Worth the Effort

By Dawn Singleton-Olson
May, 2016

Even a little bit of product knowledge and education can go a long way

One of the things I find most exciting about the animal health business is the fact that there is always something new to learn: new innovations and technology; products, promotions; getting to know new prospects and customers. 

All of us in the industry may have a slow or uninspiring day now and then, but there is never an excuse to become complacent or bored. Yet trying to keep up with all the latest information from a variety of sources can be time-consuming and frustrating. It can be difficult to determine what you need to know to stay informed and deliver value to your customers. 

I recently read an interesting blog titled “The First Fifteen Minutes” by best-selling author and marketer, Seth Godin, that I felt was worth sharing, since it drives home the consequences of ignoring the new or the “next thing.” Godin writes: “Once we get good enough (at our tools, at our work) it’s easier and easier to skip learning how to do the next thing, because, hey, those fifteen minutes are a hassle.” 

It may be tempting to pass on attending a manufacturer meeting, check social media rather than concentrate on a webinar, or toss the latest product detailer on top of the pile, unread, but how much information are you ignoring that could benefit your customers and associates? It’s reasonable to assume that your competitors are working to improve themselves, so continuing to learn is vital to keeping up, let alone moving ahead.

Godin’s goes on to say:  “And so we get in the habit of giving a half effort, not really reading the instructions, shrugging our shoulders and moving on. The professional in us that was always eager to find tools that added leverage becomes the complacent coaster, defending what’s on the table as ‘good enough.’” 



During my years as an animal health representative, I’ve worked with individuals who worked almost exclusively with companion animal clinics who skipped manufacturer training sessions on large animal topics and products – ear tags, implants, pour ons, and so forth – because they’d “never” use it. On the other hand, I worked with a few large animal reps who thought learning about companion animal products was a waste of their time.

These attitudes can prove to be detrimental, particularly in the ever-changing climate of animal health. The past several years, we’ve all seen how the company you work for today may not be the company you’re working for tomorrow. Flexibility and a broad base of knowledge are more important than ever as companies merge, sell or re-align. The same holds true for your customers. A large animal clinic you’ve dealt with for years may hire a companion animal practitioner to meet the needs of their changing community, or the retiring bovine vet who you talk to every week may sell his practice to a group with an equine specialist. Those “fifteen minutes” of learning can prepare you for unanticipated opportunities.

Odds are you’ve taken calls that go something like this: “I called my other distributor to ask about the new ‘XYZ’ product I just saw in a magazine and they had no idea what I was talking about! Can you help me?” While no one can be expected to know the details on every new product or topic, being aware of what your customers – and your competitors – are focusing on and where to find that information makes you a valued resource. 


What a bad phone call may cost us

Wendy Myers, President of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, recently wrote how a single “bad phone call” could potentially cost a veterinary clinic $13,000 in lost revenue. The example she cited was of a new pet owner calling to check prices who is handled poorly by a receptionist. This scenario can certainly be compared to an inside sales rep answering the phone. How many thousands of dollars in future sales may be lost when just one prospect or new customer calls to inquire about a product or service the ISR knows nothing about and doesn’t take the time to research?

In today’s sales environment, the successful rep needs to possess skills that seem to be at odds with each other. On one hand, you need to have a specialty – an area of expertise where you excel that few others do, as the “go-to“ source for your customers. On the other hand, you need to be a generalist – someone with a wide scope of animal health knowledge and professional skills who can handle a variety of callers and earn and retain business.

Take advantage of resources that provide regular, concise updates on a variety of animal health issues and deliver them right to your inbox, like Vet-Advantage Weekly News.  Bookmark the online resources you find helpful so you can quickly check them when you have a few minutes to spare. Ask your customers what they’re reading and subscribe to the digital or print editions. New animal health apps are being created all the time, so it’s worth taking a few minutes each month to see what is available – and if you haven’t already, be sure to download our free Vet-Advantage Resource App. Network with your manufacturer reps and colleagues on LinkedIn and in person for learning opportunities in the industry and to enhance your speaking, writing or computer skills.

Seth Godin ends his blog by saying: “The problem with evaluating the first fifteen minutes of frustration is that we easily forget about the 5,000 minutes of leverage that frustration earns us if we stick it out.” Staying informed and then putting that information to work in an always-changing industry like animal health takes time and effort, but is well worth the value it brings to your personal success and the benefit to your customers. 


Dawn Singleton-Olson has more than 25 years of experience in the animal health industry, including distributor sales, manufacturing, practice management and as a zoo supervisor. She is a volunteer, fundraiser and board trustee for several humane organizations and the Omaha (Neb.) Police Mounted Patrol.

Topics: Inside Sales


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