Tom Marshall: Finding New Ways to Help Customers
Whether it’s growing a territory from scratch or solving today’s customer pain points, MWI Territory Manager Tom Marshall isn’t afraid of a new challenge.
Keeping an open mind has served Tom Marshall well as a long-tenured territory manager for MWI Animal Health. For instance, not too long ago, Marshall was taking his dog to the local groomer, who kept hours at different pet retailers in the area. While paying for the grooming services, the cashier offered Marshall a monthly wellness plan that had been packaged affordably. “That was an eye opener for me when it came to selling MWI’s Easy Care Program,” Marshall said. “While I was going to say no because it didn’t fit me, I knew many people would say yes to that. And if they are saying yes, that means they’re not going to their veterinarians. They’ve then switched based on the subscription model.”
Marshall has recounted that personal experience many times in conversations with veterinary practice clients. “I will walk into a waiting room with a doctor and say, ‘hey, look at the people who have their faces in their phones. Those are your customers that are meant to be on a subscription model. They probably already have seven or eight subscriptions. This is how they like it.’”
Marshall said he has a passion for trying to help veterinarians compete in the modern marketplace by using the new technology, tools, and services that MWI can provide. He doesn’t want them to just maintain their business. He’s determined to help them grow it. “Because if we don’t if they practice the same medicine that’s been practiced for the last 10-15 years, it’s going to be a tougher job to hold on to customers and replace customers with younger customers who live so much of their lives on subscriptions and their phones.”
Forging a new region
Marshall knows the challenges presented to independent veterinarians perhaps better than most. He’s grown up with them in the industry and Northeast region as he’s built his territory over the years. Marshall was one of the eight original MWI reps who helped form the organization’s Northeast region almost 20 years ago. Prior to joining MWI, he had been a regional manager for another distributor when a manufacturer partner had recommended Marshall talk to MWI about its plan for creating a new region. “It was kind of the Wild West in those early days,” Marshall said.
But the territory managers slowly built their territories, customer by customer. Today, almost three completely new regions cover what used to be the geography of the original Northeast region, with dozens of reps calling on customers where in the beginning, there were only eight. Marshall himself has passed many accounts over to other reps as the territories expanded and changed. He said MWI’s territory managers found success using a simple formula – doing what they said they would do. “Coming in and actually doing what the doctors were asking, and getting back to them, was something that they really weren’t used to seeing,” Marshall said. “You had to have an aggressive mindset. You were sitting at zero, so you’re just looking for dollars every day. You’re going out hunting and trying to find new business and find somebody that’s willing to take a chance on a company that they’ve never heard of. Pretty exciting stuff.”
The conditions have certainly changed even though Marshall’s enthusiasm hasn’t. Twenty years ago, buying groups and corporate groups didn’t have nearly the market presence they do today. The traditional ownership model was for an associate to come on board, work in a practice for years, then buy it when the older veterinarian wanted to retire. Now there’s no guarantee the associate wants to stick around or even buy the practice. What veterinarians now want out of their careers varies. For many young veterinarians, ownership may not be in their reach or may not be something they want, Marshall said. “They may be looking more for an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. Or it may be partnering with a corporate group to help finance.”
Complicated, consultative sales
Calling on accounts today is much more targeted, Marshall said. “It’s much more consultative, with how we work with veterinary clinics and help them run their business rather than worrying about an individual product,” Marshall said. “Product placement is still obviously important. But now it’s about listening to the customer’s needs, and finding out how our solutions fit.”
There are more conversations with clients, too, and more team members involved at the organizational level. “A technology rep can be essential to a region,” said Marshall, which is a role that didn’t exist two decades ago. Now, newer reps are often more dependent upon technology reps because there’s only so much time that day to learn and become an expert in the services and solutions offered. The amount of technology and services and solutions available is “tenfold” what it was in the past, Marshall said. Reps used to walk around with a giant blue paper book of information. They’d have to find a payphone that “hopefully didn’t have a ketchup stain on it” to call in orders, he said. Reps were excited when they got pagers. Now, all of their information and data is basically in their hands with smartphones.
“The job is definitely much more than it ever was,” Marshall said. “But that is the reason why I enjoy being a distributor rep. I like learning. I like the technology. I like seeing new things. As a distributor rep, where your portfolio is now much larger, there’s always something to learn or something to continue to do to figure out a new way to help customers.”
Over the years, Marshall has been involved in several iterations of MWI’s sales council. Post-COVID, he requested to be brought back on, as he and several leaders in the organization saw an opportunity to revamp the council. Leadership approached Marshall and another veteran sales leader in the organization about how the sales council could be different and better in a post-COVID marketplace. So, the MWI sales team made several changes. First, they opened the sales council up to all reps in the field, rather than a single per region that had been nominated and approved by a director. Second, each rep was encouraged to list their most significant wants, needs, issues, concerns, positives and negatives of their jobs. From those topics, the sales council formed subcommittees and allowed people to pick which committee they wanted to be on.
“Just like anything in life, when you’ve got a passion point, you’re much more involved,” said Marshall. “We are tackling things from technology to customer service issues to rep issues. We’ve got a nice structure now where we’re forming solutions, which are being presented up the executive ladder. We’ve already gotten some of those solutions implemented.”
For instance, one subcommittee had the idea to combine all the contacts, resources, and information the organization had on new practice programs and put it into a central location for reps to access. The information is automatically updated on a regular basis. So now, when a rep walks into a new clinic, not only do they have all the tools they need, but they have it in one location and know that it’s up to date.
Rep involvement has noticeably increased on the sales council, Marshall said. “People are really going after it,” he said, “trying to create solutions to issues they personally find troublesome, whether it’s making their job more streamlined, making something better for customers, making something better for the industry, technology improvements, connection issues, whatever it may be. It’s been nice to watch people who care, have that passion for certain subjects, take control of it and come up with their own solutions.”
The reality is reps can sit around and complain about their concerns or issues all day. But what is that ultimately accomplishing? Whether it’s convincing veterinarians to try a new product or encouraging them to try new technology to compete against larger clinics and corporate entities, Marshall said he enjoys finding different ways to do his job. “The only real power we have is trying to devise a way to solve those concerns and those issues.”
Photo caption: Left to right: Tom Marshall, Scott Koch and Ken Smith