? It’s the first thing to go in a recession.” And it does cut back, but the smart companies invest through it if they can and I respect that there’s tough decisions and making those at the right time is really important. So, moving onto your customers. Again, I know Sciton provides great support to your customers already. What specifically are you doing to support practices during this time?

Aaron Burton

Good question. Obviously we’ve seen a massive change, but I would say that the volume of the calls we’re getting and emails are still really high. It went from at the beginning of March and then Q1 we were focused on sales and sales orders and sales volume was at record highs and it’s totally changed and we don’t even really want to sell right now. 

We’ve really changed where we’re looking in our sales and marketing teams. I don’t want to say pivoted because we were doing it before, but I would say that we’re not even trying to sell right now. We don’t even think it’s appropriate. There’ll be a time when, and we will know when that time is right that the salesforce starts doing that again, but we’ve really focused on the digital and kind of the virtual platforms out there.

And I’m sure you’ve seen it from a lot of companies, but I’ve got to say our marketing crew and our sales crew, I think right now are the best in the industry, We’re doing four or five webinars, Facebook lives, Instagram lives, we have a training center here in Dallas where we have a clinical person doing hands on treatments where they’re actually with the system by themselves, but they’re doing a virtual training with somebody else who’s at their office by themselves. It’s trying to come up with creative ways that we can really support practices because they have to prepare for when they’re going to open up and there’s certainly things they should be doing. They’re not sitting around kind of like you and I are sitting around.

So we’ve really tried to listen to our customers. We have a strategic advisory board that gives us advice and from day one they were saying, Hey, you need to double down on your education. And we’ve done that, so it’s not a sales platform. We’re not pitching anybody to buy anything. It’s not that kind of a platform. It’s purely to our owners of existing products and how they can be better and best practices and things like that. And we’ve had a lot of stuff on them. Congress has passed the payroll protection program and we really tried to help with that because we think that doctors should be going after that program and really try to protect their people too. So it’s been all over the board from product stuff to laser physics to economics and financial stuff. Our team’s done a really good job.

Chris Stock 

That’s fantastic. So, if one of your customers isn’t taking advantage of some of that stuff, presumably they just reach out to that rep and sort of make it known they’d like to jump on board some of that education?

Aaron Burton 

Yes, I would be surprised if they’re not seeing it. They could reach out to their rep, but they’re probably getting so many, between social media and just all the digital platforms out there. And then between our e-blasts and our emails we’re sending to them, they’re getting a ton of information from us. But yes, I mean they could reach out to their local rep, they could get on our website. Everything that we’ve done is archived, so if they missed anything, it’s all out there. There’s definitely some good information.

Chris Stock 

When the fog starts to lift and we start thinking about recovery, what are your longer term plans to support your customers through that?

Aaron Burton

Yes, I mean I think we’ve thought of a couple of things. I think unfortunately you’re going to see a lot of movement in staff. We’ve talked to a lot of our practices and a lot of them kept their people, but a lot of them haven’t. A lot of them have furloughed their staff and I don’t think that staff necessarily comes back. So we’ve really tried to prepare for, you know, there’s a siphon system sitting there and somebody needs to be trained and proficient on how to use it and the doctors going to open their doors back up and if their staff comes back, perfect. But if not, we need to be ready for it. So, you know, preparing for, when does that day come?. Every state’s going to be a little bit different, some are going to be sooner, some are still maybe weeks and months away.

But being ready for that. And then I guess there’s a couple other pieces, really doubling down on our brands and how do we help customers or our clients get more patients? You know, how do we double down on our halo brand and our broadband light brand? How do we help the phones ring and more emails come in. So we’re really trying to focus on things like that so we can have them ready and then when the doors do open how do we make their phones ring?.

Chris Stock 

Perfect. And that kind of makes me think, because you are the CEO, but you’re also an advisor,  probably a consultant, a friend, sort of a confidant to these business owners, surgeons and customers. What advice are you giving to them at the moment?

Aaron Burton 

That’s a good question. I would say you do become friends with your clients, you know, we talk and we text. The one thing I’ve said is one, if you haven’t gone after this loan, this government loan, I mean it is really a zero risk. it’s payroll protection. So if you can keep your staff, if you want to keep your staff I say one, go for this loan, it can help you. It’s an eight week loan and it guarantees their payroll for eight weeks. And if you keep your staff and if you keep your payroll at pre kind of historical payroll numbers, you get a hundred percent of it forgiven and it also helps with your rent and with your utilities. So one, I would say if they haven’t gone and applied for that, they need to call their bank today and talk to their bank about getting it. And two, the purpose of that is they really need to protect the people. The practices that I think are really going to perform here and do the best are the ones that when the doors open back up, whenever that is, that their staff is ready because there will be a surge of people who want these treatments.

I think the aesthetic market will change. I don’t think they’re going to want surgical procedures. As soon as the doors open, I think maybe it’s lower cost procedures, but you know, people want to look good. People want healthy skin that’s not going to stop. And you still need to provide that. So I think the practices that can protect their people and keep their people on the longest will be the ones that have an advantage when the doors open. So definitely go after the loan and do everything you can to protect your people right now. That’s really important.

Chris Stock 

I totally agree with both of those. Again, from the lens I look through, from my point of view, it’s about the people. And one of the things I’ve spoken to a few practices about is the journey. I know the journey I’ve been on and those people have been through the same. So what also can we do to support them in terms of getting their head back in the game, getting them on that journey? Because as you say, it’s going to change. There’s going to be fear still. Is there a second wave coming? By meeting you for this procedure that you want, what is the impact on me? And so how do we help them get their head in the game, in the right space? What specifically should practices be doing right now? And I think you’ve probably alluded to some of that in the advice, but getting down to the practice level, what should they be doing right now?

Aaron Burton 

I definitely think this would be a time when they’re sharpening their skills and educating their office and their staff. But I think you also have to get ready for when the doors do open, because I don’t think it looks exactly the same. I think there’s going to be differences. We’re talking about what are our own company standard operating procedures for a rep in the field, because I don’t think it’s going to be the same. I don’t think a rep just walks in and knocks on the door and is talking to a physician the same way and I don’t think a patient is going to come into the lobby of a practice. I’ve heard of practices where they ripped out all the carpet and they’ve changed their flooring out.

You know, I’ve heard of practices where they’re working on no touch devices, so no ones giving you a credit card or you know, virtual consultations so that there are fewer people in the office, you don’t actually come to the office for a consultation. I think you’ve really got to get ready, like I said some States will open up sooner than others, but you have to be ready for whenever it is. And that stuff’s not easy because we’re trying to do it too. We have 240 employees and partners and we need to make sure that they’re prepared and when the time is right that they have all the resources to be out there again. And I think all of our practices need to be doing that too. So I would think they’d be pretty busy right now, believe it or not.

Chris Stock 

I totally agree. And that leads me into the consultation process and again, we’re seeing a lot more telemedicine. But, how do you see the consultation process changing as we come out of this? 

Aaron Burton 

I was reading an article from Tom Seery of RealSelf and he was talking about how many people were doing telemedicine and how many people were willing to do it now, in a survey he did versus the previous survey he had done on the same question. Obviously people are more accepting now and I think that’s something that will probably stick. I think a lot of things may go back to normal over time in a year or two. it’ll be interesting to see what went back to normal. But I would be surprised if a lot of this stuff doesn’t stick, and I think that’s one of them. You know, to do a consultation, a nonsurgical, a lot of these procedures I don’t think you need somebody in the office. I’m not a physician, but these are things I’m hearing from our doctors and our physicians out there. And it’s that, that’s one of the things I think will stick, that there will be a lot more of that happening. You know, it won’t be a short term thing. I think that’s a long term thing.

Chris Stock 

One of my clients in the UK, even before COVID-19, was starting to do a lot more of that.  Seeing photos and talking to the patients online. I think it was going that way with the technology and this has just accelerated it.

Aaron Burton 

Yes. I mean, that’s kind of the world we’re in now. We do so many meetings virtually now that people have really grown to accept it. So maybe a month or two months ago they thought, I’d rather go in, but now they’re almost accepting it. So it should be easier for a physician or a provider to just recommend it. It’s not like doing FaceTime with somebody. I think it’s just more widely accepted as a business norm now.

Chris Stock 

Yes. And it’s funny, there’s a client of mine and the only way I can communicate with him is via WhatsApp. If I drop him an email, no response. Leave him a voicemail, nothing. WhatsApp, I get an instant reply. It’s like, okay, so that’s the way we’re going to do it. Again, just conscious of time as we start to just wrap up this interview. You don’t get to be the CEO by chance, especially a company the size of Sciton. I’m sure you’ve had great mentors and coaches over years, but what’s the one lesson you’ve learned or piece of advice you’ve been given that really stands out for you in terms of you as a leader?

Aaron Burton 

You’re probably going to laugh at this Chris, because I post on this a lot. But I think in times like right now when things are a little hectic and things are different and it’s a little chaotic. It’s really about gratitude. And I think that’s one of the tools in leadership in general that I think leaders struggle with a lot and it’s probably really something people are struggling with right now, which is having gratitude for things going on around you, even though you’re in this fog or in this storm where you’re making game day decisions that impact people’s lives.

And you know, some companies have hundreds of people like us, some have thousands and millions and you know, the decisions you’re making are impacting a lot of people. And you know, prior to this we always talked about gratitude and we talked with our leaders about having gratitude, showing gratitude, you know, having a culture of gratitude, telling people thank you and proximity with people and staying close with people and how important that was. And, you know, I would say in the crazy times that we’re in, it is definitely a time that you would want to double down and really think about having gratitude for your people and don’t forget about telling them thank you, reaching out to them and connecting with them on a regular basis. And you know, they’re at home, working by themselves and not in an office where you could pat them on the back and tell them something. You need to make sure you pick up the phone now or set up a zoom meeting and tell people thank you.

You know, if you wake up every morning and you’re thinking about what am I grateful for? Who at the company am I grateful for? I just think you’re going to get bombarded with crazy stuff. You know, as soon as you start checking email, when you start getting on phone calls, you’re going to get thrown a curveball and it can really throw you off. So, I would just say the thing I’ve learned from my mentors and including our current chairman, Jim Hobart, is you need to have gratitude for your people. And it goes a long way.

Chris Stock 

I love that actually. To expand on the point you’re making in terms of everything that’s going on around you. I woke up yesterday and I’m on a visa and suddenly I hear about green cards being temporarily on hold. And it’s like, what does that mean? And suddenly you panic and then you just stop and you just look out the window. You have to be like what’s going to happen is going to happen. Countries have to make the right decisions for their country. We have to make the right decisions for us as individuals and you know just have that gratitude for what you have and where you are and what’s happening and things will sort themselves out in whatever way they’re meant to. Final question then before we just wrap up. Any final thoughts or reflections that you have that we haven’t discussed that you might like to put out there? 

Aaron Burton 

So someone asked me the other day what do I miss the most right now? And I really sat back and I thought about that, you know, I travel a ton. I live in Dallas, but we’re based in Palo Alto. So I’m going back and forth and I thought I missed a lot of things, but I’ve got to tell you, I really appreciate the time home with the family and I just really appreciate it right now. So as much as I look forward to getting back out to California and you know, getting back on the flights and seeing everybody out there, I’ve got to tell you, I appreciate and I’m grateful that for the times right now I get to be home and I’m not traveling and I’m really trying to enjoy it as much as I can. And you know, we can’t get out of the house much, but at least the college kids are here, all the kids are here and it’s kind of cool to have the family here and I’m just appreciating it while I’ve got it. Knowing that at some point here pretty quickly I’ll be back on that plane heading out to California again.

Chris Stock 

Yes. I think as quick as we’ve come into this there’s a point where suddenly the new normal arrives.

Aaron Burton 

Yes. I agree.

Chris Stock 

Fantastic. So thank you again for agreeing to this interview, I’ve taken a lot from it.

Aaron Burton

Well, I appreciate it, Chris. Thanks for having me, man. Thank you.

Interview: Tom Seery

Interview: Tom Seery

In this interview Tom Seery, CEO and Founder at RealSelf, talks about the trends he’s seeing coming out of COVID-19, his views on leadership and how the last few months have changed him for the better. Hosted by our CEO, Chris Stock.

Chris Stock  

Hi, I’m Chris Stock CEO at SalesMD. We’re a consulting and training company, focused on helping medical practices convert leads into patients. Today I’m speaking with Tom Seery, CEO and founder of RealSelf. Over 100 million people visit RealSelf.com and their media channels each year. It is the healthcare marketplace where consumers can research aesthetic treatments, connect with physicians, and even book aesthetic services. Tom is on the board of directors of Research International, a nonprofit organization, and is also an advisory board member of the Buick Center for Entrepreneurship. Prior to RealSelf, Tom was a director at Expedia.com. So it’s an honor to have this opportunity to interview you Tom, welcome.

Tom Seery  

Thank you so much. And hopefully we can get to know each other better after this moment, when we’re allowed to see each other in the flesh and blood.

Chris Stock  

Absolutely. That’s probably where I’d like to just jump in. I know you’re incredibly busy, but through this pandemic, what’s for you been one of the biggest takeaways living through this crisis?

Tom Seery  

I would go straight to how there’s no real playbook for this. When you’re an entrepreneur, you sort of follow gut and instinct and data, and you’re always at the mercy of the market of your customers. So it’s sort of built in that you can accept a high dose of ambiguity and unexpectedness. But I have to say, I really would have never fathomed the level of shock to the system that the pandemic represents to not just our business, but to our entire environment, our world and our humanity.

Chris Stock  

I totally agree. I’ve found it like a roller coaster. And I’ve used that analogy a number of times in terms of where I was mentally throughout this process, and I just never imagined we would ever be in this situation.

Tom Seery  

No, I don’t think I would say anyone was except maybe the Gates Foundation here in Seattle. It’s been certainly led by a very brilliant man who’s been talking about pandemics for a long time. And there are some governmental bodies that have warned us about this. But I think we’re all sort of discovering what are our best responses to disasters and to highly disruptive events, and I’m just glad we had this event here in Seattle, to wake us up for what is probably the predecessor to another environmental factor, which is earthquakes, we’re in a high risk zone. I would say, based on what I’ve learned over the last three months, we have a lot of planning to do a lot of prep. But we’re better now. We’re more organized. And certainly as companies, we’ve all rapidly adapted and watched our customers. In the world of medicine, you know things don’t move very fast. And it’s just incredible how much things have shifted in such a short amount of time.

Chris Stock  

I totally agree. You’re clearly a leader in this industry. So for you personally, what’s been that aha moment for you in terms of this journey?

Tom Seery  

Yes, I would say that I have found that as I’ve become more and more vulnerable in front of my team, and embracing both the challenges and being very transparent about what we face, and not, you know, doctoring it up and making it look better than it is but actually saying, here’s what we know. And what we don’t know. I have found that that has led to tremendous levels of trust building, new dialogues and a bonding between my team members in a way that I don’t think we would have achieved. I don’t think I would have achieved as a leader if I hadn’t had this crisis hit.

Chris Stock  

I love that. Because as leaders, we often think about authenticity and how we develop that authenticity, that openness, that transparency. And, actually I think we’re all probably, as leaders guilty of that, we Sometimes put out the veneer that we want people to see. And actually, this has forced us to actually go there. How do you think you continue doing that? Actually, doing that sounds like it’s false. How do you continue to be vulnerable, open, transparent and all the things that you’ve discovered about yourself and what that’s meant for your relationship with the team? How do you continue that as we come out of this and move forward?

Tom Seery  

Yes, I have found that my team, it’s almost like once you break the seal, it sort of gives you permission now to have these more authentic as you say, authentic conversations. Internally, we have an operating principle around being direct as an example. And we really strive to be an organization. And I strive as a leader, to be extremely to the point and in a very fair manner, an open minded manner, but from a place of love, and from a place of, I want you to achieve better. But here’s something you are not achieving well, or whatever the feedback might be. And I would say that we have this guidance of operating principles and values that are really shaping our conversation. So it’s not just, hey, we’re all vulnerable, and we’re able to hold hands. It’s also, we have a framework for how we should operate with each other to preserve that goodness that comes with vulnerability.

Chris Stock  

Yes, I think you’re making some very good points. You can be vulnerable, but it needs to be purposeful as well. In terms of how it connects.

Tom Seery  

It just can’t be the CEO standing in front of his team crying, I mean, or hurting. It really gives people that sense of, we still understand our direction, you know, all these things you hear in business schools or if you’re starting a business, you need to have a mission and vision and values and goals. And all these things really come to roost when you have a team that’s very open to now being authentic in themselves. But they still want direction, they still want to know which way is north and are the guiding star to how and what we’re trying to achieve, you know, what are we long term longitudinally, trying to achieve as a team.

Chris Stock  

Changing focus to the practices, and it’s one of the reasons I was keen to have this interview with you. It was actually one of my first interviews was Aaron Burton, and he even cited you in his interview. So I thought I need to speak with you! Whenever you post it’s always incredibly insightful. I always sit there thinking, damn, I wish I’d thought of that! or had that intelligence that you’ve got, the data that you’re probably seeing from your systems, but based on your latest findings, what are the one or two areas that practices should be focusing on right now as they start to reopen?

Tom Seery  

Those are very kind statements. And Aaron is a fantastic leader, I look up to him more so than maybe he realizes. So if he’s listening, I want him to know that.

Chris Stock  

I agree. I think he’s just very open and supportive. Naturally, for me, for my first first one of these sort of business leaders interviews, I asked him, he went Yes, absolutely. So it was it started the ball rolling. 

Tom Seery  

Yes. And I think the similarity between him and myself, if I allow to bucket him together with me. Going on to what I post is, it’s really actually an act of a little bit of selfishness, which is I’m just curious about certain things and I like to share what I’ve learned, versus I’m trying to manufacture things that I think people will like. And so, if people find valuable what I’m sort of unlocking and finding then great, I love it. And if it can help somebody make a better decision for their business or the practice, that’s awesome too. But many times I say at conferences and venues, I’ll say, well, I’ve never run a practice I probably never will. You wouldn’t probably want me to. And so I can’t quite understand how these trends and patterns manifest in your business and your practice. But here’s what we’re hearing.

Here’s what we’re seeing. What I’m seeing to answer your question, though, is I’m not dodging! I think the 25% of people who, in our last survey, we’ve been doing these pulse surveys of our community. We started with about 3500 members, respondents and then over every couple of weeks, since the beginning of COVID-19. And we have found that the most recent poll said 25% of consumers who are very interested in aesthetics, but have put the decision on hold, sight that they are concerned about safety. They’re concerned about getting sick. And I think there’s got to be at least a dozen other surveys out there really trying to answer why are consumers so disconnected from the health care system in America? You know, there’s just tremendous plummet and utilization rates of say ER, and other specialties.

I’ve many friends and other forms of medicine who are literally watching the paint dry, they’re so bored. And ER doctors have never been bored, right? And so they’re like, there’s nothing coming in! But what is really important for every practice to reflect on is how can you assert and actually act on delivering a safer experience? And I know that’s kind of maybe a no duh, but I don’t think I just haven’t seen as many practices, actively promoting their point of view and what they are doing to promote safety in the practice beyond what they normally would. I’ve seen Dr. Greco and Savannah, Georgia, excellent. Business leader, Surgeon. And if you go to his website, you’ll see the first thing that pops up is, here’s what we’re doing to deliver a great, safe experience for you at our practice here in Savannah. So anyway, I just want to see if you agree with that, or do you have a different reaction than that being good advice or not?

Chris Stock  

It’s funny, you should say that, but I saw one of the doctors out of Beverly Hills, maybe OC come out and say ‘this is what we’re doing.’ It was literally sort of half an hour 45 minutes ago. So you could scroll through and every element of the safety was covered in an Instagram post. And I thought, wow, they’ve just nailed it in terms of this is the experience, this is what you’re going to feel and see and hear and it nailed it. Versus what I’m seeing a lot of is ‘we’re open’. And I think that talks to your point in that it doesn’t give me confidence. You know, great you’re open, but I need to feel this is going to be safe.

Tom Seery  

Yes, and we’re open is a little bit of a self-serving message anyway. Well, good for you. That’s great. But so? Tell me more.

Chris Stock  

Yes.

Tom Seery  

I mean, clearly, there’s some pent up demand out there and people wanting to know that a practice has reopened. But I look at schools and, you know a lot of the prospective patients, doctors in our area of aesthetics are younger parents and people who are in their 30s, 40s and those parents are getting now starting to get new information for how things are going to work in the next school year. How things are going to work if camps haven’t been fully cancelled, like that happened in Seattle. And they’re hearing from these organizations a whole punch list of amazing amount of changes. My kids school, it took them over an hour to explain all the changes they’re going to be introducing next year. And it kind of made my head spin. But then, you know, that’s an environment with kids. Yes, there’s a lot of potential for spread and so forth. And safety is a big factor for children, of course. But I’m entering a medical facility to get an elective treatment, totally elective, I don’t need to be doing it. I would expect something quite similar, but maybe not as exhaustive. But if I want to go down the rabbit hole and really watch a video for 20 minutes about walking through your office and seeing all the things you’re doing to change it. I think I might be interested in that as a prospective patient.

Chris Stock  

Yes and you make a good point. For me, the ‘we’re open’ is one, self serving, as you said. It’s also a little bit lazy. It’s lazy insofar as I guess there’s pent up demand. There’s going to be a number of people. And actually, you can’t have so many people coming through the door. So it serves me, but as you say, it doesn’t. I don’t think it builds their brand. It doesn’t build beyond that pent up demand. I’m interested in what happens in three months time, subject to no second wave and all of those things. But, you know, what they’re doing now, I think impacts three, four or five months in terms of what that demand for them could look like. Yesterday, you shared some interesting trends, one of them is about an Increase in consultation booking activity. And this is an impossible question that you can’t answer, but subject to your magical crystal ball that you have just to the side. What do you think the next three to six months looks like for the practices?

Tom Seery  

Obviously, it’s going to be very dependent on the type of practice, what services they deliver, the market they’re in. So like, for instance, here in Seattle, we’ve largely been buffered by the economic side of COVID-19. And I don’t believe that there’s a lot of unemployed people. So I do not say that without empathy for individuals who are unemployed in Seattle, Washington. But there are some major employers who are seeing incredible upside I guess, If that doesn’t sound too crass, from the pandemic, that does sound wrong, but it’s true if you look at you know, Amazon’s based here, we have Microsoft based here. And so I would say practices here are just going to see a different experience than a practice in Orlando. In a market where, you know, really depend on travelers like Vegas.

You said it’s gonna be an impossible answer so I just wanted to throw in I’m completely self aware that it depends and has to be part of it. I’m curious and what I’ve been sort of challenging people to think about is what happens when 40 million Americans or whatever the number ends up being, roll off their Cobra coverage, and suddenly household discretionary spending becomes something that they have to make big trade offs on. And so what things can they delay? What things are most essential? So I think there’s this growth side of aesthetics that the people who are just coming into the market who are new, who are intrigued, making the budget work, somehow taking loans. I think that market is going to be really slow to show up in the next 12, 16,18, 24 months. And I don’t know how to quantify what percentage that is, but Allergan calls them the consumers are sort of what they’ve said there’s 10s of millions of women who are interested in Botox who aren’t moving forward. I think they call it the naive. I know in the industry, it’s called the naive consumer. I think they’re going to be very hard to bring back into the market to have that first experience on aesthetics, even with lower cost treatments, and certainly with surgical where credit’s going to be less available for a higher risk, lower availability.

I’m sort of meandering here only to say I think once we get past the sort of one time, pent up demand situation. I think there’s gonna be some challenges for these practices in regions that are highly affected. I think if you’re in a wealthy area, like Jason Posner, who’s in Boca Raton, and he was telling me a lot of people in his area normally travel and spend money, they’re going nowhere. So they’re able to spend money on aesthetics now, so that might help him in that area. But I don’t necessarily expect that to be a national trend. What do you think, do you have a sense for where things are going?

Chris Stock  

I think we’re pretty aligned actually, and I come back to the comment ‘we’re open’ is a little bit lazy, but it’s there. My mother is, I’ve got to be careful here if she watches this and I get it wrong, I’ll be in trouble but I think she’s 82.Let’s say she’s 80 just in case.

Tom Seery  

You don’t know how old your mother is?!

Chris Stock  

She’s 82 or 83 and she lives in Spain and literally 48 hours after the hairdresser was open, she was there having a haircut. And you know, I’m saying, Mom, you must stay home, you shouldn’t be doing this. Anyway, I think there’s very much that pent up demand, people are frustrated, they want to get out, they want to do something. But I do think when the economy kicks in, I think we have been protected right now. Not protected but there are the schemes for some of the businesses that are keeping some organizations afloat. And when that comes to an end and we start paying back some of those loans, then the problems start. Unless the economy bounces all the way back, which I can’t see happening. And even prior to this, we’ve been talking for the last 18 months of a recession coming. And this is sort of that facilitation of this recession we’ve been talking about. So I think this kick starts this cyclical recession. 

Tom Seery

Yes, there’s a sugar high from the trillions of dollars that are injected in the economy certainly have buffered many of these things. But, I have friends who are very involved in organizations like Gates Foundation, and if you want to have sobering discussion, talk to Epidemiologists and others who are saying, well, for those who think COVID has sort of been defeated or is in our rearview mirror, they say it’s fully capable and will come back in different forms and I think we’re more prepared. I think people a little bit more can contain their fear and frame it like, Okay, I understand what this means in terms of risk.

But you know, here in Seattle right now, as we sit here, there’s I think, at least 125 fisherman sitting on a boat. I literally could walk to the boat from my house, who all have COVID-19. The whole ship is contaminated. And it’s just an it’s just a really scary indicator of like, here’s what super spreading looks like. And I don’t mean to rain down on  the parade. I am a super optimistic person. I think we will all come through this and we will actually be better. I think I’m going to be a better leader. I think we’re going to be a better industry in Aesthetics. But I also think we got to take these things really seriously and get out of the headlines of politics and really be very, very astute to what has happened to the consumer, what are their behaviors ,what are their attitudes, how are they shifting? Because it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before in terms of the way it’s reshaping Americans and probably globally, consumers, on how they think about life in general. And maybe Aesthetics will be the beneficiary. Right?

It’s like, wow, we really now care very much about our well being and want to do everything we can to preserve what we have. And so it’s possible there could be a tremendous wave of growth ahead of us. I just don’t I don’t know. We’ve got a lot of time to sort of work through some big challenges.

Chris Stock  

There’s some great things you’ve said and referenced and alluded to. I do hope as humanity that it has stopped us a little bit just to think about the impact that we’re having on the planet and some of those bigger challenges. I had a project a couple of years ago and I was literally, I was living in San Diego, and every other week I was in London. And now I think, you know, what, what was I thinking, what why was I doing that? And yes, it was a customer, I really enjoyed working with them, etc, etc. But actually, it’s not sustainable. You know, I’ve got to make a different decision. We all have to make different decisions going forward. That’s not to say we don’t travel, the world is there to be explored. But, you know, we don’t need to commute to London from San Diego.

Tom Seery  

There’s a pretty distinct line between explored and exploited and I think you’re right, I have had a lot of moments to be able to reflect on. Wow, I have stopped traveling, and how much beneficial things have happened in my life, let alone how fewer resources I’m using. It was interesting, I was looking at photos from a year ago. I was trying to find something for my kids. And I just kept seeing weekend after weekend of pictures of me at conferences all over the world, Monaco and places and I think I just let it get to my head like wow, I’m being asked to speak at an event. But I didn’t realize what the consequences were for my children, my family, my friends, my business. So I don’t know how my friends at Expedia and the travel world are going to see the market come back probably in a decade, it just probably won’t come back to where it’s been today. Thanks to things like this, what we’re doing, you know, we’re communicating just fine and probably actually a little bit more effectively, using a format like this Zoom call and taking a moment to have a conversation.

Chris Stock  

Coming into this industry, you’re clearly a prominent figure. Now, I’ve known about you since I’ve sort of been in the industry, but it’s actually since i’ve stopped and am sitting in my kitchen that we connect. It’s not at the next trade show. It’s actually through the technology and that’s great. I love it.

Tom Seery  

We would see each other at a conference and we would have that superficial like, hey, let’s sit down at this little roundtable and talk about things and then exchange business cards and you would go onto a stack of 40 other business cards. Not intentionally trying to ignore you at all. It’s just we go back to our homes and we have to go do everything that we’ve left and we were doing before and it’s so super inefficient. I mean, look, I miss connectivity and seeing doctors. I really enjoy having some fun at times, but I don’t know I, I don’t think I would ever give this back up. I have little children and I’m bonding with them. I Remember Dr. Corey Moss out of San Francisco, a great surgeon. I saw him at a conference a couple years ago and I said, Cory, I have not seen you in ages. And he said, Oh, that’s an intentional thing. And I said what do you mean? He said, you’ll see me a lot less going forward. And I really honored that. I was really inspired by that, but I didn’t act on it. And so now I’m acting on it and Dr. Moss was right on. This is the right way to live life.

Chris Stock  

I love that story. It actually reminds me, I was coaching an executive of a FTSE 100, one of our top 100 companies in the UK. As a coach, I don’t mention any names, but he was courted to come and join this other organization and as his coach, we were talking it through and he said, I’m not taking it. And i’m saying why? You know, it’s a phenomenal opportunity. You know, look who’s asking you! He said, I know he flies his private jet down to the South of France on a Friday night. On the flight he goes through all of his numbers. When he arrives, he phones all of his CEOs and wants a report. And he said Friday night, I’m taking my kids to Pizza Hut. And this company can have me from, six o’clock in the morning on on a Monday all the time, but 4:30 on a Friday, that’s what my kids want to do. I’m doing it. And I came away thinking, wow, this is a career guy full of potential. But actually when it came to that big decision, it’s my kids get me. I’m getting goosebumps just repeating the story because that for me is what it’s all about.

Tom Seery  

I worked at Pizza Hut. One of my first jobs was at a Pizza Hut and I know what’s happening in there behind the scenes. Well, hopefully they’ve improved their standards since I was there.

Chris Stock  

Hopefully they’ve matured!

Tom Seery

You know, I was talking to a member of my team who’s, I would say, a very demonstrably proof point of a millennial and the millennial generation. Very distraught what’s what’s happening within America with the tensions around racial relationships and black lives, let alone pandemic. And I said, You know, I don’t mean to be that cranky older generation person right now but I think your generation needed to be shook up a little bit from staring at your phones, chasing after followers, likes and loves that are all you know, kind of phony. And thinking that a hashtag is a form of advocacy, but they just didn’t know how to put it into action. So that’s one thing but I think a point about working too much.

I’m a Gen X’er and there is some bizarre status symbol associated with being busy. I don’t know how that came about in our generation, potentially the previous generation really impressed that upon us that work ethic. But all my friends all of us work way too much, too many hours. A crazy amount of our lives have been given up to something that doesn’t give much back at times. And so to the person who decided they were going to forgo the crazy career and spend more time with the people they love and who love them back. That’s pretty Noble. I look up to that. I think that’s a fantastic story. Those people have their priorities, at least my opinion set in the right direction.

Chris Stock  

Wow, we’ve gone totally into areas I wasn’t expecting which is great!

Tom Seery  

Oh, sorry. You probably want to talk about like, what do you think Botox pricing is going to do?

Chris Stock  

No, actually this is the type of conversation I love.

Tom Seery  

Look I just want to say, sorry to interrupt. Why I have enjoyed this conversation is when I do go to meetings and I’m asked to speak, I really want to have these conversations. I want to talk about life. And you know, the people that I’m typically speaking to are very similar to myself. They run small businesses, they have an entrepreneurial spirit, they’ve taken a lot of risks to do that. They’re way smarter than me, they’ve trained. They’re so focused and disciplined in how they got to where they are, where I’m a little bit more scattered, and I like to call creative. But, you know, where we can be most helpful for each other is talking about things like emotional maturity and values. And that’s something that Marie Oleson has talked about on the podium before, but we just don’t get a chance to really talk about.

It’s all about the team and the operations and taking care of your team first. And so people have asked me if i’m nervous about taking a stance on black lives matter? I’m like, not at all. And like, what if somebody disagrees with me? First, I believe from my perspective, it’s a human rights issue, not a political issue, and a human rights stance and not a political stance that we want to take. And I have to look at what matters to my team, to my black team members, and to my customers. And they really, really find this to be extremely relevant, important where we stand and take a stance, and I do too, personally, but I just, I feel that’s kind of what is interesting and why maybe running business is better than just getting a job for a job with the government or something. It comes  with a lot of responsibility to do the right thing.

Chris Stock  

Yes, again, so many things I could pick on, and jump into but I’m also conscious of the time. So coming back to leadership, I think it’d be a really nice way to finish. One of the things I know about my success over the years is the mentors and the coaches that I’ve had access to. And I’m sure in your journey you’ve had, and sometimes it may not even be a formal mentor or coach, sometimes it’s just that bit of steerage or that guidance that you’re given. But, if there was just one lesson you’ve learned or piece of advice you’ve been given that really stands out for you in terms of being a leader, what would that be?

Tom Seery  

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to have many sources of inspiration and support and things that helped me grow. I think that it goes back to my previous comment, which sounded maybe I was going into a random space, but I was trying to really get to a point which is, for a long time, I thought I was building a product. I was building a company, I was trying to get new customers, I was always focusing on that’s my job as a CEO. And then I got advice from one of my actually one of my investors and early investors, angel investors, and they said, your job is really about enabling, empowering and inspiring your team. And so start with your team. And trust your team. And they’re the ones who are going to figure it out, not you. They’re the ones who are going to figure out how to get the next customer. And I think that sounds subtle, but it was significant for me, it was almost letting go and saying,

You’re right, this is only going to work if I get to a place of trust. And the only way I can get to a place of trust is if I know that I’m being as authentic as possible, and they are as well. And we’re just being honest and transparent and very sharing and not worried about things like well, what if they find out this, you know, just accepting that information is going to be our friend and sharing that will be something that will make sure we’re all looking at the same thing. So that’s probably the most helpful. I can see that as a moment where I shifted my mindset and actually started acting differently and behaving, I believe more effectively as a leader.

Chris Stock

I think that’s a perfect place to finish. This has been phenomenal. As I say, we got into different conversations, but I relished the conversation and where it went. So, Tom, thank you very much,

Tom Seery  

Chris. Thank you, you’re a great host and very accommodating of my long responses, but this is a fitting, this is the end of my week here and this has just been a great way to end it. So thank you so much for inviting me on.

 

Interview: Scott Bell

Interview: Scott Bell

In this interview Scott Bell, CEO of Bell Media talks to Chris Stock about personal challenges he has faced, building a winning team and what it takes to be an effective leader

Chris Stock 

Today I’m speaking with Scott Bell, CEO at Bell Media. Scott founded Bell Media after graduating college in 2008. During college, Scott founded an outboard billboard company and built it into a couple hundred billboard faces before selling the company in 2015. Bell media is a digital marketing agency, they craft and implement winning marketing strategies that deliver measurable results for their customers. In addition, Scott sits on the advisory board for the entrepreneurship program at Auburn University, and also sits on the marketing board for the greater Montgomery YMCA, one of the largest in the country. Scott, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, welcome.

Scott Bell

Absolutely, thanks for having me today, Chris.

Chris Stock  

It’s a pleasure. As I was getting ready for this interview, I read that you’ve been touched personally with a Cystic Fibrosis diagnosis. And you personally raised $42,000 in 2016, for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation by running 1000 miles in one year. I’d just like to start the interview if you can just by sharing a little bit more about that.

Scott Bell

Yes, absolutely. So my family and I have always been involved in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As you alluded to, I’ve had a connection from it since I was born. I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, it’s a genetic disease. I was diagnosed as an infant. And what I learned growing up is that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation does amazing things. And I think fast forward to today, and the CF foundation and their work is really why I’m able to sit here today. So they’ve done amazing work. And we’ve always been involved in raising funds for the foundation. But I guess it was five or six years ago, I wanted to do something that had the potential to make a little bit of a larger impact. So I created this initiative, I called it run Bell run. And I really just asked colleagues, friends, co workers, as well as some of the businesses in the area to support that initiative by pledging a certain amount of money per mile that I ran and of course, I wanted to run 1000 miles throughout the year. A lot of folks were very generous and supportive. We ended up raising, like you said, $42,000. It was well worth it, but certainly not anything that I’m planning on doing again in the near future. 

Chris Stock  

Clearly there’s a very strong, very clear motivation, but there must have been times when you were running that you thought what am I doing here? How do you get through those tough moments?

Scott Bell 

Yes, so there were definitely a few moments or periods of time where I questioned if I would be able to do it. You know, look, when you average it out over a long period of time, it’s an average of close to three miles a day, which, you know, on paper doesn’t sound that bad, but you have to sustain it throughout the year. You know, you’ve got other obligations. I’m an owner of a business and I actually got injured in the middle of it and had to take a couple weeks off. So when you start compounding some of those, you start reassessing the averages and saying for me to catch up I actually need to be doing five or six miles a day. So there were periods of time during those challenging winter months with an injury, where I certainly contemplated, not giving up, but you know, how difficult it was. But you know, look, I think you know, what’s kind of built into my DNA for whatever reason is just to continue to push each and every day, take it one day at a time. And that failure is not an option. So I think during those periods of time, that was really the mindset that I was able to carry, is just keep pushing every single day, do my best, and I’ll hit the goal.

Chris Stock  

Yes, I really like the analogy, as with so many things, especially in business, that sort of consistency of doing it every day. But for whatever reason you can’t and it builds up very quickly. But again, I think there’s a lot of parallels to life and business and building a business and growing a business even in that story. I’ve been working with some of your team over the last few months, and it’s really apparent they’re a great bunch of people. And I was interested in what is your success? You know, you founded this company. So what’s your success in creating that team?

Scott Bell

I certainly appreciate you saying that, Chris, I think as an organization, we’re really lucky and very fortunate to have a group of great folks working at Bell Media. They really care about each other. They care about supporting our core values and our customers. But I think you know, for any organization, whether it’s ours or any others to build a really good solid team, It definitely starts through core values and then hiring into those. So what we do during our interview and recruitment processes is we look for those that specialize in a specific product or service. We do have some generalists that cross different departments in the organization. But for the most part, when we hire, we’re looking for a specialty and I think that this has really helped us generate success at the organization. Because when you hire for a specialty, oftentimes it kind of breeds passion, because they’re already saying, like, I love doing this, this is what I want to focus on. And when you find that person, they’re going to be more likely to self educate and become an expert in their field. So I think the outcomes can be generated off of that mindset.

I think the other thing during the hiring processes, is do they have really high standards for themselves? Do they set personal goals? And then if you really start looking back at someone’s background, you can support that by saying, well, do they have a track record of success? You know, not things that they just say that they’ve done, but can they actually show and prove that yes, they have had a track record of success, whether that’s in college, post college, or if they’ve been in the industry for 30 years? What tangibly can they point to that speaks to us to say, they put forth all the effort, they set high goals and standards for themselves, and they have consistently performed at a high level. And then the last is, you know, one of the most important. Do they have integrity? Do they do what they say they’re gonna do, and do things at a high level. So, you know, if you think about the combination of those ingredients to hire someone, you reduce the likelihood that you’ll hire someone who’s a bad fit. And then after that, it kind of falls on us as an organization to create this environment where people with high standards can move up in their career and make progress in self educating and create an environment for that. So I think, you know, we’re always improving and always looking for ways to improve the organization. We have a long way to go to create amazing things organizationally at the company. But I think our foundation is really strong. And it’s because we’ve been able to fortunately recruit some really great individuals at the organization.

Chris Stock  

As you talk you’re very clear in terms of your values. And I think it’s a great strategy in terms of let’s hire specialists. And then sort of as you look at that specialist, that’s clearly motivated in that area. So as you say, they’ll self educate. But then, as you talk, you can hear you checking off that they meet the company’s values and clearly results are important for Bell Media. And again, that’s in a lot of your marketing that you put out there. How do you manage that part of their journey as well in terms of that constant delivery of results? Because I love how you’re hiring. How do you maintain that over a period of time?

Scott Bell

Yeah, so You know, if you hire people that are results oriented, if they’re not being given goals, then they’re going to ask for goals. So, I have to admit sometimes with certain individuals, they may ask for a different goal, they may ask for a new goal once they achieve or exceed their previous goals. So I think, again, it starts with that results oriented individual. Now, organizationally, you know, we’ve kind of tried to bake it into our DNA, that you’ve got a goal, you’ve got a next step that you want to achieve, and then continuing to reinforce it, compensate on it. And you know, we do it on an individualized basis, just like in any sales organization. Our sales team has goals that they have to achieve. Our customer success team does, but then we have some cross company goals that everyone has to achieve as a group and that’s, you know, are we maintaining our customer base, or are we churning customers. And when you start implementing some of those minimum thresholds for success across the entire organization, then it breeds a greater environment of not only achieving goals, but collaboration among the team. So it’s just like anything with core values, you can say it’s a core value. But until you start creating some reinforcing mechanisms, those core values are just words.

Chris Stock  

Absolutely. And I think actually it’s that measurement as well. That, as you say, reinforces and then you start to sort of live by those values. I know I left Intel in 2004. I left IBM in 2000. But there’s still traits I know that are sort of embedded in terms of how they brought me through their process and they’re good traits. But you know my values are sort of inherent of those organizations as well. We’ve come through an extraordinary time so far this year, and I’m interested from your perspective, not talking about the pandemic, etc. But just what has been one of your biggest takeaways for you personally through this period?

Scott Bell 

You know, I don’t think anybody can 100% prepare themselves for what almost every business or medical practice has gone through over the last 90 days. I think, as leaders or business owners, we have a tendency to ask ourselves am I prepared for a 10% dip in business or am I prepared for a really deep recession that affects my business 20 to 25%. I don’t believe anyone, kind of thoroughly prepares for the what if my business is shut down for 30 or 60 days, but I still have to kind of, you know, pay my expenses just like everyone else. So, you know, it’s certainly been a challenging environment for everyone. There’s been some support out there with some PPP funding and whatnot. But you know, as I have thought over the last 90 days, what are the takeaways? How can we improve as an organization? To be honest with you not, not a lot has changed in my mind from what happened in 2008 2009. Bell Media was in a very different place at that time. We were starting our billboard company, founded in 2008. We had three employees. So at that particular time, the business world was new to me. The organization was not bloated, our balance sheet wasn’t bloated, we were running a very, very lean organization at the time.

So it allowed us to kind of skate through, stay scrappy, keep winning business and not really skip a beat. In fact, for us, it was probably a tremendous opportunity. But what we maintained after that, again, is baked into kind of our DNA as an organization, I’ve been scared to death since 2008 2009, to go through that same situation. So we have kept the organization although we’ve grown, we now have, you know, 60 plus full time team members. We’re still a very, very lean organization. And as part of our annual budgeting process, we scrutinize every single line item and we ask ourselves, is this absolutely necessary? If it’s not necessary, it goes away. So every year we have a little bit of a pruning experience to make sure that we’re not bloated and that we don’t have to make some really drastic cuts if a challenging situation comes up. So that helped us going into the second quarter of this year with all of the challenges. And I think beyond that it’s kind of fundamental financial management, do you have enough cash? if you don’t have enough cash do you have funds that you can tap into relatively quickly? So I think if you run a lean business, and you’ve got access to capital, and your kind of foundational DNA as an organization is to scrap and fight together to make sure that you’re making it through it. You know, I think you’re set up for success.

Chris Stock  

I fundamentally agree with everything you say, but from you personally, what was that takeaway, if I go beneath the business level. What’s been your sort of, aha moment, that wow, or learning point?

Scott Bell 

Well, Chris maybe there are some others that feel the same way but like, you know, my business is kind of like a little bit of my baby. I’ve been growing it for so long so me personally and my business are extremely interconnected. I completely understand what you’re asking though. For me personally, It’s just been a realization that life and the environment and the economy and what can happen is very fragile. I’m constantly kind of taking a step back when not in the office to think about how fortunate I am to have what I do, not only from a business perspective, but from, you know, amazing family perspectives, you know, wife, I’ve got four year old twins. So, for me personally, I think it’s just kind of realizing and recognizing how fortunate we are and that you never know exactly what’s going to happen next week. So just kind of cherish what you have.

Chris Stock  

I totally get this sort of business and personal, I’ve run my own business now for 16 years and it’s just one and the same. I totally get that. So I’d just like to finish by discussing leadership a little bit more. And, I know from my own perspective, growing a business, these things don’t happen by chance. And I’m sure, like myself, you’ve had great mentors and coaches over the years. But what’s the one lesson that you’ve learned or that piece of advice that you’ve been given that really stands out for you in terms of being a leader?

Scott Bell

Yes, I mean, there’s so much that I’ve been able to learn and kind of pick up on, through a lot of different sources, self education, just constantly trying to make improvements and get better, still a long way to go. But I’ve also worked with a leadership coach in the past. And I think over the past five to seven years, as we’ve grown from a smaller organization to one that’s, you know, we’re now at a point where you have to have really good additional leadership. It’s not just a manager or two that can spearhead what we’re doing. It’s really creating a good leadership team that can really enhance and improve the culture of the organization. That’s critical. But as I’ve gone through the process of being a part of a growing organization, and seeing my direct impact on everybody’s kind of day to day life, I’ve realized I’ve got to do self reflection constantly.

And I need to fully understand what I’m great at, and what I’m not so great at. And that’s always evolving if someone’s continuing to improve in certain areas, but the areas where I don’t excel, I really need to be thoughtful about folks that I hire in, that I can be surrounded by, so that they can bring up our level, they can improve my skill set, they can complement what we’re doing to create a more well rounded organization. And I think that, you know, medical practices, doctors offices, they have the same issues. So doctors, you know, are likely going to be the most educated individual, they might have a high level of technical expertise and skill, but that doesn’t mean that they’re good at managing an office or leading a team. So it’s recognizing that and asking yourself, who are the individuals that I need to hire? What’s their personality profile look like? What are their skill sets, that not only I can learn from them, but they can help create a more well rounded organization. And I think that’s continuing to resonate for me as the company grows, how can we create a better organization by hiring really strong leaders that complement my skill sets?

Chris Stock  

Again, a very articulate and well rounded answer, the word that sticks out for me is reflection. And I think that’s the starting point to everything that follows, it’s that ability to reflect that self reflection, but also clearly it leads into awareness, and then what do I need to do? So, I think that’s a great place to finish. Thank you so much for being on this interview. And I look forward to continuing to build our working relationship and friendship going forwards. Thank you.

Scott Bell

Absolutely, Chris, thanks for the opportunity today and best of luck in the future.

 

Interview: Kary Smith

Interview: Kary Smith

In this interview TouchMD CEO, Kary Smith talks about the impact of COVID-19, how he and his team are supporting practices during this crisis and how to prepare for the recovery.

Chris 

I’d like to welcome Kary Smith, managing partner at TouchMD. Kary has led the business for over 10 years, TouchMD is a visual consultation, marketing and imaging software system that utilizes touch screen, iPad and smartphone technology, to enhance the patient experience and increase practice revenue. So it’s a privilege for me and an honor to have the opportunity to interview you. Kary, welcome.

Kary 

Oh, well thank you Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here today and have an opportunity to discuss, share some thoughts. So thank you.

Chris 

Thank you. And I know it’s a crazy time, so let’s just jump in. What have the last few weeks been like for you?

Kary 

Well, gosh, I want to say, you know, maybe five or six weeks, It’s been a little bit scary. We have nearly 52 employees so there’s a mixed bag of those that are at risk and high risk and those that aren’t. So that’s been a little bit interesting. Another fundamental change is that all the trade shows have been canceled. So when you look at what does that do to your company from a revenue standpoint with your sales team? And the same thing really has happened with in-office demos, with the practices primarily being closed. So it’s just been a little bit different navigation. I feel like there have been some peaks and valleys for us as a company through this time.

Chris 

I’ve often described it as a roller coaster, and as you look at those people potentially at risk, what’s that like for you?

Kary 

Well, I believe in people first of all, I think that’s the number one asset any company has. And I know there are different companies that look at things differently, but that’s one of the main focuses that we have here. The nice thing about TouchMD is we really can be a totally remote company. Everything’s cloud-based. Nobody would have to come into the office if they didn’t want to. We have a number of employees that work remotely and we have meetings here at our company headquarters. But with that being said, even through this pandemic time, we’ve left our company office open because we haven’t been mandated to shut. So our leadership team and those that have wanted to come to work have been able to do that. And those that didn’t want to come in stayed home, we respected that.

You know, everybody’s becoming proficient at the virtual meeting, so that’s been a plus. But I will say, I think from a morale standpoint, how being here for those that have wanted to and having some normalcy with  their day has been a plus. And, during this time I think there’s been a change, not a change in our culture, but a little bit of a change in energy and focus that’s taken place as everybody really has said how are we going to move forward and progress?

Chris 

What’s the biggest challenge you have as a leader right now?

Kary 

I think the biggest challenge that most companies are probably dealing with is number one, cash and how to handle cash and hold cash and protect the cash, so that you can make it through this time. The other part is projecting revenue and what that can look like or should look like over the next 60 days, 180 days and beyond. So those are two exercises from my level that have taken place that we’ve been working on. And then we hit on it a couple of times, but really morale and culture and making sure everybody’s feeling connected, safe and part of what our message is and what we’re presenting to the market in a collective effort. 

Chris 

That makes a lot of sense. It’s that old adage ‘Cash is King’ and as you say, what’s going out, what’s coming in and what’s actually in the bank. Let’s change the focus a little bit now onto your customers. What specifically is TouchMD doing to support practices during this crisis?

Kary 

Well, it’s interesting, we’ve always been known as the ultimate virtual consultation tool. To have that superior experience when you’re one-on-one with the practitioner, the educational value that you get with a TouchMD consultation versus other types of consultations they’re having in the aesthetic space. Doctors for a long time have been using TouchMD. We built the technology around being able to do a consultation with someone living out of the country or out of the area that could potentially share their images. The doctor can bring them up, they can have some communication about. So once this happened we really understood the huge pain point practices are having. How am I going to keep these consultations I have on the books now that this pandemic has happened?.

I don’t want to say we pivoted because we didn’t, we already had this available, but we refocused our energy around the virtual consultation. And the thing that’s valuable for us is we’re not the communication platform. We either work with Zoom or GoToMeeting or whatever the practices medium is for this face to face communication. But once they’re able to share their screen, a doctor can provide all the elements that they have in the office virtually, which makes it totally different than having a FaceTime conversation and you know, not being able to educate that patient during that virtual consultation process. So that’s been a huge win for our company and a huge win for our current TouchMD clients. Now along with that, because we felt like this was such a huge pain point for the market, we’ve never done this before, but we offered a 60 day free trial of TouchMD during this timeframe. 

So practices could get our technology, they could get up and running and they could use it to help with their virtual consultations, so that they could present some of those things they’re used to doing in the office in a virtual way. And in addition to that we came up with our most aggressive pricing that we’ve had to date, to help offset some of the loss that practices are experiencing, having been closed and still making it viable for them to purchase our technology and implement it, maybe during this time they have a little more downtime and the ability to integrate it with their practices. So aggressive pricing, the 60 day trial, and then the other thing that we’ve done is we’ve done a lot of practice check-ins, through our account management team just to make sure practices are okay and they’re doing all right, we’re understanding when they’re reopening. Then we’re offering additional trainings that they may want to take advantage of during this downtime that they have. It’s funny, most of our people are saying we’re more busy now than we were prior to COVID-19 because of this focus and the energy we’re putting around helping practices succeed.

Chris 

I’ve seen the TouchMD software in use within a practice and I love how you’re taking that to the virtual consult stage, which is just a natural extension of what you guys are fantastic at doing anyway. If you’re new to TouchMD do you have any sort of specific advice in terms of how to get in touch with you?

Kary 

So, they can go to the website, request the 90 days or 60 day trial and they’ll be plugged in. It’s been really interesting, you know we’ve had practices that were shut down on the West coast and the East coast that just implemented this virtual consultation. One of the practices commented to me just recently and he said, look at what you’re doing for my practice during this downtime. And he said, what are all these other companies doing for me? And he just was raving about it. He’s busy with consultations five days a week virtually, with nobody coming into the practice. And then he’s future scheduling those patients when he’s seeing this lifting 30 to 45 days out.

But he’s establishing that revenue path for his practice once he comes out. We had one group that, you know, just on a check in and we’re talking about these check ins that said, Hey, we don’t know what we’re going to do. And our account manager suggested the virtual consultation, and the office manager’s wife actually started crying and just said you saved our practice. And so I know some of these practices run really cash tight and everybody runs their business differently. So those kinds of confirmations have just been gratifying for everybody in our company.

Chris 

I think it’s fantastic and as you know what I do, I look at it through the lens in terms of that sales process, the consultation process. And I think sometimes it’s these crises that allow us to start working and operating in different ways, which actually is going to be far more efficient. If we do a pre consult or 50, 60% of the console remotely you’re going to see far more patients or potential patients and then in my language you’re qualifying the right patients for you and for them and it becomes a far more efficient process.

Kary 

I totally agree with what you’re saying. I think there’s going to be a very significant behavioral shift that takes place with our learnings as a society right now. It’s not just virtual consultations, virtual work, the government agencies are determining that this is much better. And this idea of making a patient drive three hours round trip for a followup when that could be done through a virtual process is something that’s going to stay. And I think you identify just through the sales process, I don’t want to use the word screening, but just making sure it’s the correct fit for the practice and the patient and being able to do that as part of their process is going to be huge. It’s more time efficient and it’s a cost savings to the practice and a revenue opportunity.

Chris 

I totally agree. Other than recommending TouchMD, which as we talk through clearly becomes a no brainer. What other advice are you sharing with your customers at the moment?

Kary 

Well, I mean obviously we’re telling them to continue to consult. We think that that’s a big piece. I also believe that the practices that seem to be forging forward out of this are continuing to communicate with their patients. And that’s done in a number of different ways. Phone calls, emails, social media, but there’s some type of communication mechanism. Not, Hey, we’re planning on being closed, but how are you?, this is what we’re doing, these are our services, let’s re-engage. And they’re using this as a positive time to communicate with patients in whatever forms they can. Which I think is great because as we come out of this, I know there’s going to be, we poll a lot and we know pretty much every area in the United States when they’re planning on reopening and their dates and all those kinds of things.

But as we poll them, they’re really seeing this pent up demand that’s happening because patients are at home, they’ve missed some treatments and they want to get back on the books. So coming out of this on reopening practices may want to ease into it just because of the social impact, but they’re going to have the opportunity to see quite a few patients coming out of this. We’ve also talked to them about improving their business processes, not just the processes that we talk about, but rather than sitting on the spare time they have, some training for their staff. All those kinds of things is what we’re suggesting to practices.

Chris 

I agree. I think there are huge opportunities by being proactive in the practice and working that through. I think social media and all of those ways in terms of communicating with patients is critical. I also think it’d be a great opportunity just to phone every single client. And for me it’s not about selling, it’s just about connecting and just saying, Hey, we’re here. This is our plan, this is what we’re doing. And just just checking in and making sure they’re okay. Pretty much like you said earlier on in terms of your account managers and phoning your customers. I think that we just need to be continually doing that. As practices start to see the easing and we are hearing that start to be spoken about, what should they be doing in terms of getting ready for a reopening?

Kary 

We’ve touched on a few things. My feeling is that each practice should be perfecting the virtual consultation process because of this behavioral change. I know it’s going to be something that stays. The virtual follow up, all these things should be something that a practice is contemplating how they are going to succeed in these various areas. The behavioral change, I hear that over and over and over again. One of the practices that I talked to said we’ll never see the 40 patients a day again. We may see 10, we may see 15, but the rest of it needs to happen in these virtual ways. It’s better for the patient, it’s easier on the practice. This is something that is a learning that I’m hearing, not insignificantly, but significantly. So I think coming out of this they need to understand that their peers are going to be doing this and how they are going to compete with other practices and what they offer from a virtual standpoint, as well as you know, what’s going to happen when patients come through the door. You’re a sales guru and so you know that there are so many things from the call to the check in to the exam room, what part of that will be done remotely? What part will be done in the practice? But everybody needs to change their thinking right now about what that’s going to be the future.

We feel fortunate from the standpoint that TouchMD with its virtual consultation really offers the best of both worlds. We have the ability to develop that two way communication piece, but you’ll see from what’s happened, there’ll be consolidation and there’s going to be a lot of things that happen on that piece of software. So the fact that we stay independent of that, we don’t care what a practice loves, if they love Zoom, they use that. If they love GoToMeeting, they use that. Whatever their thing is that they like or prefer, we just plug into that. And as far as being a company that offers this educational superior consultation process, we’re the only ones that we know of in the aesthetic space other than a company that would require you to change your EHR. And then of course we integrate with 26 different EHR’s so you can plug our technology and so I don’t know what will come in the future, you know, as far as competition with that. But right now we feel fortunate that we’re the only company that appears to be offering that in this space.

Chris

I think you’re making some hugely significant points. Too many for me to summarize in one go, including the very nice compliment so thank you for that. I’m changing back to a little bit about you. You’ve been the managing partner now for 10 years. That doesn’t happen by chance and I’d just like to think about it from a leadership point of view. I’m sure you’ve had great mentors and coaches over the years. What’s the one lesson you’ve learned or piece of advice you’ve been given that really stands out for you?

Kary

I was taught as a child by my parents, first of all, that respecting people is really what matters. And then each of the mentors that I’ve had along the way really have reinforced this idea that people matter. There’s a lot of products, but your success in your organization is going to be dependent on the type of people that you bring in, the cultural fit and then the way you treat those people over time. I’m really proud to say that our company, you know, we have great values and ethics, no doubt, but our environment is more like a family. You know, everybody matters, sometimes we disagree, but at the end of the day we’re all working for a common goal and everybody gets on board with that.

I think primarily that’s probably the thing that stands out to me the most. I mean, I’ve had mentors that have taught me how to work the channel, different business aspects. But when it comes down to it at the end of the day, what you take away from it, much of the gratitude gratification that you get from running your business is your customers, the relationships you have with your customers, even your vendors, you know, the relationships you have there and then those that you work with on the day to day basis. So if I were to say anything, I would just say work on perfecting and reinforcing those relationships up and down your organization.

Chris

I love it. For me, it’s all about the relationship. And you’re right, you need to learn sort of strategies and tactics, channel management, all of those things. But you know, the relationship for me is absolutely key and core to why we do all of this. I’m conscious of time. So to wrap up, what are your final thoughts or reflections you’d like to share at this stage?

Kary 

Oh geez. So this is kind of funny. When we did our SWOT analysis at the first of the year and we were evaluating threats, the management team did theirs and then each one of the auxiliary teams did theirs. The support team did their SWOT analysis, the dev team, the sales team and two out of the other three teams really came up with this idea of a recession. And from the management standpoint that really didn’t hit the radar. And so we were pretty much thinking that 2019 was great, 2020 is going to be better, you know, this is how we’re going to get to our goals. And then this idea of a recession, I don’t think anybody saw the pandemic coming. However, it did cause us to reflect a little bit.

I don’t know if mainly our groups were filling that cyclical thing that happens, you know, it seems like every eight years. But we took a few precautions. So my final thoughts are we’re going to come out of this, it’s going to be great, we’re going to be better than ever. I think the market is going to rebound. I would be shocked if the aesthetic industry is actually less than it was in 2019. I think it will forge past 2019 in product sales. But at the same time, I guess, the idea of planning for a rainy day is something that the pandemic is really trying to make us all aware of. I know that PPP programs by the government and some of the other initiatives are helping out, but there needs to be a little bit of a cash nest egg moving forward because you never know.

Chris 

I think there’s a lot of positivity there to end on. So again, thank you so much for being so gracious with your time today. I think you’ve provided such amazing insights. It’s really appreciated. Thank you.

Kary 

Oh, you’re welcome Chris. It has been a pleasure and thank you.

Interview: Pat Altavilla

Interview: Pat Altavilla

Our CEO, Chris Stock interviews Pat Altavilla, President and CEO at Suneva Medical during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview, he explores personal ups and downs, a look at leadership and what medical practices can be doing as they start to open their doors.

Chris Stock:

Good afternoon everyone. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Chris Stock. I’m the CEO of SalesMD. We’re a consulting and Med Spa sales training company, focused on helping Med Spas convert leads into patients.

I’d like to welcome Pat Altavilla, President and Chief Executive Officer at Suneva Medical. Pat has been with Suneva Medical for nearly four years and prior to her current role she was the Chief Operating Officer. Pat has also held leadership positions with Zeltiq, Bioform, Merz Aesthetics and Mentor Corporation. Suneva Medical are shaping the future of regenerative aesthetics with Bellafill, Puregraft and HD PRP.

It’s a real privilege and honor to have this opportunity to interview you Pat. Welcome.

Pat Altavilla:

Thank you very much Chris. It’s always been nice. I’ve always enjoyed our encounters.

Chris Stock:

They’ve always been fun and I’ve always come away with more understanding of this industry and your breadth and depth of knowledge. I’m cognizant of the time we have, so I want to just jump straight in.

We are where we are with this crisis, but just looking at it from your perspective, what’s it been like for you over the last few weeks with everything that’s been going on?

Pat Altavilla:

I will admit on a personal level, it’s been really crazy, very unsettling because I’m just not accustomed. This is not my lifestyle. Sitting still is not how I function. So, you can well imagine that being someplace for seven straight weeks without being on a plane, a train or in an automobile somewhere, is quite a transition. So, like everyone today, I’m sure we’re all on the emotional roller coaster of when does this end?

Chris Stock:

I totally understand. What’s the biggest challenge that you have as a leader right now?

Pat Altavilla:

Well, I think one of the biggest challenges any of us are experiencing is trying to keep our teams focused on the positive. Trying to ensure that everybody sees the light at the end of the tunnel and they’re praying to goodness as all of us are, that it’s not the train coming in the opposite direction, but that we can really see the vision post pandemic and really can articulate and visualize what happens next in a really uncertain time. You can imagine that’s a challenge.

And I always look at my little business, I have 111 employees, but I always say I have 111 families I’m responsible for. And I feel very responsible for doing the right things to ensure that there is a business after the pandemic.

Chris Stock:

I love the way that you talk about the business as a family because we spend so much time with our colleagues and I think that’s always a good sign of a good organization. And I think, again, that’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed working with you because of that family feel.

Pat Altavilla:

It’s important. I think it’s because we’re a small enough organization, we’re privately held, we really do believe in the future of our company. But like all small companies, you’re challenged with the economics of this and what do you do next? How do you make sure that you navigate the water, get out the other side and have a formidable business?

And honestly, I’m really quite excited about the other side of this crazy pandemic and how do you manage it? But I feel very optimistic that we’ll come out the other side in a much more robust position than we actually went into the pandemic.

Chris Stock:

Yes. These are scary times for business owners and businesses, but so often I find, having been a consultant now for 15 years, that actually sometimes it’s these times, these external influences that actually sharpen us up as leaders, sharpen the business up, get us focused on what are we doing, who it’s for.

Pat Altavilla:

I would agree, I think it does. I have this very firm belief that 90% of life is what happens to us. 10% is how we react to it. Absolutely. And maintaining a good attitude through it and really trying to be a true leader and keep your team focused and organized on the most important things.

Chris Stock:

I totally agree. I love that sentiment and love that sort of a position.

Suneva Medical are clearly a leader in the industry. What are you doing as the CEO in terms of leading this organization to maintain and strengthen that position?

Pat Altavilla:

Well, it’s a fascinating question. We’re a privately held organization and as a result of it, we are, you know, it’s been a little company and it’s been a little company for a very long time. We were a single product company until January of 2019 and I’m happy to say that was the transition we made into regenerative aesthetics and we’ve really qualified our position in that market. And that is what we are, the facial regenerative synthetics experts and therefore all of the products we bring into our portfolio will be focused on facial aesthetics.

Today we have three products in our portfolio. As of May 4th, we will actually have a fourth product in our portfolio and before the end of the calendar year we will have seven products in our product portfolio. So, on the other side of COVID-19 it will be a really different looking company. All of these products are focused in facial regenerative aesthetics, so it’s very exciting and it’s a very exciting opportunity for us to get to the other side of this and do what we know to do.

Chris Stock:

Love it. So, in amongst everything that’s going on, your product team, your product marketing team is 100% full on and we’re a week away from a product launch?

Pat Altavilla:

Yes. I tease myself and my team every day saying, okay you guys, we don’t have time to think about the pandemic. We have to stay focused on what we’re doing as a company and bringing the products online. Yes, we’re very excited, especially in this time because we were actually able to bring on five additional employees that we brought on from Sinclair Pharma, which is the company that we’re picking up their product installation and we will be the exclusive distributor of this product in the United States and Canada. So, we’re very excited and yes, we’re very busy getting ready for that launch and then several more on the heels of this one. So, focused and moving through getting ready for this.

Chris Stock:

For me, that’s been one of my takeaways, during this, businesses always have projects that are things that we need to do. In your case, it’s more than just a project, but it’s finding those things to really focus the team and ourselves going forward and keeping that momentum however you do that.

Pat Altavilla:

I agree, Chris. One of the most important things in trying to keep a team well organized and focused around next steps and to not let them, if you will, labor on the not so delightful part of our life right now, but to give them really good things to hold on to is to really have projects like that. I agree. Yes.

Chris Stock:

Changing it slightly. In terms of now starting to think about the practices, I know Suneva Medical provides great support to your customers already, but what specifically are you doing to support practices during this crisis?

Pat Altavilla:

Well, it’s a great question. I’d say probably 95% of our practices across the nation closed down mid-March and so clearly, we’ve been doing ongoing video training from a practice development standpoint. I’ll say this, I’m far less focused on selling products right now as you can well imagine.

I’m more focused on what our customers need and what support we need to give them to help them through this because no one person has gone through this challenge alone. We are all in this together and so we’ve been doing product education for doctors that are interested in learning. We’ve done practice development webinars that we’ve allowed people to participate in. And last but not least, it’s been a big focus of ours, is how do we get ready to deliver what we call the Suneva stimulus package. And we’ve been building all of the components of it to say what do our customers need?

We’ve been doing interviews with key opinion leaders around the country and really evaluating how they envision coming back to work and what they need to do to be effective at helping create a safe environment, not just for them and their staff, but also for their patients. And our job is to facilitate that opportunity for them.

Chris Stock:

Fantastic. That leads me into my next thought in terms of when things start to recover, what are your longer-term plans in supporting your customers? As we get back to the new normal as it’s being called.

Pat Altavilla:

Yes, we don’t know what that’s going to look like. It’s fascinating. I believe as of today we’re seeing about seven States start to open up and as those States start to open up between now and mid-May, that number may change. It may go upwards, but between now and then it’s really getting our customers ready.

You know, we’ve extended payment terms for our customers to take the heat off. We’re developing the stimulus program to help them be ready to service their patients and provide high quality products for their needs. But in addition to that, it really is just being sensitive to the needs of our customers. Many of the questions I keep asking our customers is when and if, do you really want to see a rep walk back into your office? Would you rather this be a phone conversation, a zoom meeting, or some other form of engagement that allows them to focus on the day to day activities of their practice?

We want to be there to serve them. We want to be there to help them develop their business again, but we don’t also want to be in their way. So, we’re being very sensitive to say, if a rep does go in and make a sales call, how does that look? Is it with a mask? Is it a specific appointment?

Many reps in this industry do what they call, sort of a fly by and they’ll stop by and say hello. Is there some other way we need to help our customers truly get their arms around their practice without interruption?

Chris Stock:

And what is that? If it’s not too confidential, because there’s some insight there that you’re picking up, but what are some of the trends that you’re seeing from the doctors in terms of how they want it to work?

Pat Altavilla:

Yes, I think everyone of course is recognizing that the number of patients that they bring into their practices will be challenged. They really will not have a lobby or a waiting room where people will be sitting side by side for weeks, minutes, hours, whatever. They’ve got to really be coming in with a purpose to get a treatment and then to be leaving. I think people are very sensitive to that. Rightly so for the safety of themselves, their staff and their patients, they should be.

So now the question becomes, how do we physically help them get there? And I think a lot of it is, I think it’s interesting, I lived through the recession of 2007, 8 and 9 in this industry and while the dermal filler market did not drop substantially, it was a different set of circumstances.

We didn’t have as many people unemployed as we do today. We did not then have the elevated fear of coming in contact with people. That is definitely precipitated in the market in the last seven or eight weeks. So, I think a lot of it now is what does a general dermatology practice look like versus what does an aesthetic practice look like? How do you engage patients? Are you a single doctor in a practice or are you a multiple physician practice? And then how do you start scheduling patients? I think this is going to be some of the landscape that our customers will be contemplating and I know they’re already thinking about it today.

The question then becomes what happens next and what happens when you really have to put this into practice? How does it work? It’ll be bumpy I’m sure as all new experiences are. But I’m certain we’ll get through this and I am certain we will be there as you will be there to really help the practices navigate through this very unique set of circumstances.

Chris Stock:

It’s a good point you’re making in terms of there’s a plan and that’s pretty hard to put together and thinking through all that, all of the elements to that. But then there’s the implementation of the plan and you know, two people bumping in the corridor. It’s like, what do we do? These things need to be thought through and even rehearsed.

Pat Altavilla:

Is there a different waiting area for certain patients versus others? I think it will really challenge people to think through their space and their space requirements differently than they have in the past.

Chris Stock:

Yes. You as an individual are regarded as a leader in this industry. As you know, I’m still relatively new to the industry and wherever I meet anyone, invariably your name comes up in the conversation. So, what advice are you sharing with your customers at the moment, in those one-to-one conversations that you’re having?

Pat Altavilla:

Well, it’s interesting and you’re very kind, Chris. I like to say the only reason you hear my name that often is just cause I’m old and I’ve been in the industry a long time, but in reality, what we’re really trying to do is line up our plan, our Suneva stimulus plan with exactly what the customers are needing. And the best advice we can give people today is to just stay focused on their state and local requirements. And I think they’re going to be pretty clear. It seems to be pretty broad across the country. That mask will become pretty commonplace for us, although a very rare thing for the United States in the past. It’ll be a new evolution and I think people will become more and more conditioned at some point. It’s going to be trying to take those training wheels off of people and getting them comfortable to be sitting in a space without a mask in the future.

Chris Stock:

Yes, I’ve had a number of similar conversations, how long is it going to be before we just hug, hug people and just shake hands, and even that sort of basic interaction, it’s going to take a while for that.

Pat Altavilla:

Sad, really sad because I think that’s a big part of our culture and it’s such a lovely part of our culture. I think so. Cheers to the day that we can all go back to our normal.

Chris Stock:

Yes. So, what specifically should practices be doing right now?

Pat Altavilla:

Well, I think the most important thing that every practice should be considering is what does it look like when the doors open again? I think in some States we’re already seeing people start to order products. You’re starting to see people really restricting the number of patients that they see in a day. And I do think right now that should be where they’re focused is how many patients do you bring back?

There is no question that there is a significant amount of pent up demand right now. We’ve all had far too many hours sitting in front of zoom. We’ve all had far too many hours sitting in our homes that I think everyone is at that point where they’re quite ready to go back and if those people that are blessed to still have employment and blessed to still have insurance, this’ll be a really important thing.

Those are the challenges, right? I’d love for us to have people be aware of what pent up demand looks like, because people are really going to have to be thinking through those laundry list of, call it a thousand patients that have been pretty routine patients to the practices and they have to be thinking about how long it’s going to be to really effectively treat those patients. How much time do they need? What procedures can they do in an hours’ time? Do they bring one patient in at a time? If they’re a private practice, what does that do for their staffing needs? And I think these are all, there are many, many considerations that I think everyone’s going through right now trying to assess. I don’t expect anybody’s going to have a perfect plan by the time the doors open, but I think people will have given a lot of thought.

There have been a significant number of webinars and thought tracks around how, where, why people can start bringing patients back in and getting them treated. The good news is there’s a lovely demand for aesthetic medicine, it’s hard to kill that demand which is great.

Chris Stock:

Yes. There is a huge shift in the economy and there’s going to be huge change, but there’s also a lot of people that are ready to make that trip as soon as it’s safe and it’s in place to do so.

Pat Altavilla:

I would agree completely. And so, it’s being ready for them. And it’s hard to gauge whether 50% of your practice comes back, whether it’s 20% of your practice. I think those numbers will be dictated more by what state they’re in and how adversely affected they were by the pandemic. And I think certain markets will take a little bit longer to come back up.

There’s a range of ages where I think people may be a little bit more intimidated about going back out too quickly and although they’re suggesting it’s the elderly, most at risk are the people that are immune repressed. You are seeing a really wide span of patients that are contracting the virus. So, it’s hard to say, but I can see that there would be some anxiety of an older or immune repressed patient about coming back out.

I think a lot of it is just beginning to understand the demographic of the practice. One has to be very careful about how and when they communicate with their patients. It is just extremely important for our practices really around the globe, to just simply express that they’re available to help in any way they can. Similar to how we feel about our practices. We’re here for you.

It’s hard to think that people are going to be out there doing marketing campaigns and driving patients in because at this point people are dealing with their own emotional activities and they will make the decisions when they’re ready to go. Yes. I think people are going to be looking, especially if people are underemployed or not employed, they’re going to be looking for promotions and discounts, it’s going to be a quieter way of promoting products than I think ever before.

Chris Stock:

I think you’re making a very good point in terms of the timing. There’s a balance to this because if you promote too soon, you can be perceived as being insensitive. I come from a sales background and my motto has always been about being of service and that’s what sales for me is about. If we continue to be of service, I’m here, how can I help you? The clients will tell us when they want us to start offering them more services.

Pat Altavilla:

I agree completely and really do think they’re out there. They want it, they want to know you’re available and that your doors are not closed. And I think from a physician perspective, they just need to make people aware that they’re there, what are their hours and their schedule will fill.

Chris Stock:

How do you see the consultation process changing? I know there’s been a lot of telemedicine and that’s playing its part right now. Do you see that continuing? Do you see a shift? What are your thoughts here?

Pat Altavilla:

I think it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to work for some of the market. I think it’ll be really challenging to not really see the patient to make a full evaluation. It may be that telemedicine is the initial consult and the initial discussion. And then as people start, really qualifying for the procedure that they’re consulting for then there would be an active appointment to bring them in.

Because I think the old days of doing 15 consultations in a day is probably not going to happen in the way it has in the past. And I think telemedicine or zoom or some type of communication line where people can really be evaluated before they come in might make it a more efficient practice.

Chris Stock:

I like the way you use the word qualified because that’s certainly the word I would use. And there’s been a number of clients I’ve worked with where actually even prior to this crisis, were doing that, I hate the word qualified because it doesn’t feel right in this industry, but it is that first conversation, first discussion with a potential patient before, going to that larger expense of bringing them in and going through a more detailed consult. I certainly see it as something that could come out of this as well.

Pat Altavilla:

Yes, I would agree. I think it’ll be an interesting process, but I think it’ll allow the physician to see more patients possibly over the course of time. There is still a schedule of patients that are already in the practice, they’re already having treatments. And so, you do have to ask yourself whether or not those people will just start setting up appointments over the next several weeks, post the state opening.

You and I’ve had this philosophical conversation over the years, the concept of going deep before you go wide. And it may just be that actually taking care of the existing patient population is a good place to start. And then having the ability to go wider subsequently making sure their existing patients are fully taken care of.

Chris Stock:

Yes, we have had that conversation and I totally agree. I think for me, I think one of the big things that practices could be doing right now, and I’m sure there’s lots of them doing that, but just phoning their patients, just checking in as another way of just saying, I’m here but have that conversation, and do nothing more than, Hey, we’re here.

Pat Altavilla:

Absolutely. I think it’s the subtle selling, if you will, where it’s just making people comfortable knowing that they have a place to go when all of this is over.

Chris Stock:

Yes. So just coming back to you, I’m also conscious of the time. You don’t become the CEO of an organization like Suneva Medical by chance, and I’m also sure you’ve had great mentors and coaches over the years. And so just coming back to the leadership lessons that you’ve learned. What’s the one lesson that you’ve learned, or that piece of advice that you’ve been given that stands out for you in terms of you being a leader?

Pat Altavilla:

One of the most interesting things that anyone ever said to me many, many years ago was the fact that there are no right answers. That you have to accept the fact that we’re all guessing and that we have to do the right things. And what that means in my mind is for the company, for the employee, for the customer, for the customer’s patient. And I live by that. I live by that motto every day, you did the right thing.

Chris Stock:

And I think more than ever now as we come out of this, what we’re talking about right now really applies. There’s no consultant out there that’s been through this that can say this is the answer. You know, they would be in demand right now.

Pat Altavilla:

No question. If you look back to 1918 and the Spanish influenza and we know that there’s no adult today that was an adult back then. So, we’re really learning and obviously modern medicine is far better today than it was in 1918, and that’s a blessing.

The reality is we have to continue to say, we really need to write about this. I said that to so many people. Everyone needs to write the chapter on how to effectively manage through a real crisis, not just, you know, people have crises all the time and it always tickles me thinking, really, but this is a real crisis and one we have to really contemplate the best strategies through.

And obviously there’s no pre-established rules and regulations around what you do or how you do it. So, navigating it is challenging, but it is definitely one we are all learning from. But may we never see one like this again.

Chris Stock

Totally agree. Let’s end it there. I think that’s a very poignant point to finish. Pat, thank you so much. I always enjoy speaking with you and I glean information and insights. Thank you so much for being here.

Pat Altavilla

Much appreciated, Chris. It’s my pleasure. I’ve always enjoyed our conversations as well, so thank you very much for asking me to speak with you today and the best of luck. Stay safe and stay healthy.