Change is Constant?
Every time I prepare to write one of these articles I can’t help but recognize how much the animal health care industry is changing. I feel compelled to incorporate that theme into everything that I write, but at the same time I feel a bit like a broken record, repeating myself over and over without the ability to move on.
Change for our customers
Let’s think about our customers’ perspective. Their clients are coming to them feeling more educated based on the research that they complete with the help of the internet. Many clients have price shopped, or will price shop, the products that are recommended by the veterinarian. Clients are feeling more empowered and more educated via the internet and technology. Many times, these internet inquiries happen in the veterinary office while they wait in the lobby or the exam room.
Our customers must be aware of what their clients have access to and how they position themselves and their services in accordance with the research that their clients are conducting. To ignore the influence of technology would be a mistake. Couple this change in client interaction with the ever changing, and many times shrinking, list of manufacturers and suppliers, and the sum of these changes can make the veterinarian feel very vulnerable and not completely in charge of their business.
Your role is changing
We know that there is a trend of consolidation with manufacturers and distributors within animal health. More and more companies are embracing technology to market products, advertise, and even process orders for customers. With improved technology for communication, consolidation of the number of competitors, and pricing becoming more transparent, the role of the outside and inside sales rep is changing. The truth of the matter is that we are a long way from having drones deliver veterinary medicines and products to fulfill orders that have been automatically generated by computers that monitor inventory levels, based on transactional information derived from practice management systems. I am not saying that we won’t get there as an industry. I am saying that it is probably not in the very near future.
With all of this happening in and around our animal health industry, it is very easy to become disenchanted with our role. How do we compete? What’s happening to the career that I had planned? What value do I provide?
It is imperative that we focus on the parts that are not changing in our industry. People are still doing business with people. The human interaction is still a vital part of business in animal health. We are lucky enough to be a part of one of the most compassionate industries in the world. The bond between a pet owner and their pet is second only to the bond between a parent and their child. Veterinarians are in tune to that bond and indirectly service that relationship every day. If we accept the fact that our customers deal with emotion and relationships on a daily basis, then it makes sense that we should adopt those elements as a part of what must stay as a constant in the way we conduct business with them.
Providing fair pricing, excellent service, quality products, consistent delivery, and timely promotions are all table stakes for being taken seriously by your veterinary customers. Learning the other elements that are important to your customers is where the art of salesmanship exists. Creating value beyond basic service is a step in the right direction to weathering any technological and consolidation storms on the horizon.
Becoming a true partner with your customers takes more than making sure that their product needs are met. It is more than making them aware of the latest specials. It takes a genuine interest in the people that you are serving. A passion for understanding the people and not just their buying habits. People do business with people. They may make conscious decisions to use the most efficient or time-saving ways to complete the business, but it all starts with a personal interaction. The more personal you can make the interaction, the more successful you will be.
The variable they can’t replace
We all have either heard stories or have real world accounts of veterinary customers changing the companies that they buy from based on the reps that they interact with. A rep leaves a company and ends up at another, and some of their customers make the transition with them. When consolidation happens, it often levels the playing field with product choice, pricing, delivery times, etc. Be the variable that they cannot easily replace. Be the respected partner that your customers deserve. Out-perform your competitors by knowing more about your customers and proving that regularly. Veterinarians and their staff members are going through difficult changes in their business, and in the perception of their clients. This is a great time for you to work with your internal partners and position your team and yourself as the people that your customers choose to do business with.
Change is not going away. It often represents difficulty and adaptation. Sometimes we need to abandon the way that we used to do things. With change comes opportunity. Seize the opportunity to assist your customers through the change. Find the constant amidst the change. Emphasize the constant to provide a sense of normality, and security for your customers. That constant is you!