Field Conditions for Distributor Reps


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How are best-in-class distributor reps differentiating themselves in today’s marketplace? Manufacturer partners weigh in.

What’s it like calling on accounts now a year-plus into the pandemic? Veterinary Advantage asked several manufacturer reps how their day-to-day routine has changed, as well as how they’ve witnessed successful distributor reps find ways to come through for their customers like never before. Participating in the discussion were:

  • Todd Ellis, regional business director, West Region, Zoetis Petcare, and Casey Rinehart, distribution channel lead, Zoetis
  • Janel Faxon, CVT, Tennessee regional sales manager, Nutramax Laboratories Veterinary Sciences, Inc.
  • Ryan Whitley, territory portfolio manager, Midmark Animal Health

Veterinary Advantage: Can you describe the current conditions in your day-to-day duties and differences in how you interact with customers today vs. pre-COVID? 

Janel Faxon: Before, you planned your route and went. Now, there has been an emphasis on virtual learning and technology. With the uprise in technology, we learned that human contact and interaction do play an important role with clinics. You also have to take into consideration a clinic’s comfort level and company policies. We have learned how to have more empathy and respect for these clinics and their staff members.

Todd Ellis and Casey Rinehart: Zoetis’ top priorities are the safety of both our colleagues and customers, as well as the service we provide to our customers and the quality and supply of our products. We follow CDC guidance, and our field colleagues work in accordance with state and local regulations, also taking into account our customer preferences.

Despite the challenges the COVID work environment has presented, our Zoetis field force has demonstrated great change agility in the way we engage our customers. In many cases, the virtual platform has helped our customers define their “best” time to interact. As we move forward, the lessons learned during this pandemic will serve both Zoetis and our customers well. Our sales leadership team continually discusses how we can be agile, and customer-focused as we move through this unusual time.

Ryan Whitley: Pre-COVID, we did a lot of in-person meetings as it pertained to capital equipment and clinic design. Obviously, last year, like our customers and channel partners, we had to rethink how to effectively do business.

Some areas of the country were more shut down than others. Based out of Chicago, there was a big transition from a traveling/visiting clinics perspective. Emails, phone calls, and especially virtual meeting applications became a standard of interaction with COVID restrictions.

Veterinary Advantage: What about your interactions with distributor reps? Have those changed?

Ellis and Rinehart: Our alignment with distribution representatives has always been important, and this past year has further accentuated this importance. Since appointments with customers have been limited, alignment around messaging and value drivers with distribution has been further emphasized. For example, communication and coordination with our distribution partners helped drive the successful launch of Simparica Trio.

Faxon: This past year, specific manufacturers worked remotely with customers. This emphasized the importance of distributors as certain distributors were able to support customers face to face and support the clinic and manufacturer as opposed to virtual. The distributor became the face for some manufacturers as well as distributors.

Veterinary Advantage: How often are you able to meet in person with customers now? Do they have any PPE requirements you have to meet?

Whitley: I am getting more and more in-person meeting requests lately. Most clinics I have met with live do have PPE requirements now. Some clinics are allowing people to walk in with face masks. Others, especially in the Chicago area, are still doing curbside service. It’s not an open-door situation just yet, but hopefully, we are moving in that direction.

Faxon: This would be based on state and regional regulations, as some areas of the nation are not fully open. However, in my area, I would say about 85% of the time, we are able to meet with our customers. Face masks are required, and I use sanitizer before and after each call.

Ellis and Rinehart: Zoetis has established an “in-person” guidance plan. Since each county and state has different and often changing requirements, it was critical to establish clear guidance. Depending on the local/state guidance, Zoetis has begun to return to increasing in-person meetings. The in-person meetings must fit within the scope of our internal guidance that adheres to CDC and local requirements related to PPE, social distancing, good hygiene, etc., and of course, our customers’ preferences. The safety of our colleagues and customers serves as the primary driver of the guidelines that have been created.

Veterinary Advantage: Does your company have any restrictions/protocols in place?

Faxon: Face masks are strongly advised to fit the needs of the clinic protocols, along with proper cleaning. At the moment, it’s advised not to ride in the same car with other reps. Some companies are holding off on large group functions. Be smart, be safe.

Ellis and Rinehart: Zoetis protocols include measures around temperature checks, personal health assessments, PPE, social distancing, limits to the size of in-person meetings, and good hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing, sanitizing, and disinfecting cars and equipment before and after our customer visits.

As vaccination becomes more widespread, we continue to evaluate and evolve these protocols, ensuring we keep colleagues’ and customers’ safety our top priority.

Veterinary Advantage: How do you effectively collaborate with distributor reps in a marketplace of social distancing requirements?

Ellis and Rinehart: Virtual platforms (e.g., Zoom, Webex) have been the primary vehicles for meetings with distribution partners in 2020-2021. Zoetis is conducting multiple virtual alignment planning sessions.

Whitley: Not everyone’s situation was or is the same. How we collaborate may need to be tailored. Different parts of the country and different organizations took different approaches to stay safe. With respect to those differences, we did our best to strengthen relationships organizationally and individually with channel partners.

In the earlier phases of COVID, that meant more phone calls, emails, and virtual meetings. As we sit now, there is more opportunity and willingness to engage more traditionally with respect to guidelines and comfort level.

Faxon: Communication is key! Whether you’re a manufacturer or distributor, the most important factor is communication. Our normal face-to-face communications have moved to more technology communication from CE meetings to sales meetings.

Veterinary Advantage: How are best-in-class distributor reps you work with differentiating themselves in today’s marketplace? 

Faxon: It’s easy to just show up, but with COVID rules and regulations, consistency and perseverance are
what sets distributor reps apart from the competition.

Whitley: What separates a successful distributor rep remains the same no matter the environment you put them in. It’s about their interaction and relationship with the customer—a partnership based on mutual success and new, sometimes challenging ideas. The clinic must value their opinion and the relationship.

“How can we help you change your business for the better?” And that could be several ways, but talking about equipment, involves helping them with a plan. Veterinary dentistry has been one of those plans for many clinics. New or better equipment and technology. Proper training and CE to implement those investments to ensure success. Making better medicine equals better business. To do that means becoming a consultant, a confidant who is going to be valued by the clinic.

Ellis and Rinehart: They operate as the clinic’s trusted advisor and business consultant, providing an objective perspective of industry updates, manufacturer information, staff education opportunities, and practice solutions. Distributors are good at partnering with both clinics and key manufacturing partners, and they know the industry very well.

Veterinary Advantage: Can you provide an example of a distributor rep who really came through for you and a customer during the pandemic? What made the interaction special?

Faxon: Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and support staff have been pushed to their limits and were negatively impacted by the pressures of fatigue, burnout, curbside service, and customer/patient support. Because of this, I teamed up with some of my distributor partners and supported clinics during Vet Tech Week by bringing food or providing lunch. I also did ice cream socials where we brought clinics individually wrapped ice cream. Even though we couldn’t enjoy the ice cream with them, to see their faces brighten up when they walked outside while they got that small break was a huge highlight!

Whitley: It’s never a good time for a disaster to happen, even more so when you have some of the restrictions in place associated with COVID. We had a storm locally with heavy winds that completely destroyed the roof of a high-volume clinic. It was something that couldn’t be fixed. They had to deal with insurance and find a temporary space to work while also trying to keep up with their current clientele. Their distributor rep went above and beyond, dropping everything and making herself available to this clinic. She was on-site (evenings and weekends), helping them clean, seeing what was damaged, what was going to be reusable, and then getting myself and other partners involved to help make the best out of a bad situation. It showed her commitment to her customers and why she is so successful.