Mix business and pleasure
Introducing a bit of imagination and a staff focus to product sales can motivate the team.
To some team members, selling products and managing inventory is nothing more than a severe pain in the you-know-where. I choose to see the task as an incredible opportunity and privilege. There is nothing better than being able to recommend a solution to a client who has a problem with his pet. To hear the client rave later about the success he found is extremely rewarding.
With the improved weather coming, now is the time to do some spring cleaning on our attitudes toward product sales and find innovative ways to showcase our recommendations.
The first step is realizing that all hospitals make conscious decisions about which products they believe are a good fit for their respective clienteles. This is an important detail to share with your staff — that the product lines found in your hospital were purposely selected. The practice owner or senior veterinarian should take the time to highlight a product or product line and explain why and when it is recommended. Consider focusing on it for a month or a quarter.
If we are going to have a product focus, we might as well make it fun for the team at the same time. It is the responsibility of team leaders to implement activities they believe will resonate with the staff. These don’t have to cost much or be so complex that weeks or months are needed to implement them. Just choose something that will create a buzz and remind the staff to remain focused on the goals at hand.
Where do we start? First, identify products or lines that you wish to highlight during selected times of the year. I find that quarterly periods work better than individual months — it always seemed we got into the groove and then the month ended.
I can hear some of you asking, “Shouldn’t we be focused on all of our products all of the time?” In an ideal world, yes. But let’s be practical. You will find greater focus and buy-in from the staff if you keep things simple. The thought of trying to focus all at once on every product you carry is a bit daunting.
Once we have created a calendar, let’s set realistic and objective goals. Look at the previous year’s sales and set yourself up for growth. Perhaps you decide to focus on parasite control or flea and tick medication during the second quarter of 2018. Maybe you focus on dental health in the first quarter of 2019. The idea is to create a scoreboard and metrics that your team can follow daily and visualize how individual efforts help the team inch closer to the goal.
On the metrics chart, list three to five benefits of the highlighted products. We need to keep the focus on the product benefits, not the income. Revenue is and should be the secondary focus.
Next, create a chart on which team members can write the name of a successfully treated patient or a related short story. This is a critical step in achieving traction and buy-in from the staff. To see and hear success stories will lead to repeat behavior by your devout team.
Now that you have identified a focus and goals, and the entire staff is comfortable with educating clients about the product or line, it’s time to reinforce the expected behavior. I have done several entertaining incentive programs over the years.
One that comes to mind was a Valentine’s promotion during February. At the start of the month, we filled a bowl with over 250 grade-school Valentine’s cards. On 10 percent of the cards, a prize was noted — everything from a free cup of coffee or a movie ticket to a restaurant or carwash certificate. A team member who took time to educate a client about the focused product was allowed to draw a valentine out of the bowl and see if it was a winner. If the client education led to better compliance because the product was purchased, two valentine cards were selected.
The approach might seem a bit childish, but during all of February we saw a complete behavior shift in staff members as they became proactive about helping with product recommendations. The incentives became a watercooler discussion each day about who won what. Our goal of developing and reinforcing new habits was accomplished, and the behaviors continued beyond February.
Another time, we did something similar for an entire quarter. The focus was on parasite prevention and the theme was Willy Wonka and the golden ticket. Like with the Valentine’s promotion, a staff member could select a small candy bar when a product recommendation was completed and two bars when compliance was gained. This time, the candy bar was opened in search of a golden ticket tied to a prize. The breakroom donned pictures of Charlie, Veruca, Violet, Augustus and, of course, Mr. Wonka.
Sometimes we need a little silliness in a world filled with stress and demands.
Share the Fun With Clients
The fun can extend to pet owners, too. When they understand the benefits and value of a product and agree to purchase it, we can reward them. Create a promotion you think will excite your clients. It could be the chance to enter a raffle for additional product, or a small donation in their pet’s name to your clinic’s favorite non-profit group, or a small value-added item.
Talk to your manufacturing representatives. They would love to partner on something fun. The idea is not to be gimmicky. We are not trying to persuade a client to purchase a certain product because of the “chance to win.” We simply want to acknowledge that they are doing something wonderful for their pet and we want to reinforce the positive decisions they make.
Last holiday season, we celebrated the 12 days of Christmas by offering 12 percent off a selected product each day. We brought in a stuffed Snoopy wearing a stylish Santa hat. On each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas, Snoopy would sit on a selected product to signal what was 12 percent off that day. Photos were shared on the clinic’s social media accounts each day to identify the focused product. It was fun to see clients come in to buy the “Snoopy Santa Special.”
At the end of the day, product sales are all about our attitude. We carry and recommend specific products that will lengthen and better the lives of our furry friends.
Compliance does not come without education. All the pretty packaging and colorful brochures won’t get a client to say “yes.” Confident and consistent education and demonstrations by your staff each week, each day, and during each visit will achieve compliance. Make the process fun, and in doing so reap the rewards of simultaneous growth and success.
Selling Points columnist Brian Conrad is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Centers in Kennewick, Washington, and immediate past president of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.