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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We have all experienced the manufacturer sales reps who stop by to discuss compliance. The laptop comes out and equations that we thought we would never see again after high school begin to tell us the number of units sold versus the number of active patients seen within a specified period. Throw in the number of doses or pounds of food needed for yearly compliance and out shoot the dismal numbers. It becomes more fun in multicolor worksheet form.
The numbers are glaring. The sales teams read the numbers as opportunity, but oftentimes, our veterinary hospitals read the numbers as failure. “Seven percent of your entire clientele is using year-round heartworm protection from your hospital,” we hear. “Better yet, 3% of your pet population is purchasing nutrition from your hospital. Do your clients not feed their pets?” the witty territory managers jokes.
We have all done compliance studies at one time or another. And we have all had different reactions. Some of us are ignorant, stating that the calculations can’t be right. Others offer excuses about the internet and box stores as competitors. Some of us shrug our shoulders as we think what a stupid exercise and waste of time it has been.
In reality, the sales teams are doing us a huge favor by giving us real and useful data that we can begin to work off of. The problem, in my opinion, is our intentions and expectations. The thought of increasing the amount of nutritional products sold from 3% of our active-patient list to 100% seems like a daunting task and an impossibility.
Frankly, if I can be realistic for a moment, getting to 100% compliance is impossible, except for maybe some veterinary providers in remote villages of the Alaskan tundra. They have it much easier than the rest of us. (Please note the sarcasm.)
In all seriousness, this is where we flop. We read the initial numbers as failure, stare at the mountain the size of Everest that dwarfs us and think, “No way.” What we need to do is think like the sales teams and see the opportunity for improvement. If we double the current level of compliance with flea and tick medication from 5% to 10%, we have a short-term win. We can then say that 1 in 10 patients is receiving protection from our hospital as opposed to 1 in 20. Oh, by the way, you also doubled your sales.
After getting to 1 in 10, perhaps over the next year you try to move the needle to 1 in 5. This would equate to 20% of your clients acting on your advice and 20% of your patients being protected, offering a better life for them and the family that loves them. In a year’s time, you have increased compliance from 5% to 20%. In my book, that is significant.
An Instant Takeaway
In 2006, one of my associate doctors, Dr. Sabine Gerds-Grogan, attended the NAVC Conference (now VMX), where she sat in on lectures provided by the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Back then, the CAPC was relatively new and recommendations about monthly parasite prevention were beginning to gain traction.
The information presented at the lectures created great urgency in Dr. Gerds-Grogan’s mind for what she wanted to see improved at our hospital. Upon her return, she asked for a lunch meeting with myself and our two practice owners. (I still recall that critical lunch in the Bangkok Thai restaurant.)
Dr. Gerds-Grogan had asked that I bring along our current stats. I reluctantly reported that over the past year we had sold 665.99 doses. (Of course we didn’t sell a 0.99 dose, but for obvious reasons I will report it as such.) As we started to plug the doses into the equations, what became obvious was that we had a lot of work to do. The lunch finished and we left with an urgency to do better for our patients.
A year went by and we met again for lunch. The number of doses that went home with clients’ pets had tripled. That was obvious improvement, but when you looked at how many active patients we had versus the number of doses sold, we were barely scratching the cat tree.
As lunch continued, we discussed the disconnect we thought was happening in the exam rooms, a disconnect between the medical staff and clientele. Clients were reluctant and hesitant to do what was in their pets’ best interest because of a sense that they were being upsold and being advised about services and products that might or might not have been necessary. Nothing was further from the truth. We were advocating for the health and well-being of the pet, the client, and the family and friends who might come in contact with the beloved pet.
Show and Tell
The remainder of the lunch focused on how to overcome the disconnect. We decided to head back to the clinic and do some research. We ran reports from the outside laboratory that performed 95% of our fecal tests. The data indicated that 1 in 5 “healthy” pets for whom we sent in fecal samples were testing positive for some type of intestinal parasite. This was the missing piece to the puzzle.
We met with our local marketing company and commissioned a poster showing images of the various parasites for which we tested as well as five cats and dogs. The poster asked clients, “Can you tell which one of these five healthy looking pets has an intestinal parasite”? Bold letters at the top of the poster indicated that 1 in 5 pets tested at Meadow Hills were positive for a parasite. That was the message that resonated with our clientele on the importance and urgency of protecting their pets.
From there, we created a parasite prevention kit that included a prepaid fecal test, exam room glove, instructions, education and a promotional offering for parasite protection. All were attractively packaged for the client to take home. With this tool, we were able to teach clients in the exam room about the importance of testing and parasite prevention. We significantly increased compliance through education and advocacy.
20,000 and Climbing
While we haven’t sat down for lunch at the Bangkok Thai restaurant in awhile, our mission to educate clients and generate compliance has not wavered. We boast that well over 20,000 doses leave our hospital each year.
While we are nowhere near 100% compliance, remember that the next time a sales representative visits your hospital and wants to calculate compliance numbers, listen up. You will learn that you can always take baby steps and find ways to improve no matter how troubling your numbers look.
Take the time to meet with your doctors and staff and find out about the roadblocks inside the exam rooms that might cause client disconnect. Some very informative compliance tools turned irrelevant numbers of parasite-protected patients at our hospital into significant numbers. That was a worthwhile win.