Interview: Aaron Burton

Written by Chris Stock

Chris Stock helps Plastic Surgery Practices and Med Spas grow their revenue by converting leads into patients. With over 30 years of sales experience, including 15 years as a world-class sales expert and speaker, Chris has the expertise, know-how and strategic vision to deliver results every time.

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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.

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