Reps + Veterinarians = Shared Success
Why one industry leader believes the future success of the veterinary profession depends on an allied industry of reps and veterinarians.
Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, has always had great respect for manufacturer and distributor reps. And when he was the owner of a busy, successful practice in Southern California, he requested that respect be returned.
The best way he envisioned that was when a rep called ahead to schedule an appointment, Dr. Weinstein would block out time just as he would a client. “If they wanted to see me, they had to make an appointment,” said Dr. Weinstein, who sold his practice and is now president of PAW Consulting. “If they made an appointment, I would try to see them in the same sequence that I would see clients and give them the full 20-to-30-minute block that I would give to a client to hear what they had to say that could help my practice. And it worked beautifully for both parties.”
There were, of course, exceptions. Some reps wanted to play by their own rules and stop by unannounced, hoping to sneak in an appointment. The first time this happened, Dr. Weinstein might see them without the appointment. But after that? “I’d make them wait,” he said. “They’d have to wait until I finished with everything else. It was a mutual respect situation.”
Dr. Weinstein’s respect for the industry was rooted in part to a deep bond he had with his longtime Victor Medical Rep, Eric Peterson. They first met years ago when Dr. Weinstein was working in other veterinary hospitals as an associate. Peterson was very cordial, friendly, and supportive of the team that he was visiting. Dr. Weinstein observed that the veterinarians Peterson visited were good friends with the rep. And so, when Dr. Weinstein opened his own practice, he went to Peterson for help in putting together the inventory. “I only had to go to one person,” Dr. Weinstein said. The two became friends, and Peterson would become a valuable industry partner for the entire veterinary staff. “He became a part of the family from that standpoint.”
When Dr. Weinstein sold his practice to a consolidator, he did everything he could to maintain that relationship with Peterson and Victor Medical. “It just about broke my heart that we would have to use whom the consolidator suggested rather than Victor Medical.” Still, Dr. Weinstein and Peterson remain friends to this day.
In fact, Dr. Weinstein carried those positive vendor experiences into his tenure as president (1997) of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association (SCVMA). One of the first things he did as president was to create a committee composed of allied industry members. Dr. Weinstein met with different manufacturer and distributor reps in Los Angeles and Orange County and listened to their needs, which was pretty simple. “They really just wanted to have an ear, a relationship, with the local veterinarians,” he said.
The SCVMA’s Allied Industry Committee still exists to this day. Dr. Weinstein firmly believes that a professional association cannot be successful without a relationship with the industry that allows them to provide continuing education. During Dr. Weinstein’s tenure as SCVMA Executive Director (2007-2021), the SCVMA typically did over 100 hours of continuing education for members annually. The association didn’t charge its members to come to the CE either; they only charged nonmembers. “All our CE was free because of the relationships we were able to develop with a plethora of industry sponsors.”
During the pandemic, the SCVMA had to stop its face-to-face events. The association pivoted to free weekly virtual lunches and learns, which were sponsored by industry or a specialty hospital. These kept the industry in front of veterinary hospitals and kept association members up to date on new drugs, new products, and best practices for navigating the pandemic.
The SCVMA also hosts an annual celebration with the help of industry sponsors. They even created an award to recognize the contributions of the industry. Every year, the SCVMA honors an individual for their contributions to the local association. Additionally, they invite the Allied Industry Committee chair to attend the board meetings and have a voice and a say at the table.
These are all examples of how an allied industry on a local level can work. “Veterinarians aren’t the first ones to learn about new drugs or services that are changing,” Dr. Weinstein said. “We need industry for that.” It’s essential for independent practices, especially, to have great relationships with their vendors because it’s one way to try to “compete” with the economies of scale that corporate practices have because of their number of hospitals, he said. “I think that’s the relationship that needs to be fostered, grown, and developed at all levels between veterinarians and reps.”
Dr. Weinstein also believes sales reps can make a positive impact at the pet owner level, even if it’s less obvious. In a column he contributed to SCVMA members, he wrote that this connection includes the lunch and learns, unlimited client education handouts that are available on diseases and products to help veterinarians market them, media advertising for various products and events that are paid for by large companies trying to direct clients into veterinary practices, and national 1-800 customer service lines that help veterinary practices navigate specific client complaints.
Three keys to shared success
Dr. Weinstein said strong relationships between veterinarians and reps are built on three things – service, value, and trust.
Service comes from listening and from giving back. “And that goes both ways.” Industry players provide service for the veterinarians, and veterinarians can help service industry players through the relationship within the practice. For instance, many manufacturers would provide Dr. Weinstein’s staff with free products. “Well, that was a great way to build a relationship from service.” Lunch and learns were also great opportunities. As the veterinarian, service comes from talking to a colleague at a dinner meeting and saying, “Hey, have you met with the new XYZ rep?” Now all of a sudden, the veterinarian is marketing that company.
Value comes with respecting time. The value proposition from an industry player is you’ve got to see a lot of people, and you don’t have a lot of time. But veterinarians must see a lot of people, and they don’t have a lot of time. “How can we respect each other’s time and give each other value?” Dr. Weinstein had reps that would come in monthly that he never bought a huge volume from. But every once in a while, he would buy products from them, just because of the relationship. The value comes from respecting the time, knowledge, and expertise from both sides of the equation – the knowledge and expertise that the rep brings to the table and the knowledge and expertise that the veterinarian can bring to the rep.
Trust is about reps being there when veterinarians need them and being transparent about supply disruptions and pricing.
Allied industry partners aren’t just service providers. They’re teachers as well, Dr. Weinstein said. They bring new products, new resources, and a voice from the street to an individual veterinary practice. Ultimately, industry partners and veterinarians need each other in order to deliver the best veterinary medicine possible.
“Honestly, many veterinary practices are too busy being busy to know what’s going on in their own community,” he said. “And many of these allied industry representatives are out visiting a hundred hospitals in a month or more. They can tell you what’s going on. Allied industry is kind of the boots on the ground in the community in many ways. They probably have a better pulse of what’s happening than anyone.”
The rep ROI
What’s of value to veterinarians when it comes to their distributor reps? Plenty, but Dr. Weinstein ranks the following three as top reasons:
- New products
- Practice tips and area trends
- Staff training
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/SIphotography