Selling Points columnist Brian Conrad is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Washington, and a past president of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.
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Sports fans know that their favorite teams’ seasons have a beginning and an end. Professional hockey, baseball, football and basketball leagues have a training season, a regular season and a playoff season that concludes with a championship. It’s a beautiful cycle, and all teams get a restart every 12 months.
Running a veterinary hospital, on the other hand, is a year-round undertaking, year after year. Imagine if each year we learned where we finished in the team standings and the work that needed to be done so that we could compete better next time and improve in other ways.
While athletes and veterinary teams both wear uniforms, the similarities stop there. Professional sports teams have the luxury of reevaluating their coaches and players and resetting annual goals. With preseason training, sports teams get to introduce new teammates, implement new systems, and adjust or eliminate old strategies. Veterinary clinics, unfortunately, have no automatic annual reset.
We must take time to get back to the basics of team education, systems and protocols. To find success within our hospitals, we need better core training.
Let’s use your pharmacy as an example. When was the last time you got the team together to review the importance of flea and tick control, the need for monthly parasite medications or the prescribing of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories? These are products we recommend and sell daily, but when was the last time your team was educated about all the latest advances and recommendations? One year ago? Five or 10 years ago?
Many of us will realize that we neglected to share such information, and then we wonder why our compliance numbers are down. For our hospitals to be successful, we have to reset our thinking each year and make sure we are always reviewing and retraining. We cannot forget that we have doctor and staff turnover and that new employees don’t know what they don’t know.
Here are seven keys to successful product sales.
1. Consistent Messaging From Doctors
Our veterinarians have to be on the same page. A doctors meeting needs to take place regularly to ensure a consistent and confident message is shared about the product lines we recommend. Make sure your veterinarians meet quarterly to discuss all the product options. Associate veterinarians should be encouraged to contribute their thoughts and opinions. Veterinarians at my practice tour exhibit halls when they attend continuing-education conferences, providing them with updated product information that might change their recommendations. During doctor meetings, give everybody time to discuss what they learned. Once the medical staff agrees on product recommendations, that clarity needs to be shared with the entire team.
2. Educated and Trained Staff
Once we have clarity, the staff can be trained or retrained. I realize some employees have heard about the life cycle of the flea 10 times. I have heard it 25-plus times, but I still would have trouble writing down all the specifics. My point is that we need refreshers. Much like spring training in baseball, staff education is a time to review the fundamentals. Baseball has rookies and veteran players who all hear the same message. Make sure your new and senior staff members are hearing and reviewing the same messages often.
3. Educated Clientele
Let’s learn from food sales. Studies conducted by the American Pet Products Association showed that clients are willing to spend money on premium pet food if they understand why and how the diet does what it claims to do. This is the time to make sure your staff is clear and concise in the messages they present to pet owners. Barriers will start to fall and food will begin leaving your clinic when clients understand they aren’t being upsold. A staff that is educated and confident can make clients feel educated and confident about their purchases. This is integral to increasing client compliance.
4. Availability of Products
We live in a society where convenience and ease are highly valued. If you want to deter clients from buying food or medication you recommended, make them jump through multiple hoops to get it. During your hospital’s “spring training,” review and reset the quantity of each product kept on hand. Ensuring that recommended products are in stock is critical to a hospital’s growth and success.
5. Ease of Purchase
During yearly education and training, review the importance of making product purchases easy for the client. Sit down with your staff and list the reasons a client comes into your hospital — exam, prescription refill, surgery, dental procedure, diagnostics, boarding, grooming, product purchase. Make a road map of each reason and the steps that can be taken to save the client time and effort. A proactive approach like that will result in a happier and more loyal client.
6. Fresh and Organized Retail Areas
We don’t all have hundreds of square feet of space to dedicate to product sales. Whatever space you do have needs to look and feel as though you care. Rethink and possibly restructure your retail area, pharmacy space and exam rooms. Make sure the space allotted to product presentations is up to date.
7. Check in With Clients
One of the keys to successful product sales is follow-up with clients. Did they truly understand your product recommendation and the urgency in starting a new diet or medication? This is the time to make sure the recommendations are being followed and that the client is content with the decision. Now is the time to celebrate with the client who realizes she is doing what is best for her beloved pet.
Baseball spring training happens each year. Each player, technique, game strategy and goal will be evaluated and communicated. What will you do to update, educate and train your team so that client compliance is optimized? Don’t let two or three years slip by before you ask yourself about the last time you reviewed the basics with your staff. The basics are the core of our beliefs and the core of what we do each day.
Take time at least yearly to do a refresh. While we don’t have the luxury of an annual calendar reset as sports teams do, we can dedicate ourselves to realizing the importance of conducting spring training one way or another before we hear the famous words “Play ball!”