Strategies to create more engaged clinics
With so much being written about the lack of employee engagement, it is a wonder that the business community accomplishes anything. While the lack of employee engagement is an issue, there are many organizations where employees are fully engaged, and those businesses are thriving.
Struggling veterinary practices consistently point to the economy and competition from other corporate practices, OTC products, Wal-Mart, PetMed Express and manufacturers as the problem. On the other hand, thriving hospitals continue to grow at double digit rates, defend their pharmacy and OTC business effectively and partner with manufacturers and distributors to best serve their clients and their owners.
So, my advice to animal health sales reps is consider the following strategies to create more engaged clinics in your territory while increasing the number of clinics that see you as a trusted advisor, as opposed to just another sales rep.
No. 1: Identify the goals of the decision makers
What are their aspirations? Objectives? Every practice owner is not necessarily interested in growing the business. They may be reaching retirement age and would like to maximize the valuation of their business. They may be looking for ways to increase their profitability. There are a wide variety of potential objectives, so don’t assume or, if you do, at least verify your assumptions.
When you ask your hospitals about their goals, you may get a blank stare, primarily because no one ever asked them that question. Ask, but give them time to think it over. Once established, an annual follow-up to insure their goals haven’t changed is appropriate. You cannot help your practices reach their objectives unless you know their objectives.
No. 2: Connect every presentation to those goals
Why would I (the owner) be interested in anything that isn’t helping me get to where I want to go? Let’s say I told you I want to sell my practice in the next 36 months for maximum value.
“I’m convinced that adopting a competitive flea and tick strategy will protect your top line revenue while enhancing the overall valuation of the clinic. Let me run some numbers for you; then you can decide if this approach is right for your situation.”
So, to accomplish this on your calls, remember these three criteria:
A. Start with a confident statement about your idea, product or service that contains a reference to their goal, i.e. a benefit.
B. Transition to neutral. It is safe for the listener to be invited initially to simply look at and/or to listen.
C. Acknowledge the listener as the decision maker and that as such you are okay with a well-informed yes and a well-informed no. Again, it makes the conversation safe for your listener – the decision maker.
This type of opening also positions you differently than those reps whose only interest is selling something. This approach moves you toward the trusted advisor status and away from just another rep.
No. 3: Reaching the decision maker
The practice managers’ and buyers’ primary responsibility is to take many of the routine tasks from the DVMs and the practice owners, but they also have a secondary role of shielding the decision makers from sales reps whose only interest is selling something. Further compounding this situation is their goals may be different than the decision makers. While the practice owner may want to maximize the clinic’s value, so he/she can retire comfortably, the buyer’s goal may be to minimize his/her own workload.
So, a benefit to the owner may be a burden to the buyer. That is, unless you are creative enough to reposition your idea, product or service to at best improve the buyer’s life, or at least not further complicate it. The same three criteria above come into play, repositioned to the buyer’s point of view, which then opens the door to the clinic owner. And you have become even more valuable because you have helped everyone get what they want, while getting what you want.
All these strategies hinge on your confidence in your knowledge, your skill, and your ability to think outside the box to create solutions that are flexible enough to provide value to all involved in the decision-making process. It isn’t easy, but the value of a territory filled with engaged practices will pay dividends for years to come for you and your organization. And you will have transitioned from just another sales rep to a trusted advisor and invaluable asset.