Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a series of monthly articles that discusses the insightful viewpoints of four of the most respected and well-known financial experts in the veterinary business today, who came together in late 2014 and 2015 at the invitation of Henry Schein Animal Health, Ceva, Elanco, Merck, Merial, Purina, and Virbac to share their expertise and informed opinions in the areas of pharmacy, nutrition and data.
They are: Dr. Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting; Gary I. Glassman, CPA of Burzenski & Company, P.C.; Dr. Marsha L. Heinke, DVM, EA, CPA, CVPM of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc.; and Fritz Wood, CPA, CFP, HF of Wood Consulting. The mission of the “Veterinary Pharmacy Diets and Data Solutions Workshop” is bringing expert advice and actionable business solutions to increase the practice success of the veterinary customers we serve while reinforcing the veterinarian to the pet owner as the best source of healthcare and product choices for longer healthier lives of the pet family member. Be sure to visit henryscheinvet.com/betterbusiness to watch live video clips excerpted from the workshop that accompany each monthly article.
Managing pharmacy client perceptions
In some of our previous articles, we’ve discussed some communication best practices – whether it’s conveying your value proposition or developing and using consistent messaging. It’s all part of managing the perceptions your clients have on their first visit, or have over time because of external developments or even their experience with your practice.
Why it’s important
Practically everything your practice shows or tells on a daily basis circles back to managing client perceptions. If you and your staff send conflicting or inconsistent messages about heartworm medication, for example, your clients may perceive that as confusion or even incompetence. Much of managing client perceptions about pet medication may have nothing to do with what you are doing. Clarifying misinformation they absorb from the news, social media or even over-the-fence conversations can become a fulltime job. Here are a few examples:
- Heartworm and flea infestations only happen because of risky behavior.
We all know that getting a mosquito bite doesn’t constitute risky behavior – even in humans.
- The odds of my dog getting heartworm are pretty low. I’ll take my chances.
The prevalence in untreated animals is relatively high. Provide epidemiological evidence to your clients. It’s readily available for every geographic area of the country.
- Heartworm medication is really expensive.
Compare the cost of heartworm medicine to treatment. This is a no-brainer.
- Big box retailers always sell for less.
If you are able to sell these medicinations at or near what these retailers are selling them for, tell them! Provide a graphic comparing your prices with competitors.
If your clients are feeling dictated to about products, help them feel they have a choice. If your clients perceive that getting medications at the animal hospital is a hassle, provide home delivery options or a webstore. If your clients are muttering in the reception area they feel veterinarians charge the highest prices, exploit every opportunity to send the consistent and powerful message, “Our prices are competitive,” through posters, reminders, newsletters and exam room dialog, to name a few.
A few tips …
- When you find it necessary to combat misinformation or skewed perceptions about your business, personalize the conversation. Don’t over-rely on stiff medical journal lingo. It can be a turnoff.
- Keep your messages simple and easy to digest. Powerful visuals tend to stick with busy people.
- Share well-established, respected educational resources with your clients.
- Don’t mince words when you need your client’s attention: (“Heartworm medication will save your pet’s life.”)
Managing client perceptions with nutrition
Nutrition shows time and time again its potential to drive volume in veterinary practices. Not only is it good medicine, but good business as well. But it’s often easy to allow your nutrition business to coast in neutral. Think: Are you paying enough attention to what your clients, both current and potential, think about your dietary business?
Why it’s important
Managing your clients’ perceptions and expectations of nutrition in general, and your business in particular, is a balancing act; pay too little attention and like your pharmacy business, your clients could begin to perceive that although nutrition is important to them, it isn’t to you. Barraging your clients with aggressive sales efforts could send them quickly to your competitors. As a veterinary practice owner, it’s essential that you take the time to tell people in a regular and consistent way how important nutrition is to their pets’ health. This will go far in warding off the misinformation so rampant now about pet food. This becomes all the more critical given the proliferation and mass marketing of animal wellness diets. Consumer choices are almost overwhelming.
There are many, but here are a few of the big ones:
- Therapeutic and wellness diets are no different.
Your clients may tell you they bought a “wellness” diet from a big box store formulated to treat kidney disease, and question why their pet isn’t improving.
- Wellness diets are expensive or really unnecessary, or just a fancy label for what a grocer carries.
Like pharmacy, it’s essential you know the prices your competitors (local and online) are charging, and educate your clients on the value they get from getting their diets from you. Remember to compare on a cost per day. Higher quality diets can actually cost less to feed.
- Therapeutic diets seem pretty costly compared to a “normal” healthy diet.
Clients can get so hung up on the bag price, they often miss the improvements the diets are having on their pet’s health. And remember to compare the diets on a cost per day.
Stay informed. Animal nutrition is not a static science. New studies are exploding myths and uncovering new information that you can use to inform your clients. Pet owners want the same quality of nutrition for their pets that they want for themselves. There is a lot of news about contaminated pet snacks and diets. This is an opportunity to launch a discussion with your clients about the healthful benefits of your wellness diets. Consider all available opportunities to gather information on clients’ nutritional perceptions and expectations. Even the reception area can provide an opportunity to have a discussion about wellness diets if the animal is being weighed and something has noticeably changed. Also make sure to include a body condition score to identify your patients that are overweight. Make nutritional products highly visible and easily accessible in your practice. When you make recommendations about diet and nutrition, having the product available and making it convenient for the client demonstrates the importance of nutrition and enables that trusting relationship.
Keeping tabs on client trends in your practice
In our September issue, we discussed the kinds of client data to watch, such as: client attrition, attraction and return rates, and their effect on revenues and profits; satisfaction surveys; and new clients per doctor. Keeping tabs on client trends in your practice is among the most important data task there is because it directly and indirectly impacts revenues.
Why? Increasing your clients is essential to growing your business, including exploring new potential markets, products and services to fill an unmet need. It is also important to track the source of your new clients to help create effective marketing programs and budgets. Finally, monitoring client trends helps you understand if your practice is resonating with the community and where it’s missing the mark – both essential to remaining viable and vibrant.
The ways veterinarians manage their client bases are varied. Some pay closest attention to retaining existing clients. Others may prefer to focus more on growing their number of clients. But increasing new clients while increasing existing client loyalty are both important to increasing your practice success.
Behind the numbers
About the Author
As we’ve previously discussed, the best data analysis involves relating key pieces of information with one another. Good examples can be revenues per client or returns on marketing dollars. A close examination and understanding of the relationship between your marketing spend compared to new clients will identify what’s working well and what’s ineffective. Knowing how much it cost to attract and hold on to a new client over one year, for example, can be invaluable when compared to the revenues that client brought to your practice in that same period of time.
Other data gathering efforts such as mining exam room report card information could yield valuable intelligence about your clients’ likes and dislikes, and the perceptions they have about any number of things, including the products and services your practice offers. You can also use that data to drive compliance and adjust marketing efforts.
Most veterinarians can easily tell you facts about the numbers of new clients they earned in a year, but far fewer seem to have a good handle on how many they’re losing or lost – or why. There may be a myriad of reasons for this, but if you don’t take the time to understand what they are, there could be trouble ahead. If client visits or purchases are trailing off, or pet owners have requested copies of their pets’ medical records, it could be a sign of an ailing pet, a change in loyalty (client defection), a change in a client’s financial condition, or simply client apathy. It’s important you find out why, and take steps to correct the situation.
Dawn Burdette, Executive Director, Sales Leadership and Development has served HSAH for over 25 years. Dawn has served in a variety of positions in sales and management. This includes training our sales force on the business of veterinary medicine and bringing business solutions to our customers that increase financial success for veterinary practices. Dawn currently serves on the AVMA’s Veterinary Economic Strategy Committee.