Interview: Pat Altavilla

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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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.

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