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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From the method of administration to the efficacy to the near immediate kill rate, advancements in flea and tick medications over the past 25 years will impress anyone in the medical and scientific worlds. But are pet owners just as impressed? Do they realize what the veterinary world gets so excited about? I would venture to say no.
The troubling part is that nearly every type of technology and molecular makeup introduced over the past 25 years is still for sale. Each package, each box, each carton is beautifully scripted with connect-with-consumer words such as “safe,” “fast,” “simple,” “advanced,” “veterinarian recommended.” (Code for at least one veterinarian agreed to endorse it.) The list goes on. The average consumer has no objective knowledge about how to select a flea and tick product for their pet.
Too Much Information
Take a moment and do a Google search for flea and tick medications for pets. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of information your client will see during a simple search. How could a client possibly make an educated decision?
As if that wasn’t enough, the price variances are atrocious. Your client can purchase a three-pack of flea and tick meds for under $6. And for $6, they even get a pretty little box showing the consumer words above. Why would I pay my overpriced veterinarian any more than $6?
So, there you have it. We work hard to gain compliance within our veterinary hospitals, ensure that our patients are protected with the most up-to-date flea and tick products, and keep product sales in-house. But the thought of Google or an undertrained big-box or grocery store clerk advising the client about such an important purchase is plain scary. Once you and your staff realize all this, we can refocus our efforts, devise a concrete plan, and help our clients make objective and smart decisions about what is best for their pet.
Sounds easy? Not in the least.
Timing Is Crucial
Let’s begin by accurately identifying the flea and tick season. There is going to be a gray area, but you, the practice owner or medical director, need to use all the information at your disposal to best identify the months during which you recommend full coverage of pets in your geographical location. For some, you might realize that 12 months’ coverage is optimal and necessary. For others, eight or nine months is critical.
Our message needs to be honest and transparent. Discussing fleas and ticks might be difficult when snowplows are outside your exam room walls. While you may find that a month or two does not warrant flea and tick coverage, the client education, recommendations and product availability should and must happen year-round. We might advise a client to hold off administering the first dose, but gaining client acceptance must happen during their visit no matter the time of year. This may be our only chance to ensure proper coverage before the next visit. I guarantee that the client will be on Google and inside a grocery store many times before the next visit.
Narrow the Choices
Next, research and select a flea and tick product that you and your staff are going to be passionate and excited about. Take time to do your due diligence. Meet with the manufacturing representatives and discover all the information needed to make an informed decision. You may think you did this several years ago, but you may be pleasantly surprised by some of the advancements revealed over the past 12 to 18 months. Also know that oral dosing has become increasingly popular among clients. The ease and simplicity of chewables contribute to this satisfaction. With ease, we find that compliance follows.
Once you have your research in place, take time to meet with your associate veterinarians and ask about any major objections to the preferred product. Stocking three or four products that offer similar benefits is not an effective strategy for gaining client compliance.
Once your product is selected, reinforce the decision with the rest of the staff. Now is the time to bring in the account manager to deliver a product overview. Keep the education simple and client friendly. This means educate your staff about what the client needs and wants to know. Why are you recommending the product? How does it work and for how long? What are the benefits? How often does the client administer it? Is it safe? I suggest scheduling a continuing education kickoff each year to refocus the efforts, remind the staff of the benefits and needs, and refresh them about how we educate our clients to say “yes.”
This is also the time to evaluate pricing and promote the fact that your clinic’s pricing is competitive within your region and relatively competitive to online offers. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not advocating that we need to match online pricing, but we do need to be competitive. We can do this through our margins and by making sure that we maximize any and all manufacturer loyalty programs, rebates, instant savings and free-product deals. (For example, buy three, get a free dose.)
Offer a Guarantee
The groundwork has been laid for success. You have created a medical protocol for your geographical area that states when and why you recommend flea and tick protection for the pets you serve. You have completed the due diligence and researched the latest technology. Not only have you found the right product fit for your practice, but at this point you should be ecstatic and enthusiastic about being able to offer the new technology to clients each day.
When you reach the point that you are excited about a product, the feeling becomes contagious. The client question “Where do I purchase this product?” ceases to be asked.
The last but maybe most important portion of our plan is continued feedback and follow-up. We need to assure ourselves that the client is using the products we provide. More important, we need to make sure that the products are working as promised. I suggest that we consider a product guarantee. If we feel strongly enough to recommend the product, then we have to be in a position to strongly guarantee it. Work with your manufacturing representative to make this happen.
Flea and tick products are not new to our industry, but the advancements are. What’s mindboggling is how we administer the products, their efficacy, the near-immediate protection, the safety indications and the overall client satisfaction. Clients need to hear from you about these incredible developments and hear why they should purchase a flea and tick product from you. Hearing the confident undertones of your recommendation will go a long way, as will the education you provide.
If this all goes missing, clients might say to themselves, “I might as well just take my $6 and purchase a three-pack online.” After all, where is the harm in that?