American Orthodontics invests in business-critical ecommerce

Before going live with a new ecommerce platform, medical device manufacturer American Orthodontics Corp. needed to replace a legacy enterprise resource planning system, which siphoned away time and resources. The company also needed to support its sales representatives and consider a rapidly changing regulatory landscape, all while offering customers the online convenience and reliability they expect.

American Orthodontics’s ERP, which it uses to manage financial and other business operations, and its AODirect.com ecommerce site platform were outdated, rigid and not supported any longer, says Peter Drozda, business operations manager.

“Each year, there are less and less people who we can call to support us or fix the system should something go wrong,” Drozda says. “The question for us was, what is the cost of not doing this project?”

Peter Drozda, business operations manager, American Orthodontics

But in the rapidly changing medical device industry, where a global customer base demands an easy-to-use online venue for ordering complex products meeting strict government regulations, Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based American Orthodontics realized that an ecommerce and ERP upgrade was a necessity.

Without disclosing the project’s exact cost, Drozda says ecommerce-related expenses are estimated to make up about 25% of the total multimillion-dollar price tag.

The planning process began in 2018, with a firm plan in place by 2019. Between COVID-related delays and necessary project changes, American Orthodontics was able to confirm a July 2022 launch date by late 2021. The plan is on track, with customers the site as the date nears.

The company turned to Avensia, a provider of digital technology deployment services, to address its complicated business. Return on investment was top of mind. American Orthodontics is using Optimizely for its ecommerce technology and content management system, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations for its ERP.

American Orthodontics also uses Salesforce.com’s customer relationship management (CRM) software, which will integrate with the new Optimizely ecommerce platform and support personalized web content and marketing tied to information on customer activity. In addition, American Orthodontics uses Bigtincan sales enablement software, which the dental products manufacturer brands internally as AO Marketing Hub. “This project has so many far-reaching tentacles into every aspect of our business that there isn’t a simple ROI calculation that can be made,” Drozda says.

Getting its technology optimally was crucial. For example, American Orthodontics must deal with the latest round of government regulations on medical devices — unique device identification (UDI) in the US and medical device reporting (MDR) in Europe, which require unique global identifiers on each manufactured device for safety and tracking purposes — that have caused manufacturers to reassess their technology systems to ensure they can easily comply.

And timing, a quick response to customers with easy ordering and accurate inventory and information, was critical to the customer experience, Drozda says. For example, American Orthodontics’s old legacy system could not handle electronic data interchange (EDI) for the exchange of business documents and punchout software for linking customers’ procurement systems to the manufacturer’s ecommerce site.

“The only constant is change, and as such, it was critical for us to select an ERP and ecommerce platform that could handle change and have guaranteed support in perpetuity,” he says.

Plan and execute

A major upgrade required input from all departments, including senior executives, information technology (IT), product managers, marketers, and the ecommerce and sales departments. About seven mid- to senior-level managers from each of these areas, as well as subject-matter experts on both the technical and strategic operations of these areas weighed in. Weekly meetings throughout the project and monthly executive reports kept priorities in line and helped them communicate between each department.

The question for us was, what is the cost of not doing this project?

Peter Drozda

American Orthodontics

“Once the tactical phases of design, development and testing commenced, this group was also expanded into a larger group for more detailed feedback and collaborative status meetings,” Drozda says. “This also gave these ‘super users’ a forum for concerns and/or success stories to be shared.”

Because the customer experience component is critical to an ecommerce platform launch, Drozda served as a liaison between customers, sales reps, customer service and marketing, and other business units.

“No decision is made without consulting me as the customer representative to assess any customer impact,” Drozda says.

And those customer-related decisions are not made on assumptions, he says. American Orthodontics solicits frequent feedback from customers via sales and customer service reps and directly from customers.

A simplified system for subsidiaries

American Orthodontics sells to about 25,000 customers globally, including orthodontist office subsidiaries of large dental organizations, in an industry that demands a complex ordering process. There are hundreds of subsidiaries ordering custom prescription-based products. American Orthodontics sells to customers in more than 110 countries, but about 50% of its orthodontist office customers are based in the US and Canada.

The manufacturer’s custom product assortment, with a million or more product combinations spread across 16 categories, is geared entirely to orthodontics supplies. A product like braces requires a prescription and could include as many as 21 to 28 brackets per mouthful of teeth. There are varying sizes and variations like torque angulation, rotation and slot size, among other factors. The ecommerce platform intends to simplify that.

Prescriptions vary depending on a patient’s needs. It is important that the dentists ordering the brackets and other items can easily click through the different quantities and templates without having to sit through a full catalog.

“The doctor will have to locate those 20 parts out of upwards of 1,000 options every time, and there are some regulatory hurdles that we’ve had to overcome with that,” Drozda says.

Ready-made templates help make the process easier. Part of the process includes ensuring compliance with federal UDI regulations. Each assortment of 20-plus products must include readable barcodes and regulatory information on the packaging. That way, if there is a recall or a doctor wants to easily identify what they’ve used, they can refer to that information quickly and easily.

Efficiency from the user side is also more cost-effective from American Orthodontics’ side because if orders flow easier through the system, there is less manual processing and lower return rates, says Johan Liljeros, general manager and senior commerce advisor at Avensia.

“American Orthodontics can ensure they deliver the right combination out of a million combinations. They are the aggregate,” Liljeros says.

People and payments

American Orthodontics’ goal is for 100% of its customers to place payments through the online portal. But Drozda says it does not plan to move the entire customer experience online, as it’s the consultative process between sales rep and customer that allows it to offer the prescription-specific purchasing experience.

Currently, 25% of customers place orders online. The company wants to double that within the next five years — but the plan is not to exceed 50%.

“We never want that number to reach 100%,” Drozda says. “That speaks to our consultative selling process. Some doctors don’t want to deal with the ordering process and want to speak to a representative. They can still do that, but we want to offer the most user-friendly tool as possible.”

The push behind a hybrid online and sales rep approach aligns with American Orthodontics’ complex orthodontia products — they do nothing else.

“If we went 100% online with our customer purchases, we’d lose that consultative edge and we’d also have to simplify our catalog to a degree that would cancel out that competitive edge,” Drozda says. “We’d be commoditizing what we do best.”

The website will help ease the purchasing-order process as well as the payments process. Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) are corporate accounts, which are a large chain of 200 to 300 dental offices that require an entirely different level of purchase-order processing from singular offices that include approvals. Ordering assistants, procurement managers or the doctor must all go through different levels of access and approvals. Each person’s role requires them to access different data, and they are all able to do so through the same portal, he says.

The goal is to have at minimum 60% of customers using the payments portal by the end of the year if the site goes live in June, Drozda says. Customers have asked to be able to pay online, and he expects a big shift from the current situation, where 90% of all American Orthodontics orders or payments are still placed over the phone.

Customers will be able to pay as well as manage their accounts, see balance information and sign up for prescription programs.

“It’s like a full B2C experience within this B2B site,” Drozda says.

The same tool is used for both internal and external users. Whatever a sales or customer service rep can see, the customer can see the same set up.

“American Orthodontics sales reps are using this portal as a sales enablement tool, giving them the same view of everything as the customer,” Avensia’s Liljeros says. “It makes it easier for reps to assist the customer and help them work out the order themselves.”

Drozda says the company wants to avoid a frustrating experience where a doctor is trying to understand how to make an order but is looking at a different screen from the sales rep.

“And I’ve heard this firsthand from doctors when they describe working with a competitor’s rep,” Drozda says. “That lack of transparency causes confusion and frustration — they end up just calling the rep to say, ‘Hey, can you just handle this for me?”

Sales will also be able to more easily apply promotions for customers, a process that was previously difficult to maneuver on the old ERP system, Drozda says.

“It’s a most user-friendly way to sell promotions, whether that’s a bundle of goods at a certain price or volume discounts,” Drozda says. “Anything you can think of, buy X and get Y. All of that was very manual for us before the upgrade because of our ERP limitations.”

And with customers using the online portal, that will free up customer service reps to provide more value-added time to customers “instead of just triaging on order maintenance,” Drozda says.

Coupled with an automated order process — addressing business issues, revenue, compliance — everything boils down to facilitating growth, says Avensia’s Liljeros.

“It’s about how we can facilitate growth while lowering any strain on the lower organization,” Liljeros says. “More traffic will come to the site, and how will it handle that? So it’s about anticipating that growth and growing with it.”

And there is no generation of revenue without taking care of compliance first, Drozda says.

“The FDA could shut our doors if we don’t do certain things, and these are considerations we have that a clothing site might have much simpler regulations,” Drozda says. “We had to spend a lot of time on that compliant section.”

With July 2022 quickly approaching, Drozda says the project is on track and essential.

“If we don’t have the technical flexibility to keep up with regulatory compliance, and if we can’t meet the ever-changing needs of our customers, we would not last long in this — or any — business,” he says. “The justification for this project is in ensuring we can do those three things for the next generation and beyond.”

Peter Drozda, business operations manager at American Orthodontics, will speak on B2B ecommerce strategies in separate sessions covering how to sell complex products online and integrating CRM with ecommerce at EnvisionB2B Conference & Exhibition in June.

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