Together, an inside rep and field rep can accomplish amazing things
President Harry Truman is credited with saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” The comment holds true when applied to the relationship between field reps and their colleagues in inside sales.
An effective inside/out team is grounded in trust, communication and dedication to serving the customer – together. That’s what field reps and inside reps told Veterinary Advantage recently. Here’s what they had to say.
Hunter Hope/Tammy Alexander
Hunter Hope is territory manager in Mississippi and northern Louisiana for Merritt Veterinary Supplies. He has been in the field for four years. Tammy Alexander, a senior inside sales rep for Merritt, supports territory managers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, and parts of Ohio and Indiana. She has worked for Merritt for eight years.
An inside rep can make or break a territory, says Hunter Hope. “I’m very blessed to have Tammy [Alexander] as mine. The phone can reach farther and faster than a car.”
“Tammy lets me know when accounts are leaning toward equipment, or if one feels they need more face-to face-interaction,” he says. “A good inside rep, as Tammy is, speaks to these accounts weekly. She can let me know if they are leaning toward a product, which gives me a chance to schedule lunch-and-learns with the manufacturer reps. She can also let me know when an account has stopped ordering a certain product. This gives me an opportunity to find out if they have switched products, or given the business to another company.
“The outside rep is the face-to face-interaction,” he says. He or she schedules lunch-and-learns, and relays any change in product use in the account, such as vaccines or blood chemistry. “This lets the inside rep add notes, and ask for those products on the next phone call, or relate specials [related] to those products. The outside rep is also the face of problems. We are there as a partner, and we help accounts through billing, product or daily problems. I feel it is important to have both roles to manage a successful account.”
For example, says Hope, there have been situations when he called in an order, and Alexander let him know that the company added a special that day, or is offering buy-two-get-one. “This adds on to orders, and lets the doctor know we are on top of product management. It also lets him know we are looking out for the best interest of the account and trying to get them the better deals.
“On the flip side, there have been times where an account was on the fence about bringing on new products, and having Tammy spark the interest helped me close the deal face to face. This happens often with equipment.”
As the inside rep, Tammy Alexander feels responsible for her clinics. “I want my customers to know I am here to help them in any aspect of their clinic needs. My goal is to give excellent customer service and offer product knowledge to the best of my ability. My responsibility to the relationship of inside/outside sales is to be their eyes and ears on the inside. [In the case of] electronic transmissions of a price increase, a possibility of long term backorder, a product released we’ve been anticipating, or a product blitz to allow the customer savings, we tag team to ensure our customer base is as knowledgeable as well.
“It is a synergetic relationship,” she continues. “My territory reps work a two- to three-week cycle. When they are physically calling on week one, I am internally dialing week two or three….If a problem arises that I am unable to correct, the territory rep can step in and help bring closure.”
The dynamics of the clinic have changed, says Alexander. “Veterinarians used to be the point of contact. Now the clinic buyers and office managers are the liaison to the veterinarian. In most circumstances, the clinic purchasers have many hats to wear. They may be the clinic technician, office manager, purchaser, with many other responsibilities. Their time is limited, and they may prefer to order products at their convenience instead of when the territory rep is in their clinic.
“I feel the relationship between the inside sales representative and the purchaser has evolved to that of what the outside rep/veterinarian was in the past. Because of [that], the relationship between the inside and outside rep has evolved as well. We have a dual dependency to one another to take care of our customers’ needs. To achieve a successful inside/outside relationship is to communicate, to create a bond of friendship, and know we support one another – to become a team focused on our customer needs.”
Will Graham/Brooke Duhon
Will Graham is a territory manager for Henry Schein Animal Health, servicing veterinarians in North Central Alabama/Birmingham. He has been a field rep for 20 years. “I did grow up in a vet clinic as the son of a veterinarian, which has helped me to understand the everyday challenges veterinarians and their staff face,” he says. An inside sales representative for 11 years, Brooke Duhon services customers in North Alabama and East Texas.
“It is definitely the constant sharing of critical information as well as minor details that empowers [the territory manager and inside sales rep] to deliver a cohesive message to our customer, so that the game plan for the customer is as simple and effective as possible,” says Will Graham.
“We lean on each other for information, depending on who has the best relationship with a particular customer. In other words, the field rep may take the lead in one account, and the inside rep may take the lead in another account.”
Graham and Brooke Duhon have teamed up several times in the recent past to resolve several “change of owner” situations, he says. “Each clinic situation was unique, but the common thread was that we always worked hard to hit the reset button in terms of fresh relationship-building. Staffers come and go in those scenarios, so it’s important for us to demonstrate our value to the new folks and reiterate how we can continue making life as easy as possible for the folks who already know and trust us.
“Our job these days revolves heavily on providing solutions and services, but our customers certainly rely on us to get the right product to them at the right time and right price,” he continues. “Through good two-way communication and teamwork, we are learning how to connect the dots for our customers so that we are providing the best experience possible for them.”
Says Duhon, “Usually, in our case, I am the ears and my field rep is the eyes. I hear a lot of what is going on through extended daily conversations with customers. When my field rep makes a sales call, they get a visual perception of what is happening in the clinic. There are also customers [with whom] one of us has the better relationship, and the other offers support wherever needed.”
Duhon and Graham keep in touch daily, mostly through email and texts, and through voice-mails and phone conversations if something is critical.
Retirements of veterinary staff, including officer managers and inventory managers, as well as change-of clinic-ownership situations can be challenging for the inside/field rep team, she says. “We are diligent working in tandem to build new relationships and make sure customers experience a smooth transition so we do not lose traction,” says Duhon. “This is also rewarding. The best parts of my job are the relationships and friendships I make over the years.”
David Brinton/Debbie Elrod
David Brinton has been a territory manager for Merritt Veterinary Supplies for 25 years; he also worked for Bayer for five years. He services customers in western North Carolina. Debbie Elrod has been an inside sales rep for 20 years; she services northwestern North Carolina.
“The ideal working relationship is one of a partnership,” says David Brinton. “I talk to my partners several times a day. We discuss our accounts, their needs and how to service them. I promote my partners on every call, and ask the clinics to count on my inside reps for information on promotions
“David and I have worked together for 20-plus years, and our relationship has only grown stronger and better, both personally and professionally,” says Debbie Elrod. “Each day holds different challenges to overcome. David and I do whatever we can to assist each other to get the job done well.
“We talk about new products and our thoughts about them. We discuss any problems our accounts are having and how to fix them. We talk about sales strategies and what we want to focus on for the week.”
Elrod often speaks to her customers several times a week. “I hear complaints and concerns, and I also recognize when sales fall off,” she says. “I am the liaison for my customer, and I ask questions to share with my outside rep.” Though she speaks with customers more often than Brinton visits them, “we share equal responsibility in attending to our customers’ needs.”
Peter Janetatos/Justina Adams
Peter Janetatos is a sales rep for NEVSCo in southern New England. He’s been at it for 25 years, and he spent one year as an inside rep at J.A. Webster Inc. (now Patterson Veterinary). His customer service rep is Justina Adams, a former veterinary technician who became an inside rep about a year and a half ago. Now she services customers in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Working in the warehouse and at inside sales gave Peter Janetatos some valuable experience, which he uses every year as a field rep. “Working on the phones gave me a tremendous appreciation for what [customer service reps] have to deal with on a daily basis, and has been a huge advantage for my relationships with my phone reps,” he says.
Janetatos says that in the ideal relationship, inside rep and field rep talk every day. “A quality inside rep has many other responsibilities and should not be accountable to initiate things [with customers] on a daily basis; that’s the outside rep’s job,” he says. Even so, “the best inside reps take control when problems arise, and act if they cannot reach me.”
His inside rep, Justina Adams, is “one of the best I have ever had at selling products,” he says. “When a problem arises, if she has not solved it on her own, she has laid the groundwork for me and made it that much easier.
“Distribution has become increasingly difficult over the past 10 years, and I don’t think it will get easier,” he says. “Inside reps will always be part of the equation, and I think outside reps will have to carry more accounts, so the strength of their relationship with their inside rep will become even more crucial in the future.”
Says Justina Adams, the inside rep and field rep should be in contact as frequently as necessary to share important customer-related information, such as drop-offs in sales or promotions that might hold special interest for specific clients. “Any problems or issues a client may have expressed to either rep should surely be shared,” she says. “Staying on the same page overall is key.
“Technology has given us great tools to effectively communicate, and a lack thereof is virtually impossible to justify,” she says. “A quick text or email sometimes is more efficient than a phone call. A few times a day, or a few times a week is probably the average, but again, current pressing issues would certainly affect the level of contact or communication overall.”
The inside and outside rep share responsibility when it comes to keeping their customers happy, says Adams. “The goal for the team is to maintain a strong business relationship with their clinics. Customers have several options who they can buy from, and if we don’t service them well, someone else will. Oftentimes, cost is not the main issue, but rather, perception of value as a whole. It is our job to deliver that.”
Her experience as a veterinary technician gives Adams a unique perspective on the inside/field rep relationship. “I had a strong relationship with an ISR at one distributor, and with an OSR at a different one. Because of the relationships, both the ISR and OSR shared the wealth. If I had had good relationships with the distributor’s ISR and OSR, my business would have primarily gone to one distributor instead of two. Recognizing that, my goal here is to satisfy our customers’ needs while helping my OSR be more productive.”
Adams sees difficult customers as being people who need to be helped. “I am always working on improving the relationship, and figuring out how to best service the customer,” she says. “Sometimes just staying a step or two ahead is all you need. Honesty and trust are the foundation of any relationship, and focusing on what is important to the customer versus what’s important to us often enhances the bond.”
Built on Trust
Richard Meinke is a territory manager for Henry Schein Animal Health in Houston, Texas. He has been a field rep in animal health for 33 years, and he has had experience as a manager and manufacturer representative. Molly English, also with Henry Schein, has been an inside rep in animal health for 28 years. She worked in a practice when younger, and has had opportunities to do ride-alongs.
Richard Meinke’s working relationship with inside rep Molly English is built on trust, dedication and hard work, as well as a love for family, friends and service, he says.
“I know that I can depend on Molly when I need help with any task at any time,” he says. “I try to call Molly each morning before things get really busy. When we miss our morning conversation, we communicate through text and email. It is very important that we communicate daily about our success, failures, concerns and the tasks ahead.
“Molly and I are here to serve our customers. It is not about us; it is about our customers and meeting their expectations. We rely on each other to meet the customer’s expectations and we take seriously the fact that our veterinary hospital partners, vendor partners and our Team Schein partners rely on us to help achieve their goals. Our responsibility is to serve our customer in such a way that they know they can rely on us.”
That responsibility is put to the test when equipping a new practice, he says. “The challenges come in assisting with equipment selection, getting cut sheets to the contractor, ensuring timely delivery, and following up on damaged deliveries. Questions always arise on proper installation, requirements for installation, and equipment location. A schedule sheet and calendar management is critical. Molly and I communicate and closely review the calendar to keep deliveries on schedule. The reward is in seeing the veterinarian open for business with minimal problems.”
Says English, “The relationship between inside rep and territory manager is based on respect, dedication and hard work. Richard and I share similar values of integrity, loyalty and selfless service, which makes it easier for us to be on the same page. We know that if our customers and vendor partners are successful, we will be too.
“Territory managers need to be great listeners and teachers,” she says. “Never has Richard made me feel like I asked a dumb question. He is patient describing a piece of equipment and how a replacement part works within that piece of equipment. He teaches, not just dictates. Over the years, it has allowed me to do more troubleshooting over the phone. This allows him to stay on his itinerary. He can now do the clinic training, spend the time detailing the large equipment and showing the owner and practice manager how Henry Schein Animal Health can partner with them and grow their bottom line.
“Because Richard trusts me, our customers do, too. There is a saying around Houston in the animal health industry to ‘just call Molly.’ For me, that is very rewarding. My goal is to tie that into, ‘just call Henry Schein.’”
Tony Monica/Barbara Skakandi
Tony Monica, territory manager for Merritt Veterinary Supplies, has been in the field for 21 years. Barbara Skakandi has been an inside sales specialist for 31 years. They speak or communicate with each other somewhere between five and 10 times a day.
Tony Monica says that he and inside sales specialist Barbara Skakandi work as a team in understanding the subtle and sometimes complex issues with their accounts – “things like their needs, wants, different personalities involved, best time to contact them,” he says. “We discuss their experiences with different products, what they like and dislike.”
The territory manager and inside sales specialist bring their own skills to their joint effort of servicing customers.
“I bring information, ask questions and gather information to be used at a later time,” he says. “I address any issues or concerns, and detail a product or two. I enjoy talking business with [customers], and since I have an accounting degree and master’s degree in finance, I try to become someone they feel comfortable discussing business ideas with.”
Meanwhile, the inside sales specialist takes orders, brings up ongoing promotions, “and is a friendly voice and sounding board when allowed to be one,” he says. “My ISR is more of a friend to the account, where they feel comfortable to discuss things other than business. My ISR also handles shipping and return issues. She gathers information from speaking to the account, which is helpful for me the next time I go into the account.” That information can also lead to new business.
Monica recalls when one office manager/buyer – a long-time Merritt customer – retired. “I kept stopping in to try to get an appointment [with the new manager], to no avail,” he recalls. “My ISR found out through another hospital the hot topic of the person at the clinic. The next time I stopped in, I left a note with my card mentioning the hot topic, and the buyer called me, and we spoke and set up an appointment.”
Says Barbara Skakandi, “My OSR and I always discuss new prospects. We set appointments, go over specials and new products, and discuss new programs. We set up lunch-and-learns to help build a successful practice.
“Our priority is to establish a personal trusting relationship with our accounts. We both work hand in hand with our customers to fulfill their needs. Our goal is to help them build a successful practice.
“Two people communicating and challenging each other is a great way to develop and grow a business,” she says. “We keep each other customer-focused, and hold each other accountable to servicing the veterinarian and his clients.”
Cory Randell/Sara St. Marie
Cory Randell has been a territory manager for Merritt Veterinary Supplies for five and a half years, covering Connecticut and New York. Inside sales specialist Sara St. Marie covers the Northeast for Merritt. She has been an inside rep for seven years, but also spent two years in the field.
When Cory Randell started at Merritt Veterinary Supplies five and a half years ago, he knew very little about the veterinary industry. “Sara [St. Marie] has been my backbone,” he says. “She has taught me so much over the years, and I’m still learning every day.” Together, they are a team.
“The inside rep is on the phone with a clinic way more than I am in the clinic,” says Randell. “They build a relationship over the phone, and are the ‘ears.’ They help build orders, mention promos, and give options for different products or generics.”
Meanwhile, field reps are the “eyes” of the team, he says. They look at their clients’ shelves to see what lines are theirs – and which are not. They bring in manufacturers, and set up lunch-and-learns to educate clients on new products and promotions. “We build the in-person relationship.”
The Randell-and-St. Marie team showed its stuff this past year when they helped a doctor plan and open a 16,000-square-foot veterinary hospital and hotel.
“All throughout the year, my inside rep and I worked very hard to help this clinic with meetings, pricing, promos, etc.,” he says. “Construction is underway, and when you walk through the hospital being built and [see] the orders coming in, it’s extremely rewarding.”
Sara St. Marie’s two years in the field taught her some lessons that are of value today. “The company I was working for had very little support from the inside, and we actually worked against each other,” she says. “I now work for a company in which the inside and field rep work as a team to grow the business. Those days of being pitted against each other are, gladly, gone.”
She and Randell are in touch multiple times throughout the day. “[Field reps] are my ears and eyes of the clinic, and they need to communicate anything they see or hear,” she says. “I think the sharing of information is critical. Any relevant comment needs to be shared, whether it is made to me on the phone or told to the field rep while in the clinic.”
Like Randell, St. Marie finds much satisfaction in helping veterinarians work through a construction project.
“It is both very rewarding and challenging to assist practices through the construction phase to placing their opening orders,” she says. “We work as a team with the practice, from choosing the best equipment to fit their needs, to what products to order – enabling them to perform the type of medicine they have always wanted.
“I love getting pics from my field rep of the finished clinics.”
The Corporate Challenge
Of the many issues facing field reps and inside sales specialists in the years ahead, one seems to loom larger than the rest: Corporate veterinary medicine. Yet Veterinary Advantage readers seem up for the challenge.
“Corporate buying groups have really emerged in our field,” says Hunter Hope, territory manager, Merritt Veterinary Supplies. “I only see them getting bigger as time goes on. Clinics are becoming corporately owned, and this adds a new challenge for the ISR and OSR. It is important for the OSR to obtain a presence in these accounts, show value in product knowledge. It is also important for the ISR to help with pricing and bidding on these accounts. It really takes two to tackle these accounts.
“Also, it’s important to know just which products are discounted under the buying group. This helps the doctor save, and stops confusion. It also lets you in the door where maybe you are not a member of the buying group, but can still service other products not associated with the buying group.”
Tammy Alexander, inside sales rep for Merritt Veterinary Supplies, says, “As more corporate buying groups emerge, access and convenience to the web and web ordering increases. As companies merge, the relationship between inside and outside will face many challenges. There is no crystal ball that will enable us to view the trends of the future, but bids, pricing, buying group protocols [are things] I feel will impact the relationship with the inside/outside team.
“I believe we must work more diligently together to maintain a reputation of great customer service, the best quality of product, and comparable pricing to ensure the trust our customers have come to rely does not waiver.”
“Our industry is rapidly changing,” says Richard Meinke, territory manager for Henry Schein Animal Health. “There has been a large increase in corporate accounts and buying groups, and we have weathered the merging of several large vendors, the addition of a few new vendors, and the loss of others.
“Today the playing field is more competitive than ever before. There are very few exclusive relationships between distributors and manufacturers. The industry is stressed from online pharmaceutical sales. This trend will continue.
“All of these factors increase the importance of the relationship between inside and outside representatives. Focus must be on the specific actions that will increase growth and profitability in our practices. Teamwork with practice owners and managers that assists in the implementation of processes and staff training is vital. Our communications have to be timely, complete and filtered through the knowledge that our customers rely on us to assist them in making changes that guarantee future success.”
A New Way of Talking
Technology is changing the way inside reps and field reps interact with each other – and with their customers. That’s a good thing … for the most part.
“I believe that the industry is trending toward the online ordering platform,” says Justina Adams, customer service rep, NEVSCo. “The ability to work at your own pace, while being able to order as time allows, made this my ordering venue of choice. Doing so also allowed me the flexibility to help others in the clinic, since I wasn’t tied to a phone.
“The ultimate impact will most likely be less phone interaction from the inside sales team, which means we have to constantly be open to change as it relates to communication. I try to always have a legitimate reason when reaching out to a customer. Pulling them from their work is not always received well, unless you are looking out for their best interest. One big positive to the increase in online ordering is that the rep will have more time to spend on contributing to the clinic’s success.
“A win for all.”
Cory Randell, territory manager, Merritt Veterinary Supplies, says, “I’ve only been in the industry for a little over five years, but I feel technology has definitely changed the way of communication between inside and field reps. I text and email my inside reps much more than speak on the phone. It’s quicker and easier. If something needs to be discussed in more detail, we talk on the phone.”
Brooke Duhon, inside sales representative, Henry Schein Animal Health, adds, “In this electronic age, which I expect to continue, many personal touches can get missed. It is important to take the extra steps to reach out individually to customers to maintain relationships. This extra step to maintain the relationship also applies to us in our partnership as reps. We can get lost in email and text communication between inside rep and field rep. It is important to continue verbal communication with each other, maintaining the relationship and working as a team for our customers.
“Our customers now and in the future expect solutions and service from us at the same time they expect the right product, at the right price, at the right time. It will continue to be a balance that requires teamwork for success.”