The Inner Drive of Inside Reps
What motivates successful inside sales and customer service reps? In a word – service.
In part two of a two-part series, Veterinary Advantage spoke to inside sales and customer service reps at Covetrus and MWI, who talk about their motivations, drive and commitment to servicing their veterinary practice customers.
ISR: Northeast, Covetrus
Lauren Kelly, Inside Sales Rep
Lauren Kelly’s role as an inside sales representative for Covetrus is a hybrid of sorts. Her territory includes serving both traditional veterinary hospitals and veterinary institutional accounts. While those needs may vary, Kelly said her main goal is to make her customers’ lives easier, “whether it be ordering, helping with a pharmacy need for a patient, Rx food, equipment, compounding, software, etc.” She continued, “Yes, I do place orders. And yes, I do sell, but I also see myself as a business partner. If my/our customers don’t flourish, then how can we?”
Kelly has been with Covetrus for 13 years and in the animal health field for 26 years in one form or another. “I love what I do,” she said. “I like talking and relating to people. I love animals. Since the field always changes, so does my job in a sense so I’m always challenged.”
Challenges have not been in short supply as of late. As a salesperson, Kelly said she went from stocking a hospital to helping the hospital staff move existing stock from the shelves since people weren’t coming into the hospital. She talked about utilizing their platform (online ordering, shipping to the home), about bringing less traffic to the door and less staff running out to handle the transaction or fielding a refill call. She had very open communications about finding new ways to help revenue come into her veterinary practices. The conversations ranged from solutions such as utilizing a new platform (food and prescriptions), compounding with auto-ship, to account managers stepping in as well to brainstorm.
Kelly said the experiences of the last year and a half have changed her outlook to being more grateful. “I’m grateful to work for a company who can adapt to changes and be prepared, and for the animal health field that never stopped caring and treating when their jobs became frontline/essential in a pandemic,” she said. “All in all, it changed my approach to my customers and their needs.”
One thing that remains constant in her field is change, Kelly said. In order to keep growing and being successful, “you have to change or roll with it. My day-to-day didn’t change much, but my customers’ day-to-day did, and our conversations definitely did.”
Follow up and follow-through
Any call an inside sales rep receives could be an emergency situation. Examples include something was shipped wrong, came damaged or there is a pet in need. In those instances anyone who touches the account/customer is involved until the situation is solved, said Kelly.
“I will then follow up with the customer to let them know what was done, and follow through when the situation is completed,” she said. “I like to know if there is something we can improve upon and make necessary changes from there.”
There’s no way to really prepare for these calls. Every situation is different, she said. “My life experience helps me. My relationships with my account managers, co-workers, and customers are what gets the situation handled.
Ways to improve
Kelly offered several ways in which she works to improve as an inside sales rep:
- I listen to my customers and my co-workers. I try and stay current within the field.
- I like learning new approaches. Better ways to communicate and effectively get a job done.
- I read a lot of journals and studies. I immerse myself in the field. I can never know too much about animal health. I also proctor for Penn Foster’s tech program and teach Comprehensive Veterinary Assisting in an Adult Ed program.
- I try and work in the field as well just to get hands-on experience again and see what has changed.
- Covetrus is amazing at setting up meetings to learn about new products. Vendor relationships are so important for the proper functioning of nearly anything in this field. I like being able to reach anyone with a phone call, email, or text. Makes my life, my job so much easier. Most importantly is the support to the team (both employees and its customers). This is why I’m grateful.
- After a curveball year, I’d like to quote Rocky Balboa, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
ISR: MWI Animal Health
Michael Lankow, Customer Engagement Rep
This year marks Michael Lankow’s 20th year with MWI Animal Health. Over that time one thing remains constant – customer service. “Helping clients each day with all their different needs from tracking orders, helping find alternatives for back-ordered products, running reports, keeping them aware of promotions, to just having a conversation about general life that pertains to the region they live makes up most of my responsibilities and what I enjoy doing,” he said.
The pandemic has certainly changed Lankow’s day-to-day routine. Although he was already working remotely from home, he still had the opportunity to get together with co-workers at the office occasionally and attend different functions. Since the pandemic stopped those opportunities, getting together through different platforms such as Zoom has become more prevalent. While it does not take the place of in-person, it at least still allows for keeping in touch, he said. “Hopefully soon things will change and we will see a return to normal.”
Lankow said over the last year the conversation with the customer has changed, too. The pandemic has created an environment that has affected so many aspects that were never quite as impacted. One of the major issues has just been the availability of products that are becoming harder to source simply due to shutdowns or lack of resources, he said. “In the past, the conversation about backorders could be attributed to lack of raw ingredient and here is the date we can expect it back; where now, it seems most conversations are these backorders are a product of the pandemic and we will have to just wait and see.”
Yet through all the change, working as a CER still has the best benefits. “It allows me to reach all customers and help them with the issues they are facing and help them with options to succeed.”
Since the pandemic, many territory managers have not been able to travel, which has prevented them from visiting clinics. Because of no contact, clinics have relied more on CERs for all their needs, Lankow said. “Just recently one of my clinics was going to ship product to one of their customers since the doctor had traveled there to work. The doctor arrived and realized that the product was nowhere to be found. The clinic then realized they never sent the box. Because they could not ship it for next-day delivery, they called and asked if we had any means to get the product shipped for the next day. Turns out the clinic’s customer was near one of our warehouses and we were able to still get product out the door for the next morning.” It is situations like this that make relationships so strong with clinics.
Multitasking comes with the job, Lankow said. You must be able to focus on every customer and their needs and help them with all their issues. It may be a damaged item from their last order or the order they needed the next day was lost in transit. Preparing each day to have potential resolutions to these types of issues is what makes this job rewarding because you can take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one for your clinic.
“Fortunately, we have resources in abundance that help make me successful each day from product training to customer interaction training,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to work for a company that is always trending upward and adapting to change so that I can continue to offer the best customer service possible.”
ISR: MWI Animal Health
Donna Broussard, Customer Engagement Rep
Donna Broussard joined the MWI Inside Sales Team in June 2014. For the first five years, the official title for her role was inside sales representative. But recently the title for her role changed to customer engagement representative, “which honestly is a more accurate title for what I do day to day,” she said. “My responsibilities summed up in a very simple description would be inside sales, customer service, and all that entails. A basic list of responsibilities would include answering calls, taking orders, managing issues, etc.”
The pandemic has had a significant impact on Broussard’s daily routine. To begin with, the general flow of her day changed entirely. Prior to the pandemic, Broussard’s phone started ringing nonstop from about 1 p.m. on. She had time between morning calls to make outbound calls for various reasons (follow-ups, backorder availability, etc.). She would also use this time to run various usage reports so she could alert accounts about any promotions or opportunities that they could take advantage of.
However, once the shelters were cleared after stay-at-home orders were put in place, the patient volume for veterinary practices significantly increased, and Broussard’s phone began ringing earlier and earlier. Instead of being able to carve out a few hours of time during the week for research and follow-up between calls, she found that she was more limited to the last 30-45 minutes of her day having limited phone traffic. “As pressing issues need to be managed first, this allowed little to no time for general research or follow-up calls on anything that wasn’t necessary,” she said. “I shifted my focus to getting out lists to let my accounts know what was currently available in their warehouse in the way of masks, surgical gloves, isolation gowns, and disinfectants. My goal became to be 100% proactive in keeping customers aware of current shortages and providing information on the alternatives.”
While things have not returned to the way that they were prior to COVID, Broussard said she believes they’ve settled into a sort of “new normal.” Clinics are still just as busy, and while there isn’t such a supply issue with PPE as there was initially, there are ongoing challenges in the supply chain for vital products, drugs, and equipment due to COVID, she said.
“How are you?”
It’s no secret that the veterinary profession has traditionally struggled with compassion fatigue/burnout for every single member of the team without a pandemic, Broussard said. Now, it’s only increased. A standard practice may have double or triple the patient load, all while keeping clients in the parking lot, communicating with them only over the phone, and struggling with staff shortages, supply shortages, and cost spikes on the most basic of necessities on top of the normal stresses. Broussard said the wrap-up on a call has shifted from a basic “is there anything else I can help with?” to more of “How are you, and is there any particular issue you are running into that I can help with at all?
“I have the most amazing customers, and I know that they are doing their best to manage these challenges with grace, but I make sure to check in and let them know that I am here and ready to help in any way I can,” she said. Sometimes that may be just to be an ear for them to vent some general frustrations, and other times it’s an opportunity to provide information or insight into systems or products that may help to manage at least one thing a bit better.
Broussard is well acquainted to the challenges within a veterinary clinic. Prior to her role with MWI, she spent a little over 20 years working in small animal veterinary hospitals. She began at 16 years of age working in a small animal hospital in New Orleans, and by the time she transitioned over to MWI at 37, she had several years of practice management experience.
“The veterinary community consists of some of the most hardworking, dedicated, and compassionate people I’ve ever encountered,” she said. “Much of the team in any veterinary facility are doing the job because they are passionate about advocating for animals. I’ve always been so thankful for having found my way into the animal health field, as over the years I’ve been repeatedly inspired by the sacrifices that these amazing humans make every single day.”
Being a veterinary professional in any role of the hospital is incredibly rewarding at times, but it takes an emotional and physical toll, Broussard said. Compassion burnout is a very real thing, and “it isn’t a huge secret” that so many veterinary professionals are undercompensated or feel underappreciated. “Typically, the person reaching out to me who is managing inventory is also filling several other roles in the clinic as well,” she said. “They are stretched very thin. I understand this struggle completely, and my primary goal is to be someone that they can rely on as a sort of extension to their team.”
When working with a new inventory manager at one of her veterinary clinics, Broussard tells him or her: “Please do not spend precious time trying to hunt down where you get what. Just drop me an email or call to ask. I will point you in the correct direction. If I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to find it for you!”
From the perspective of someone managing inventory in a practice, utilizing a distributor is incredibly helpful. “Making one call instead of three saves time,” Broussard said. “Not having to figure out who you need to call about a damaged or incorrect shipment saves time. Being able to get a clear and total purchase history when managing inventory with only one call saves time. The faster you can get things done, and the quicker you can compile information, the more time you have for patient care.”
When items are in short supply or back-ordered, distributors will usually have options for alternates as well as multiple locations where product is housed. Broussard believes that the sudden increase in patient volume created very little time for anything else, like being able to sit for 30 minutes and place orders with three different entities.
Broussard said she decided she wanted to work for MWI whenever she left clinic work – which was about 5 years prior to when she actually did so. “I remember telling my MWI rep ‘whenever I leave this job, I am going to work at MWI and decorate the heck out of my cubicle,’” she said. “I say this because I felt strongly from a customer perspective that my MWI rep had the ability to get things done. If I had an issue, which was rare, I made one phone call or sent one email. That was it. I didn’t have to call to follow up over and over, or get transferred multiple times.”
Broussard wanted to work for a company where she could do as much as needed when it was needed. “While MWI has certainly evolved since I started, the director over the entire sales team is always approachable and incredibly gracious,” she said. “I have a phenomenal manager that I can go to for direction or assistance, and I have an outside sales partner that is quick to assist and work as a team.”
As a company, MWI invests in additional training to help identify ways its reps can provide better service and understand our customers better, Broussard said. The company is constantly working on more evolved reporting to provide better tools for taking care of customers. “They ask us for input and ideas,” she said. “I know ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ is a bit of a corny saying, but it is absolutely true.”
Evaluate and update your reminder systems
Broussard is constantly trying to come up with smarter, more streamlined processes to keep up with the increasing pace of her work, while not letting her attention and service level drop. Her reminder systems have evolved over the years to be faster and more efficient. She tries to educate herself on new products not only by reading but by asking for feedback from her customers. “I am always trying to work smarter,” she said. “I’m not always successful in this, but it’s a constant goal. I enjoy being a problem solver, and I like coming up with systems that reduce error and allow me to catch a problem before it happens.”
Image credit: istockphoto.com/PeopleImages