IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Sinking Your Teeth into a Vertical

PointClear Networks’ deep knowledge of the dental industry helped it establish a foothold that is now expanding to other specialties within healthcare IT. By C.J. Ezell

BITES OR BYTES? If you want to target a vertical industry, learn the language, understand the workflow, and build relationships. For PointClear Networks, that means offering our dental practice customers Tier 1 level support for their practice management software, installing and integrating X-ray equipment and other devices with back-office systems, and knowing the difference between a panoramic view and a bitewing image.

Anybody can throw up a network, but when you understand the role that computers and technology play in the back office and in the treatment area, and confidently have a conversation with doctors using their terminology, they immediately understand that you get their business. It puts you on a different level from every other IT provider who walks through the door.

This is a lesson I learned with my previous company, ASI. We picked up a half-dozen dental practices early on and word spread. When one customer asked us to install and integrate some digital X-ray equipment, cameras, and sensors, we ended up working with the manufacturer. This opened our eyes to possibilities, and we became partners with Kodak Dental Systems.

Many dental practices did not have an IT provider in the early 2000s, so after the Kodak sales rep brought us into a customer site we would then have a conversation about designing and maintaining their network.

Eventually I sold ASI, which had grown to about 200 dental practices and $1.2 million in revenue, most of which was break-fix. The only managed services revenue we had at the time was our off-site data backup and hosted services, which the buyer didn’t want, so I kept that business.

In 2013, after my contractual obligations from the sale were over, I launched PointClear Networks. We focused on healthcare IT and being a one-stop shop. With the managed services model we are now producing more revenue per employee than my previous company did.

PointClear Networks today provides all the networking infrastructure—the cabling, the switches and routers, and the computers. We also white-label the fiber, provide internet access, and offer hosted VoIP.

Dental is still 90 percent of our customer base, but we've made some good strides over the last 12 to 18 months bringing in chiropractors, optometrists, and other specialists. The basic workflow is the same; it's just different terminology and equipment.

We honed in on these specialists by following the advice in The Pumpkin Plan. We identified our worst customers—the small, five-user practices that drained a lot of our time—and stopped marketing to that type of client. Then we identified the 10 to 15 customers we liked working with the best, created a profile of our perfect client, and targeted those practices. While dentistry in general isn't that price sensitive, the specialists tend to be even less price sensitive because they understand how much they lose an hour in downtime. After this exercise, our business started to boom.

Chew on This

So if you’re thinking of getting into a vertical, first and foremost know that it’s about building relationships. Once you become their trusted adviser you’ll very rarely have a price discussion.

For healthcare IT, you also have to understand HIPAA requirements and balance that with keeping the networks easy and friendly enough for the staff. And note that under the newest regulations, as their IT provider, if you are directly responsible for a breach you do have liability. We work with both the HIPAA Secure Now! and Breach Secure Now! security platforms to train our staff.

Customers will also expect you to be their first line of support for their practice management software. We’ve developed in-house training material to keep our techs up to speed. If our tech doesn’t know something he or she calls vendor support; that way the customer’s staff aren’t tied up on the phone and the resolution is faster.

Finally, make sure that you're working with people who understand the value of their time as much as they understand the value of your time. Then everyone will be smiling.

Photography by Toni Riales

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