Reinvigorating the 800 lb. Gorilla: the DENTALEZ Story
Over 100 years in the industry, DENTALEZ was a major player in dental equipment — until about twenty years ago. But they didn’t keep up with digital advancements and other customer needs, and ultimately became just another of many competitors in the field.
That is, until Heather Trombley joined them. Heather had a background with some heavy hitters in medtech, particularly a long and successful career at GE, where she felt on top of the world, working at a first-class company. She was Regional Sales Manager for GE Consumer and Industrial before being tapped as Global Product Manager for GE Healthcare for a patient monitoring division, formerly under other ownership that now wanted some GE DNA. That meant more focus on rigor and metrics, plus an emphasis on the market. Heather focused on solving problems for customers. In addition to enjoying the challenge of managing product lines, she fell in love with healthcare, recognizing it as a field that had a distinct purpose-driven nature. Later, as VP and General Manager at Conmed Corporation, Heather gained insight into the orthopedic sector of the healthcare industry. When she joined DENTALEZ as President and COO, she recognized that there were similarities in channel distribution and other aspects of her Conmed experience that she could carry over to dental. DENTALEZ had a strong focus on operations and manufacturing, but she saw that it did not have a strong voice-of-customer understanding, and its marketing needed improvement. She recognized a need to shift the culture to being more purpose-driven – communicating a mission to improve oral healthcare and the company’s role in that mission. She began a program of understanding the customer and defining value. DENTALEZ had lost relevancy and market share, despite still being a recognized player. A related problem was that most of the industry professionals who had regarded DENTALEZ highly in its heyday were retiring, and the company didn’t have the same reputation among new graduating dentists who were establishing their practices. How could they make a difference? The major strategy was to leverage that understanding of customer needs. Since DENTALEZ was regarded as solely a “me too” manufacturer, Heather saw they could adopt advanced technology and help make the practice of dentistry easier and more efficient and start to be recognized as a leader. Dentists use numerous devices that they cannot repair or maintain themselves, so they depend on the distributors to provide service. But that service often takes time to employ, and requires a visit to the office to work on the machines. Heather set out to accomplish three targets: accelerating the technology in their products, accommodating smart tech, and integrating all this to provide a more efficient practice. Her steps were to get in line with trends in the industry, modernize their products with a focus on simplifying and being able to scale practices and effectively message the benefits of these new products. One important insight was that understanding the macro trend of measuring patient outcomes. If DENTALEZ made that goal a part of their mission to enable the dentist to focus on the patient and outcome versus the equipment necessary for a procedure, they could attract the attention of dentists who are on the same page. This involved taking some of the “noise” out of the system – making equipment easier to use, set up, more reliable, and maintenance and repair quicker and easier. So DENTALEZ created an innovative process of being able to identify problems and malfunctions remotely, cutting down on repair time and cost. This significantly reduces downtime for the dentist and improves patient outcomes. They also built into the value proposition techniques that were common in other parts of the industry but lacking in dentistry, like video training on demand for the service people at their distributors.
LAUNCHING THE LINE Once they had these elements in place, the task was to launch the new DENTALEZ – the company that would solve the problems of both distributors and dentists, and create messaging that went beyond the old technical-service productfeature focus. An attendant complication, though, was that the launch was scheduled for February 2020, just as the pandemic was becoming a global problem, affecting healthcare especially. Unlike other healthcare professionals, dentists could not do much in the area of telehealth. Their services need to be delivered in person, and it took a while for many practices to figure out the best safety procedures to accommodate patients and to procure PPE. So DENTALEZ had to determine what to do in the meantime to address the problems of their audience. As it happened, the customer-focus part of Heather’s strategy was exactly the solution needed. They embarked on a campaign that educated dentists – not just on the use of products, but on the whole scope of running a practice, so that DENTALEZ was now seen as a valued partner to turn to in a difficult time. The development of remote monitoring and diagnostics was additionally important. Now you didn’t need a technician to come to the office, dragging out assessment and repair. DENTALEZ had people who could alert the dentist to maintenance needs and speed up the process of getting back into operation. This was pivotal in reducing unnecessary exposure and improving efficiency. Under their new Aeras Intelligent Platform line, for instance, DENTALEZ provides actionable information, accurately, quickly and conveniently. Every Aeras product collects and shares data, streamlining standard-of-care processes. Creating new connections between vital equipment and key practice operations, Aeras has cloud-based diagnostic capability that forewarns staff and service teams, allowing for targeted diagnosis and service planning – all of which can be done remotely, improving service effectiveness and eliminating unproductive visits to the office. This allows the company to deliver state-of-the-art dental practice solutions for interconnectivity, choice and control. They went public with the launch at the Chicago Dental Society Mid-Winter Meeting, with new corporate branding and design, a new booth design, and their strategy and mission unified and codified. It was all aimed not just at product/feature messaging, but at addressing what the market needed.
DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC Obviously, the Covid-19 crisis affected everything that DENTALEZ and their customers needed to do. DENTALEZ started providing virtual training sessions, putting out information available on any mobile devices. They held digital meetings, leveraging video to communicate quickly, graphically and powerfully to sales partners and dealers. They helped these people understand how to market to dental offices without having to walk through the door. But another part of the plan was to adapt their internal culture to the process. Heather had to get her own staff accustomed to digital communication and marketing. The old style was to get on a technician’s training schedule and send a trainer out with the product and teach them how to use it. Their distributors have over 800 technicians, so this could be time-consuming. But with their new web-tool based training, they could speak to larger groups of technicians all at once, providing training online. Heather says “In the 21st century, this seems like an obvious thing to do, but it was a real pivot for the dental industry.” A great piece of luck was that DENTALEZ had incorporated a scheduling feature into their technology. Now it seemed the product was designed for a pandemic. During long absences, equipment should periodically cycle for optimal performance so it’s immediately available when needed. The DENTALEZ smart scheduling could watch their equipment and keep it automatically turned on and cycled down, so it was ready when needed.
GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT The pandemic required the marketing mix to change with free content not only about products, but about processes, such as posts on how to flush your water lines – helpful hints that professionals appreciated. Current relevance was key to their messaging. This all provided numerous benefits. Dentists on the DENTALEZ system could be more competitive, since they had fewer worries about the operation of equipment. The dentists and the distributors had immediate access to technicians and training materials. For DENTALEZ, this also meant that they were getting more feedback from their market, understanding the hurdles that needed to be leapt for both distributors and end-users. This was a paradigm shift for both manufacturer and customer, helping to boost value and visibility of DENTALEZ and its product line. Attendant to the new face of DENTALEZ is their use of social media. When dentists are at home more often, they have more time to learn from the information DENTALEZ is putting out and keeping relevant. Heather says “Respecting the distribution channel doesn’t mean you can’t simultaneously be in touch with the dentists directly.” Ultimately, what this meant was that dentists are better prepared, both during downtime and when they get back up to full operation. And they view DENTALEZ as a full partner in their practice.
THE OVERALL VIEW All this progress came out of some basic but highly important vision components that Heather has brought to DENTALEZ. First, listen to the customer’s voice. That will tell you where you need to go. Then, align your internal team to those goals. This may require some culture change, but they will appreciate it when the results come in. Finally, keep an eye on the future. Eventually competitors will recognize your success and do their best to catch up. But you always have to be a step or two ahead of them. Heather says “We’re here to make it simpler and easier to practice dentistry. We want to help the dentist focus on the patient and the outcome, not the equipment. That’s our job. Even though we sell through service organizations, we are creating value for all the players.” •