Columns , COVID-19 , Merchandising

Never stop learning

Whether in person or online, the educating of veterinary teams by sales reps needs to remain a priority, even in a COVID world.

Never stop learning
When you start to view education and training as essential and core strengths of your business, you can easily find safe and meaningful ways to conduct training in coordination with regional sales teams.

The business world as we know it was upended by COVID-19. It’s no longer business as usual. Practice owners, medical directors, administrators, managers and other clinic leaders have had to reinvent how we provide medical services and sell products. The idea of holding a lunch and learn is the farthest thing from our minds. What I highly recommend, however, is that we recall what contributed to much of our success in the pre-COVID era. It was all about education and training, education and training, education and training.

By no means am I trying to come across as someone advocating business as usual, but as veterinary hospital leaders, we must continue to push our teams in a positive and organized manner so that veterinary practices maintain relevancy within the marketplace. Trust me, I would not have asked you to do this during Week 2 of the pandemic, but as some of the adrenaline wears off and workflow changes are instituted, we have to get back to some of our core concepts, education being one of them.

May We Come In?

Soon, if not already, manufacturer sales teams will knock on your clinic doors or ring your phone, all excited about new information ready to be shared with you after the lockdowns of the past several months. This is when you need to decide, “Am I going to seize the opportunity, or am I going to repeat the excuse ‘Not today, maybe next month’?”

When you start to view education and training as essential and core strengths of your business, you can easily find safe and meaningful ways to conduct training in coordination with regional sales teams.

I invite you — no, I boldly encourage you — to seize these moments rather than take the path of least resistance and decline the offers. Let’s make some modifications and support what I hope are even better outcomes for you and your hospital.

Lunch and learns are the go-to events for manufacturers and distributors that want to share new information with you and your team. These meetings are valuable, but I want to make sure the time spent is invaluable. Here’s how.

Do Plenty of Advance Work

First, be proactive and set up preparatory meetings with vendors. These could be virtual rather than face to face. Invite only those people who absolutely need to be included — perhaps the practice owner, hospital manager, associate veterinarian, lead technician and inventory specialist. Have the rep walk everyone through all the updates he or she has. It’s possible you will find new and unique opportunities.

By including your leadership team in these early meetings, collaborative thinking will take place. Develop an action plan and list three to five bold objectives your team would like to see accomplished with the territory manager and the company he or she represents. Don’t complicate the process; you don’t need a 21-step plan. Instead, come up with simple, defined steps that everyone can get behind.

The next step is designing a new lunch-and-learn strategy. Again, you know what works best for your team, so perhaps you’ll want several small meetings to allow for social distancing, or maybe a live Zoom call will suffice. You might decide to invite only the practice leaders with the expectation that they will pass the information to other team members. There is no right or wrong answer. You as the leader will decide what is best for you and your staff.

Set the Ground Rules

During the planning, tell the account representative exactly what should and should not be communicated to your team. For example, the company might have three new products or services to promote but your hospital agreed to carry only two of them. There is no sense in confusing your team with anything more.

The company representative also needs to abide by time limits and follow your policies regarding staff sampling programs and sales incentives. Nothing is more awkward than you making quick decisions in front of the entire team regarding ideas that have a direct financial impact on everyone. For example, a manufacturer might offer a reward for each unit sold but your hospital’s approach is based on the team rather than the individual. My point is this: Make sure the details of the lunch and learn are ironed out and agreed to before the training begins.

At the start of the lunch and learn, share with your team the preparations that took place and the reasons for the education. Explain that even though life is not completely back to normal, everyone needs to stay up to date with the newest advancements in veterinary medicine. Our clients count on us to know those things. Also, assure the team that you took the necessary steps to maintain a healthy and safe learning environment. A statement from the practice owner or a senior team member will go a long way in setting the tone for the next 30 to 60 minutes.

Check for Comprehension

Finally, I recommend concluding the training with a five- to 10-question quiz. This is a chance to ensure that everyone understands all the product or service information that was provided. Ask the company representative to create some questions. They could be as simple as “How does Product X function?” to “What is the cost to the client?” and “What are the proper dosages and the precautions?” This can be done electronically and even through Survey Monkey. Once you know that the team’s knowledge base is focused and unified, client compliance will be much easier.

Although we haven’t returned to business as usual, we have an obligation to clients and their pets to stay knowledgeable and relevant. As leaders, we must continually evaluate the landscape and make sound and reasonable decisions that benefit our doctors, our support staff and everyone we serve. We have to refocus our efforts despite all the distractions and find new, safe and improved ways to support our core values.

Education and training will always be a pillar of strength for any business. It’s up to you to decide how you will effectively and safely support that pillar in a post-COVID world.

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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