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The Inner Sales and Service Drive

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What motivates successful inside sales and customer service reps? In a word – service.

In part one of a two-part series, Veterinary Advantage spoke to inside sales and customer service reps at Midwest, Patterson, Penn Veterinary Supply and Victor Medical Company about their motivations, drive and commitment to servicing their veterinary practice customers. Look for insights from reps at companies including Covetrus and MWI in the October print issue.

Midwest Veterinary Supply

Terry Janus headshot


Terri Janus Inside Sales Team Lead

Terri Janus is proud of the relationships she’s built with clients and vendor partners in her role as an ISR for Midwest Veterinary Supply. “It’s the cornerstone of my job,” she said.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for Janus to meet up with customers for dinner, or help out at a clinic when they’re shorthanded. “Not only does this keep my skills sharp, but it allows me to experience firsthand what our clinics are dealing with in these uncertain times,” she said.

Janus, who has been with Midwest since 2008, said that insight is invaluable as an inside sales team lead. Using those insights, she coaches her “small but mighty” team on how to provide the best customer service and support to clients. “Yes, this is a sales industry, but at the end of the day we take pride in our relationships. Sometimes that means just lending a listening ear to help find solutions where we can.”

Her team members share a similarity in that most are former technicians with over 150 years of combined experience. Janus started her career in 1999 and throughout the years has continued to work in the emergency and companion animal field as a CVT. She works closely with various business units within Midwest, a network of management teams throughout the company and vendor partners to continually look for innovative ways to support clinics. Her own territory includes serving clients in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

“I enjoy being able to apply my experience to the various challenges/opportunities this field presents daily,” she said. “The opportunities within Midwest are endless, and I’m proud to be part of such a respected company in the industry.”

Amid the pandemic, supply shortages certainly became part of the day-to-day conversations, but Midwest has been fortunate to stay ahead of most trends or have an alternative option to offer customers, Janus said. “Because we’re often the first to hear of supply interruptions in the industry, we can reach out to the clinics before they find themselves out of stock on critical supplies.”

Inside Sales Rep Tip

Invest in your skills

Terri Janus doesn’t stand pat in her skill set and industry knowledge. She partakes in CE and vendor/product training weekly to stay up to date with industry advancements. Plus, she’s done relief work at clinics that have been shorthanded due to COVID. “I also continue to pursue leadership and self-development training to help coach my team on how to provide a consistent, positive, and personal experience for our customers.”

Midwest Veterinary Supply

Ryan Long headshot

Ryan Long Inside Sales Manager

In inside sales, doing hard things matters. Ryan Long said that if he and his inside sales team can be of support during the “hard” days for veterinary practices, their relationships with clinics can only be strengthened.

“I hear quite often when customers call in how nice it is to have someone that ‘knows what they want’ and is ‘easy to talk to,’” said Long, inside sales manager for Midwest Veterinary Supply. “I feel that is huge in our industry. Midwest’s ISR team has such a reputation of delivering quality customer service and right now, I think that is more important than ever. We are not just order takers; we want to be so much more than that to our clinics. We really do strive to be partners in their practice.”

Indeed, Long said client conversations have changed in the last 12-14 months. “The clinics we have all been so close with are finding it more and more difficult to find the time to call in (or take our phone calls) is something that I hear,” he said. He and his team have had to become a little more creative with their approach, whether that be more emailing or videos to clients. “I am thankful to say that a lot of our client base has been really good at continuing the communication with our team. We know how difficult it has been for clinics to navigate the pandemic, but truth be told, we just wanted to be there for them when they needed us. Not to ever burden or make their day more difficult in any way.”

As inside sales manager for Midwest’s Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Branch, Long works as a liaison between all departments that would directly communicate with the inside sales team. Outside of daily duties that include scheduling vendors and approving PTO, Long said his main goal is coaching and training his team “to continue with the incredible customer service skills and client education that they already possess.” Long does monthly one-on-ones to discuss challenges, successes, policy changes, product education, computer skills, customer service and anything additionally that a team member would need assistance with. “I feel that, if anything, it gives me an opportunity to connect with my team and help to develop their already incredible abilities,” he said. “Additionally, it allows me to get a ‘bigger picture’ feel for our office as well.”

Inside Sales Rep Tip

Partner with your partners

Ryan Long, inside sales manager, Midwest Veterinary Supply, said his company has done a great job in offering solutions to increase sales skills, as well as overall customer service. “We utilize our manufacturing partners to help us excel in those categories as well,” he said. “With partnering with them, we often get really high-quality training options that the entire sales force gets the opportunity to take advantage of. Keeping up on quality skills, product education, and training continues to allow us to give excellent customer service to our partners at the clinic level (vendors too).”

Patterson

Michelle Jenkins and family

Michele Jenkins Customer Service Rep

Michele Jenkins had planned on some major changes taking place in her life last spring. She went on maternity leave the weekend before her son was born. That weekend? Sunday, March 8, 2020.

“We came out of the hospital and into the pandemic,” said Jenkins, a customer service rep for Patterson.

By the time she returned from maternity leave, her coworkers were working from home. “This was very exciting because my husband was also working from home, so we got to spend a lot of time together!”

Jenkins said you never realize how much time is spent commuting to work every day. Shortly after returning to work, she and her husband made the decision to sell their home in the city and move back to her family’s farm in South Carolina. The plans were to build their “forever home,” but the prices of building materials have put that on hold for now. “Luckily, my father works for a construction company, and he was able to build my husband and I an office on the farm so that we could go to ‘work’ every day while my mother watches our son,” she said. “I may be one of the few that can say the pandemic has changed our life for the better.”

Through her role as an inside sales representative, Jenkins covers parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. Her main responsibilities include working with the outside sales representative to make sure customers are taken care of. This can include anything from taking orders, processing returns, notifying the customer of promotions, and coordinating equipment needs. “I try to fill in wherever I can to help things run smoothly and give the customers a seamless experience.”

As far as her day-to-day work routine, not much has changed for Jenkins amid the pandemic. There are extended hold times due to clinics using phones for curbside services. There are many backorders due to the materials and labor shortages. “In the early days of COVID-19, there was a shortage on PPE to the vet world and we were working with bare minimum for a long time. Fortunately, the PPE is starting to level out some, but I don’t expect it to be back to normal for some time.”

Customer service is a fit for Jenkins because she loves talking to people. “I have a knack for being able to relate to any type of personality,” she said. “I feel as though I can keep calm in situations where others are hostile and do a great job of de-escalating the situation. I have learned that the customer is not angry at me, but angry about the situation. I can recognize the displaced aggression and redirect towards a solution. I can think quickly on my feet and I’m not easily derailed. I’m always conscious of following up and will call a customer just to let them know that I don’t have an update, but I haven’t forgotten about them. That seems to be really appreciated with my customers.”

Since the pandemic, relationships with customers are more important because the outside reps couldn’t go into the clinic, Jenkins said. “The clinics weren’t seeing faces, they weren’t getting materials – they were relying on us to send them information on promotions, backorders, allocations, etc. Some clinics have been so short-staffed that having the time to get on the computer and place an order is time they could be spending working on the floor. With my customers, they can easily shoot me a text with an order. More times than not, these orders are scribbled in a ‘want book’ and I must decipher the handwriting.” However, knowing what these customers order on a week-to-week basis is all Jenkins said she needs to get them what they want.

Emergency calls? They’re a part of the job. “They always seem to come up at the end of the day or on Fridays.” The customer will desperately need something that they either forgot or just ran out of. “Usually, we can get items sent over from another warehouse or upgrade the shipping, so the customer can see it next day,” she said. “There are the very few cases where items just aren’t available and there’s just nothing we can do. There is no preparing for these types of calls, but one of the best things you can do is reassure the customer that we are doing the best we can.”

Jenkins said Patterson has goals that all the customer service reps strive to meet. These goals are centered around calls, sales, and availability. “I work as hard as I can to touch as many customers as I possibly can in one day. This may be something as small as a phone call just checking in on them or calling to give an update even when there is no update to give. It’s the small things that my customers really appreciate. We have to remember that the customers are people and want to be treated as more than an order.”

Victor Medical Company

Kendall Lush headshot

Kendall Lusk Customer Service Rep

With all the uncertainty of the last year and a half, Kendall Lusk was determined to provide a sense of normalcy for his veterinary practice customers. So, he stayed at his post. In fact, he and several other Victor Medical Company team members opted to remain in the office in the early days of the pandemic. They added regular temperature checks, wore masks and implemented social distancing protocols.

“We were willing to go the extra step, take our temperatures, and make sure everything was fine,” said Lusk,
a customer service rep for Victor Medical Company. No outbreaks occurred, and through it all Lusk has been able to provide a high level of service for his accounts, who continue to be challenged by the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Veterinary teams are frustrated with a lack of patience on the part of their clients, who aren’t used to waiting outside for appointments. As more people are vaccinated, veterinary clinics are having to decide whether to switch from curbside appointments to in-person clinic appointments. It’s not an easy decision.

Availability of products can be another pain point. While procuring gloves and masks hasn’t been a problem of late, supplies like needles and syringes are more in demand, so Lusk said it’s important to anticipate what a customer’s needs will be. “When the pandemic first hit, it was easy to anticipate what was going to happen, as far as the PPE supplies and trying to keep things in stock,” he said. “But suppliers have really been backlogged on a lot of things, so it’s made it difficult. Even though they’re starting to get caught up, there’s a backlog of people waiting. There’s a snowball effect.”

When customers call, many will spend the first 10 minutes venting, telling Lusk about the difficulties they’re facing, before even getting to what supplies they may need. “They just want somebody to talk to who understands.” Lusk has been with Victor Medical for 34 years. He’s worked with many of his accounts for 20-30 years, so he knows them well and can lend a sympathetic ear to what they’re going through.

Yet when Lusk calls his accounts, he knows he’ll need a little more time to reach his contacts. The phone lines are often inundated with clients either in the parking lot or trying to book appointments. “It’s harder to get through to the people you need to talk to, because they’re so busy on the phones. Sometimes we will be on hold for several minutes, just to get through to the people that we need to talk to.”

Or, clinics are so busy that they only have time to send a text message. Often Lusk will get texts from a clinic of an image of a product with a request for a reorder. Through it all, Lusk doesn’t mind. “There’s really not much in the way of planning out a day,” he said. “It revolves around what the customers need, what’s going on with them, and how we can help.”

Penn Veterinary Supply

Photo of Janelle Brubaker and puppy in kayak.

Janelle Brubaker Insides Sales Team Lead

Originally, Janelle Brubaker thought being an outside sales rep was more her style. She had experience as a field sales rep in the industry, but at the time, the only position open at Penn Veterinary Supply was for an inside sales rep. So she took a chance.

But it didn’t take long for her to realize how well-suited she was for the inside sales role. “I was hooked,” said Brubaker, who’s been an ISR for going on 19 years. Brubaker liked that she could talk to more customers on a daily basis rather than seeing a client perhaps once a month while driving around a territory. “For me, it was a little bit more immediate satisfaction in the inside sales position.”

And the role has changed over the years, as has the industry, so Brubaker said she doesn’t feel like she’s been doing the same thing for almost two decades. Whether it’s opening up a new branch and call center, or making connections with new customers, “all of those things have made my role exciting and challenging.”

Brubaker is one of three inside sales team leaders. She has daily communication with the inside sales team, which has moved to remote work since the pandemic. “That’s been a big change in the way we as a team have communicated,” she said. “We used to have rallies and all be within the same big room to communicate and hear what everybody else was doing. Now, we have to do that via phone, Zoom, or Teams.”

Along with her sales team leadership responsibilities, Brubaker maintains and grows a customer base of her own. She said she enjoys the mix of serving long-time customers while making connections with new ones. “During this last year, instead of selling a product, we’ve listened more, showed compassion more, and asked how we could help,” she said. “Our clinics are tired, they’re exhausted. So the customer service part of our jobs really kicked in.” Brubaker said ISRs have adjusted by communicating with clients in whatever form is most convenient for them – whether that’s via the phone, email, or texts.

During the pandemic, clinics were stocking up less on standard products and services besides PPE. “They had some fear of what their next day held.” But one good sign is that clients are starting to get back to more normal product orders and stocking more products at their office, she said. “They’re super busy, they can’t keep things on the shelf in the last month or so.”

ISRs are a valuable resource. They can produce supply lists, make suggestions on orders and help clients manage their inventory needs. “Part of our job is to educate them on what’s going on in the market,” Brubaker said. “So it’s important for us to keep them updated.”

Brubaker is constantly educating herself by keeping up with new products and doing weekly training, whether it’s product, customer service or sales related. “All that knowledge is gold when you’re an inside sales rep,” she said. “Our clinics don’t always have time to read up on all of that they don’t know. I’ll discuss a new product that’s been out for two months, and they might not have heard about it. I like being able to give them new information and something of value when I call.”

Inside Sales Rep Tip

Ready in an emergency

The more you sell, the more emergency situations there are. “But my job is to help my customer not have so many emergencies,” said Janelle Brubaker, insides sales team lead, Penn Veterinary Supply. She does that by helping clinics pre-plan, and alerts them to backorders coming up or shipping delays. She’s also ready to work with a customer who calls in the evening for next-day, or even same-day delivery. “It might sound old school, but people still want to hear a voice on the other end of the line,” she said. “I have customers call and say, ‘I’m just so glad that I got a person on the line rather than pushing 20 buttons to leave a message.’ I think that preference will continue.”

Inside Sales Rep Tip

Take good notes 

Janelle Brubaker said it’s important for ISRs to take good notes on each call. For instance, there may be a lot of moving parts to a clinic’s workweek. They may be struggling with something in particular one week, or a key contact is out on vacation, or they’ve requested their ISR follow up with them on a product order to see about the estimated time of delivery. “If I take good notes the follow up will go more smoothly,” Brubaker said.

Victor Medical

Allison Drovandi headshot

Allison Drovandi Customer Service Rep

Allison Drovandi can hear it in their voices. Her veterinary clinic customers are stressed and exhausted. Pet owners are often impatient during their clinic visits and the changes brought on by the pandemic, such as curbside appointments and the need for social distancing. That impatience often shows itself in rude or mean behaviors, which takes a toll on the veterinary staff.

“I’m genuinely concerned about my customers,” said Drovandi, who has being working for Victor Medical for 30 years. “I talk to these people more than I talk to my family. I talk to some people every single day and you get to know them very personally. All we want to do is be there for them and help in any way we can.”

As an inside sales rep, she helps in several ways. The first is her ability through Victor Medical to foresee any shortages that may arise. In the early days of the pandemic that included gloves, masks, gowns and disinfectants. Victor Medical reps worked to get legacy customers stocked up, so they wouldn’t be affected by one customer – or a new customer – trying to buy more product than they would historically. “Everybody was scrambling.”

While supplies of PPE have stabilized, Allison said disruptions are still an everyday challenge in the supply chain. For instance, certain medications have been on back order for months – some for more than a year. Reps have to be honest with customers about what shortages or back orders are out there, but also willing to work hard to find solutions.

“You’ve got to go above and beyond, and never drop the ball,” she said. “If they’re looking for something, you go the distance. Even if you can’t supply it to them, then find the resource that can help. In those ways you can be valuable to them.”

Beyond supplies, Allison said just being a source of encouragement can go a long way with veterinary customers.

“Listening is one of the most important things you can do today,” she said. “You listen to their worries, and you listen to what they’re going through at the clinic. You listen, and then just reinforce that they’re going to get through this.”

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Irina_Strelnikova