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Veterinarian Technician February 2013 (Vol 34, No 2)

Management Matters: Management 101 for New Supervisors: Marketing

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Your veterinary practice is like any other business that needs to market its products and services. What do you know about the marketing plan of your practice? Probably less than you think. Sure—you might know whether your business has a Yellow Pages ad, some brochures, a mailing to kick off dental month, or an occasional coupon for half off the first exam. Actually, these are all considered to be advertising, which is a type of marketing. There is so much more to marketing! In fact, your greatest marketing tools are sitting right in front of you in the staff meeting … your team members! This introduction to marketing can help you teach your team members how they can bring clients and patients in the door and make them loyal customers.

    Marketing can be defined as (1) giving information that implies an offer to sell or (2) anything that has an impact on a client’s impression of a hospital and its staff. Based on the second definition, a lot more marketing of your practice may be going on than you thought. The second definition includes the appearance of your practice’s road sign and landscaping, whether your parking lot is easy to use, the smell when clients walk through the door, and the way in which they are greeted. As you can see, marketing starts long before clients even reach your front door. If they have a good impression already, they arrive at the front desk pleased and ready to trust you. However, if they have a negative impression, the front office team better deliver the best client service ever to convert that impression, which puts a lot of pressure on the team!

    Beyond the front desk, all the details matter just as much, but now we’re moving into a more intangible realm of marketing in which the employees have a big part. When a team member makes an effort to persuade a pet owner to purchase a product or service, this is considered personal selling. This also occurs over the phone. The front office team is responsible for bringing every client (except walk-in clients) through the door. The way the team answers a call and responds to a pet owner’s needs determines whether the call will be converted to an appointment. For this reason, teaching client service and communication to the front office team will support your marketing plan.

    While it’s easy to see veterinary medicine as a service industry, we have to realize that we are salespeople as well. For clients to make an informed decision, the team needs to educate clients as much as possible. This also takes place when a team member is presenting a financial estimate or treatment plan to a client. The team member needs to teach the client why the doctor has recommended the services or products. It’s also important for the team to explain the benefit to the pet and the family. For example, a dental cleaning will relieve the family of the pet’s bad breath, a vaccination may guard against a life-threatening disease, and good nutrition will enable the pet to live longer with the family.

    Typically, we spend too little time teaching our teams how to teach our clients! For example, all client handouts must be studied and remembered by every team member. You do not want clients knowing more than your employees about a condition or procedure. Communication also involves body language and maintaining awareness. People will believe what they see, not what you say. If a team member is recommending a new diet and explaining its benefits, but his or her body language is telling another story, the client will lose confidence in the recommendation. We all know what body language is, but we are seldom aware of our own. Pay attention to the image you’re broadcasting. Become aware of your body position, facial expression, amount of eye contact, and, especially, tone of voice. Make sure you’re sending the signal you intend to send. Then work with your teammates to help everyone become aware of their marketing message.

    After a team discussion on marketing efforts and creating positive impressions for clients who are at the hospital, redirect the conversation to attracting new clients. The best method of reaching new people is to expand your reach and reputation in the community. Team members can certainly help make this possible. Have the team decide how the practice should get involved in the community; for example, you could sponsor a Little League team, have a booth at a pet expo, or host informational meetings about important pet health topics. The team may think of things that management never considered, and involving the team will help recruit volunteers for sponsored events. To make it fun and show appreciation to employee volunteers, give them a custom-made T-shirt, which can be specific to the event. Only volunteers should get a T-shirt.

    Another way to help the team market the practice is to give all employees their own business cards. Employees can give their cards to clients when they first meet in the hospital and to people in the general public. Team members need to remember that they represent the practice outside its walls, too. As we all know, people love to talk about their pets when they find out what we do for a living. Your conversations with others can affect whether they walk away with a good or bad feeling about your practice. Employees should feel free to give out their cards; most people are impressed by this, and it can make employees feel good about their importance in the organization.

    As with any expense in a practice, the proof of what you spend on marketing is in the “pudding”—or, in this case, the profits. We like to talk about return on investment (ROI). The goal is to make more money than we spend and to develop new sources of revenue. This is easy enough to do with a piece of equipment because you know the purchase price and how often the equipment is used. However, marketing is different because it provides some intangible benefits to a practice. The overall purpose of marketing efforts is to promote your practice’s name and logo in the community. This helps a practice establish itself as a brand. Branding involves creating a symbol that establishes a sense of expectation of the level of service from a brand. So there is a benefit to just being visible in the community, without calculating the resulting number of new or repeat clients.

    To get a feel for the performance of a specific marketing endeavor, you must solicit information from clients. During new client check-in, have clients answer the question, “How did you learn of our hospital?” To be more exact, make the question multiple choice, allowing clients to select from a list (e.g., the Yellow Pages, brochures at the local groomer, a table at a canine fun run, driving by, a personal recommendation). For personal recommendations, send a thank-you note to the client who made the recommendation. If you work in a specialty practice, clients will likely answer that they learned of your practice from their regular veterinarian, but dig deeper: maybe they first heard of your practice through a friend, saw your sign while driving by, or saw/read something about your practice in the media. Therefore, phrase the question, “How did you first learn of our practice?” and have a list of possibilities to trigger the client’s memory. If you have an emergency practice, find out whether clients were referred by their veterinarian’s after-hours phone message (and ask for the practice’s name!), saw your brochure in their veterinarian’s lobby (and ask for the practice’s name!), saw your practice when driving by, found it by searching the Internet, or heard about it through a friend or relative (ask for the person’s name so that you can send a thank-you note).

    Marketing can include many different methods! Explore the options with your team. Involve team members in events, and show your appreciation. Assign marketing areas or tasks to team members to demonstrate that everyone can have a part in marketing your practice. Perhaps one team member could watch for landscaping concerns around your practice. Another member could revise a brochure, and someone else could design the table display for a booth at a pet expo. Foster a sense of pride among your team members, and they will respond by marketing your practice in the best light.

    Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, is the founder and owner of interFace Veterinary HR Systems, LLC (www.KatherineDobbs.com)—a human resources consulting business. She discloses that she has received financial benefits from CareCredit, Bayer Animal Health, Virbac Animal Health, ImproMed, Veterinary Practice News, AAHA Press, VCA, and AdvanStar. She has also served on the Bayer Technician Advisory Council, the Virbac Compassionate Care Council Advisory Board, and the Blueprints Veterinary Marketing Group.

    NEXT: Small Animal Dental Procedures: Anatomy of the Dental Radiograph


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