April 1, 2014, 12:17 PM

A pharmaceutical seller turns doctors seeking information into customers

Evolving Nutrition launched its business entirely on NetSuite software, from web site to accounting and inventory management, and grew from zero to 2,000 customers in two years.

Lead Photo

Amanda and TJ Abbinanti

Amanda Abbinanti is used to the occasional 4:00 a.m. phone call from a doctor asking about the ingredients and side effects of a particular medicine or supplement that her business, Evolving Nutrition, sells. But those calls are no longer so frequent—nor as crucial to the success of the business—since Abbinanti began selling through a new e-commerce site, she says.

In two years, Evolving Nutrition grew its online customer base from zero to 2,000, Abbinanti says. That’s partly because Evolving Nutrition’s e-commerce site and back-end business software provides easy access to more data about sales and customers, she says. That includes providing her access to that data through a mobile app. Last year, the merchant’s sales were up 20% and, this year, she says she expects them to grow by 30% or more.

As director of business development, Abbinanti runs the business with her husband, CEO TJ Abbinanti; her father and a handful of other staffers working in the warehouse, I.T. and sales. As a small, fledgling business, she and her husband say it was crucial to be able to purchase all of their e-commerce and business software from one vendor, NetSuite Inc. “That way we don’t have to have multiple applications for shipping, accounting, the web site, et cetera,” TJ Abbinanti says. “Always having someone you can call if you’re having issues takes the headache out of dealing with a different vendor for everything.”  

NetSuite also is easier to customize than other e-commerce software the Abbinantis vetted, the spouses say. For one thing, Evolving Nutrition needs to track not only product and order numbers, but also product lot numbers and expiration dates to keep in line with Food and Drug Administration guidelines, Amanda Abbinanti says. The software’s ability to easily manage those extra variables proved its worth recently when a vendor issued a recall for a particular group of products, she adds. “We had to pull up all the items sold to customers with that specific lot number, then call up all those customers and handle returns,” she says. “It would have been hard without NetSuite.”

Additionally, because of Evolving Nutrition’s agreements with pharmaceutical vendors, it cannot display wholesale pricing or sell to customers until they’ve verified their status as licensed practitioners, she says. The web site, therefore, requires a new customer to create an account and fax a copy of her license to be verified; that verification typically is accomplished within 24 hours, Abbinanti says. Once a customer is logged in, she can see prices.

However, most site visitors don’t need a login at first—they initially come to the site to research products and cross-reference them with their patient’s needs, such as dietary restrictions or allergies, Abbinanti says. Evolving Nutrition designed the site navigation specifically to facilitate that, working with a naturopathic doctor and a nutritionist to come up with the best filtering system to meet medical professionals’ needs, she says. Naturopathic medicine uses therapeutic methods and substances that emphasize illness prevention and self-healing.

The merchant’s I.T. manager collaborated with NetSuite to build the navigation based on Evolving Nutrition’s design. The web site took about three months to build and deploy, with about two weekly video-chat meetings between Evolving Nutrition and NetSuite, TJ Abbinanti says. Because all the software and meetings were web-based, the couple was even able to squeeze in a vacation to Hawaii during the process, logging in from afar and not missing a beat, he adds.

Evolving Nutrition also includes in its web site copy the full technical sheets that come with all its products, outlining everything from the ingredients to how the product should be administered. It also includes a link for customers to download a PDF of the full sheet that they can print out for their own reference. That has helped the merchant both to appear higher in natural search rankings and to convince doctors of its legitimacy, based on anecdotal evidence, Amanda Abbinanti says.

More and more new customers are now finding Evolving Nutrition online, rather than through cold calls, she says. When the site first launched in early 2012, about 50% of its customers would look up product information on the site, then call to place orders; today only about 40% do that, she says. “Every quarter we’re seeing an increase in Internet sales.”

TJ Abbinanti adds that NetSuite rolls out a new update to its software every six months, which happens automatically in the background without disrupting service. In the rare instances that Evolving Nutrition’s web site or other NetSuite software has gone down the vendor has fixed the problem in no more than a half hour, he says. As a nontechnical businessperson, he says that’s reassuring. NetSuite delivers all of its technology over the Internet, as software-as-a-service, freeing Evolving Nutrition from having to maintain its own e-commerce software. If Evolving Nutrition operated its own on-premise software, licensed and installed on its own machines, he says he’d have to frantically work to figure out what went wrong any time a glitch cropped up.

NetSuite costs about $13,000 per year, TJ Abbinanti says. “It’s definitely well worth the money.”

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