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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In the run-up to 2019, manufacturers and distributors met with their sales teams to announce new goals, strategies, product lines, marketing campaigns and client-clinic incentive programs. New educational pieces, training opportunities, efficacy studies and pricing lists were reviewed and summarized.
To the average client, such news is as exciting as hearing their pet needs to wear an e-collar for the next 14 days. For our staff, similar reactions. But for some of us with a passion for always wanting to better serve clients and pets, we hear the sweet sound of opportunity.
While 4 in 5 Americans break their New Year’s resolutions by early February, there is still time for you to make good on your commitment to grow and raise the level of care and education in your hospital. Rejuvenated and inspired sales teams are knocking on your doors, excited to share all the new information.
Now is the time. Will you seize the opportunity?
Start the Discussion
I invite you — no, I boldly encourage you — to seize the opportunity rather than do what you have always done. Let’s create an even better outcome for you and your hospital.
The lunch and learn is the go-to event for sharing much of the new information with your team. These meetings can be valuable, but you need to make sure the time spent is invaluable.
First, be proactive and set up meetings with your vendors. You could invite the practice owner, manager, associate veterinarian, lead technician and inventory specialist. You know your hospital and the key players who make critical decisions.
Have the vendor walk through all the updates. I often learn about resources that were available in the past but not capitalized on. By including your leadership team in the meetings, collaborative thinking will take place and enthusiasm for what could be will grow.
Develop an action plan. List three to five bold objectives the leadership team would like to see accomplished in partnership with the territory manager and his company. Don’t complicate the process; you don’t need a 21-step plan. What you need are simple, defined steps that everyone can get behind to provide optimal results in 2019.
Set Ground Rules
The next step is a revised staff meeting. Tell the account representative exactly what should and should not be communicated to your team. For example, his company might have three new products, but your hospital will carry only two of them. There is no sense confusing the team with products or services you won’t provide.
Educational time limits should be set, and decisions should be made in advance about staff sampling of products, client and staff incentive programs, and rewards. Nothing is more awkward than making a decision in front of the entire team when what you determine has a direct financial impact on the staff.
For example, a manufacturer might offer an incentive for each unit sold by a team member. The enticement wouldn’t work in your hospital because of your team approach to sales. My point is this: Ensure that the meeting details are agreed to before the pizza arrives.
During the lunch and learn, explain why the education is taking place. Mention the discussions that happened earlier and the goal setting that was done. What you say could be as simple as: “We want to move on to the next portion of our staff meeting. I want to welcome Tom Lempster with ABC Pharmaceuticals. Many of you know Tom and realize how much help he has been in the past. We have had a couple of meetings with Tom and have created some educational and compliance goals for the year. Please help me in welcoming and thanking him for his support.”
A statement coming from the practice owner or a senior leader will go a long way in setting the tone for the next 30 to 60 minutes and setting the stage for the rest of the year.
Ready, Set, Go
Once the lunch and learn concludes, make sure the products and services are ready to go. The merchandise needs to be in the clinic, the prices and codes in the computer, and the rebates and educational tools easily accessible. Staff members are going to leave the meeting feeling inspired and eager to share their newfound knowledge in the exam rooms. Nothing kills morale or compliance more than not having everything ready to go. Once frustration sets in among the doctors and staff, flipping the switch is hard when everything is late.
I recommend concluding the training with a five- to 10-question quiz designed to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the information provided. Ask your pharmaceutical representative to create questions for you, perhaps in regard to the product’s functions and benefits, the cost to the client, the dosages, the precautions and where it will be stored in the hospital. Once your team is focused and unified, client compliance will come much easier — one voice, one message.
Time for a Refresher
The training isn’t over at the conclusion of the lunch and learn. Make time in the coming weeks and months for the territory rep to work with small groups — one on two or one on three — to re-emphasize the message. This could be done in an office, exam room or consultation room.
Practices often provide the knowledge and learning but don’t follow up with the staff and doctors. We then wonder why we saw a spike in client compliance and then a slow decline the rest of the year.
As the clinic owner or a leader, you need to participate in the follow-ups. It’s so easy to say you don’t have time or are too busy or already know it all. If you want better results, you need to change your pattern of excuses.
Sales teams ride a wave of excitement and optimism as they return from company-wide meetings. Make sure you welcome their knowledge, expertise and insight. The opportunity is waiting to be taken advantage of.
The clients you serve each day count on you to be an advocate for their pets. You’re the expert who knows what options are available to lengthen a pet’s life and improve the animal’s wellness and happiness.