Manufacturer, distributor and veterinary team work together to ‘up’ the practice’s game. Dentistry is one example.
Danielle Heberle has experienced the veterinary-distributor-manufacturer relationship from all sides. And she’s learned it through a unique lens: dentistry.
Before joining Progeny Imaging (later acquired by Midmark) in 2007, Heberle was a distributor rep. Prior to that, she worked in a veterinary practice, as a certified veterinary technician. In fact, she’s worked with animals in some capacity since she was 15 years old, when she got her first job cleaning kennels in Penfield, New York.
As a technician, Heberle worked for a veterinarian who was building up his dental business. That work fueled her passion for dentistry, so she had a natural area of expertise when she moved into sales at Henry Schein Animal Health in 2004.
She became even more of an expert when she transitioned to manufacturing sales at Progeny Imaging, which in 2009 was acquired by Midmark, where Heberle now works as the manager of clinical services in the animal health division.
Relatively few people, including veterinarians, have experience with dentistry, she says. So when it comes to working in a dog or cat’s oral cavity, many doctors are unsure what equipment to buy or how to use it, and many sales reps are unsure how to broach the subject.
Most of the clinics Heberle works with have some capacity to perform dental work but may not have the most efficient tools for that work. “We really rely on distribution to seek out those customers,” she says.
It might be as simple as a veterinarian telling their distributor rep they need new equipment, or it might be something that the rep notices when they visit the office. Either way, says Heberle, it’s up to the rep to figure out what the veterinarian and staff want or need for their clinic. In her experience, veterinarians are most concerned with how a new piece of equipment will enhance patient care.
It can also be helpful for distributor reps to find out the practice owner’s long-term plans for the facility. If they’re planning an expansion or remodeling project, Heberle and her team can help design treatment areas, dental suites, exam rooms and other parts of the new space to help it operate more efficiently. “Time and time again, we see designs that look good on paper, but in the real space, staff are bumping into each other, things aren’t positioned intuitively or they have all sorts of equipment cluttered around,” she says.
Particularly for items such as anesthesia, high speed delivery, X-rays and monitoring equipment, much of Heberle’s focus is on client education. The products can be challenging to use, and one of the last things Heberle – and, most likely, a distributor rep – wants is for the client to invest a huge sum of money in a machine only to find they don’t know how to maximize its value.
“That’s the reason we created all these education programs,” she says. “The veterinarian needs to know they’re not on their own once they buy the product.”
Heberle and her colleagues offer three educational sessions with the new product to ensure the entire clinic’s staff understands how that piece of equipment fits into their operations. “The most important person in the whole practice is that front desk staff,” she says. They have the most contact with pet owners, so they need to be on the same page as the veterinarians.
There’s also the business side of things. It’s something Heberle acknowledges many veterinarians don’t love talking about – they’re often more focused on the care of their patients – but it’s still necessary.
It’s valuable for veterinarians to know, for example, how much of their revenue comes from dental procedures (Heberle says it’s about 4 percent on average in the U.S.) and where opportunities are for more business.
To help on that end, Heberle, her colleagues and distributor reps go out to dinner with clients to learn how dentistry figures into the practice as a whole and to discuss growth opportunities. Dentistry hasn’t traditionally been taught in veterinary schools, she says, so many veterinarians are “scared to death” of the equipment that goes along with it. “We’re trying to change that.”
And once the veterinarian does invest in that equipment, the distributor rep can continually offer the consumables needed for patient care. Burs, home care products, polishing cups, gauze, perioceutics – “all of these things to do proper dentistry procedures,” says Heberle.
As a manufacturer rep, she might only see a clinic once or twice a year. “But that distributor rep is going to go into that clinic once or twice a week, and that clinic is going to look to that distributor rep for ongoing support.” Ideally, selling equipment as complex as this, and the education and products that go with it, will help solidify the distributor rep as the veterinarian’s number one choice to rely on for their products.
“We’ve seen that happen time and time again,” says Heberle.
For the good of the patient
Just as the veterinarian-distributor relationship is important, so is the distributor-manufacturer relationship. Heberle looks for certain traits when she’s considering her distributor partners.
She finds the most successful partnerships happen when the distributor understands the value of client education. “That’s really the most important thing,” she says. Yes, both the manufacturers and distributors have equipment sales goals. But at the same time, many of the products she sells help keep patients alive. “It’s really nice to work with a distributor who really wants to have a hand in impacting patient care.”
It’s also an honor to work with veterinary clinics, says Heberle, who was awarded an honorary VTS in dentistry at last year’s Veterinary Dental Forum for her work in creating Midmark’s Dental Training and Education Network. “We know they want to provide the best care….We’re helping to preserve the lives of these pets that everyone worships these days.”