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Columns , Merchandising

Don’t be afraid to sell a product

You’re not a peddler, you’re a veterinary professional looking out for your patients’ best interests.

Don’t be afraid to sell a product
The best way to deal with the fear of product sales and the haunting unknown is to hit it head-on.

Halloween is right around the corner. My 8-year-old daughter, Ashelyn, and her friends are contemplating what they will wear for trick-or-treating. It’s a rite of passage for children. Heck, even adults find time to dress up every now and then for a Halloween party, with couples often choosing complementary costumes. Imagine the possibilities if a couple were dressed as a veterinarian and a pharmacy sales representative. Is that a scary thought? Many of our veterinary leadership teams treat pharmaceutical sales as a terrifying experience, like running through a haunted house. The fears tend to be:

  • We can’t compete on price.
  • The client is going to view us as salespeople.
  • We don’t have the storage space.
  • We don’t have the time.
  • The client prefers to buy from box stores or the internet.

There’s Money to be Made

I had the pleasure of co-lecturing virtually with Gary Glassman, a well-known industry CPA with Burzenski & Co. We were talking about profit centers. Gary said he is seeing more veterinary hospitals refocusing on product sales. He believes product sales are a top-three profit center.

Are you ready to get serious about winning back your pharmaceutical revenue? Chew on this: I am a firm believer in you, the veterinarian, knowing what is best for your patients. When you recommend a product, you have to educate, explain, set expectations, convince and — oh, by the way — make sure the product is in stock. Clients and consumers alike value convenience. The days of “Come back next week and we will have it in stock” are over. Drug stores promise to fill prescriptions in 30 minutes and will text or email you when it’s ready for pickup. In fact, don’t bother getting out of your car, we have a drive-thru. Get it? We live in a world of “right now” and “instant gratification.” How do you think UPS and FedEx became so entrenched in society? You got it! Overnight shipping.

Learn to Educate

I see doctors working tirelessly to communicate and evaluate medical plans. Many of these plans include products formulated to achieve or maintain the peak health that clients desire for their beloved pets. The veterinarians have done their research, been educated on the products and the expected results, and understand the safety information. The veterinarians have improved how they communicate their recommendations. They get it — a great client is an educated client.

Each of us is an advocate for the well-being of every pet we serve. However, we then get to the final step, recommending a product, and we become shy or detached because we fear we might come across as a salesperson rather than as a companionate and educated pet care provider.

Some salespeople have a reputation for being cold, pushy and even cut-throat at times. That is not who any of us want to be. The thought of getting clients to walk out the door with recommended products for their pets makes many of us think we will be labeled as salespeople, as uncaring, or as just someone trying to reward the product manufacturers that apparently “paid” for each and every veterinarian to complete veterinary school. (That is a client urban legend.)

Create a Plan

Making product recommendations and seeking client compliance is anything but salesy. It is doing what is best for the pet. I have said it before: The likelihood of your client finding the exact product on the internet or in a box store and then following your exact directions are low at best. When the client walks out of your door without a suggested prescription, supplement or therapeutic diet, we play a game of chance, a game where the odds favor a negative outcome because the client is misled by someone else or misses the proper dosing. Ultimately, the pet loses.

Rather than give up, we need to set goals and monitor our progress to make sure we see positive outcomes for all involved. Your pharmacy is and will continue to be a source of positive cash flow. Now is not the time to give up; it’s the time to evaluate.

Consider this as you move forward:

  • Across-the-board markups no longer cut it, especially as they relate to flea, tick and heartworm preventives, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, and any other long-term medication you might prescribe. As long as a clinic sees positive cash flow on the purchase of said products, I am happy and you should be, too. Every benefit you receive on the purchase comes with many indirect benefits. After all, the relationship your staff has with your clientele is priceless. The more times you get your clients to walk through your doors, the greater likelihood that they will be back for more services and products. Client loyalty and stability is worth a few percentage points off any product sale.
  • The manufacturers of many of the products you and I carry offer significant rebates and promotions. So, if you think you can’t compete, think again. I see so many clinics either choose not to participate in savings programs or are aloof to the fact that discounts even exist. Do your business a favor and investigate everything that you can offer your clients to keep the revenue inside your clinic. You will quickly find that you can compete while not taking a huge hit to your bottom line. Embrace promotions and get your staff to spend time educating clients on the advantages of purchasing products with you as opposed to them seeking other sources to find a better deal and you losing the sale.

You Can Do It

Many of the answers lie within your hospital walls. Sound a call to action to your associate veterinarians and support team.

The best way to deal with the fear of product sales and the haunting unknown is to hit it head-on. Review the importance of product sales and the reasons for preserving those transactions. It is much more than dollar signs.

Encourage your team to revisit those simpler times when, as children, we could dream without consequence. No idea was off the table.

What ideas do they have? What changes can you make to reinforce your messaging and get clients to say “yes” and do what is best for their pets? Through continued goal-setting and training, your team and hospital will be rewarded.

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.

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