Building Relationships with Veterinary Sales Representatives

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Sales representatives often get a bad rap in the business world, including in veterinary practices. A representative often gets no further than a front-office gatekeeper who promises to pass on the sales literature to the appropriate person. Unfortunately, when a veterinary practice client service representative (CSR) intercepts and does not pass along the information, the practice may miss out on important industry benefits, practice promotions, and savings. Patient care also may be affected if critical information is intercepted and not passed along.

Sales representatives, who also may be called territory managers or area representatives, are indeed tasked with delivering product information and selling products to the practice, but they can do far more if given the opportunity. Most importantly, sales representatives are resources for the entire veterinary team, not just veterinarians.

What Sales Representatives Can Do for a Practice

Representatives can bring the veterinary team far more than products, including:

  • Back-order solutions
  • Continuing education (beyond lunch-and-learns)
  • Industry benchmarks
  • Industry connections
  • Industry forecasts
  • Inventory management-related solutions

Take advantage of the resources sales representatives can provide by using the following 3 steps to develop relationships.

  • Build the relationship (ie, develop respect and trust).
  • Maintain the relationship (ie, ensure both parties contribute).
  • Enrich the relationship (ie, allot enough time to meet, share knowledge). 

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Also, remember that any strong relationship is a 2-way street. The practice team receives products, education, and more. The sales representative obtains a loyal customer who is willing to use and promote his or her products and engage in programs he or she can provide, ultimately helping the representative reach his or her goals. 

Building Relationships

Sales representatives want to share their knowledge with the team—not just with veterinarians—so every team member should take steps to build a relationship.

Helping Every Team Member

A sales representative can provide each practice team member with knowledge and opportunities. Each team member should ask the following questions.

CLIENT SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES

  • Ask the representative about his or her products, how they work, studies that were performed with the product, and manufacturer guarantees. Also, ask for advice on communicating with clients and answering their questions about the product. 

VETERINARY NURSES

  • Ask for more detailed information about the product  (eg, the science behind it, why it works, how it should be applied) so clients can be educated with all the necessary information.

PRACTICE MANAGERS

  • How can the product be promoted to team members and clients? Is the price right for the practice clientele? What other benefits (eg, CE courses) can the sales representative provide the practice team? Would the sales representative be willing to speak to the team or provide videos about special procedures using his or her products?

VETERINARIANS

  • Why is this product better than others? What does it do for patients that similar products do not?

The representatives often target practice managers or veterinarians when a new product is available. However, other team members (eg, CSRs, veterinary nurses) can also build relationships by asking science- and sales-related questions about products the practice already carries and relaying client comments. In the author’s experience, meetings should last no more than 30 minutes and should be scheduled in advance at an optimal time for the practice. Find a time that works best for both the practice team and the representative. 

Practices can be extremely busy (and clients should always come first), so ask representatives to set appointments, rather than just show up, to avoid meetings being rushed.

Relationships are built on mutual respect: give respect = get respect. Each person should use active listening skills (eg, eye contact, appropriate body language), focus on the presentation without interrupting, ensure the information is understood, and give honest, respectful feedback.

Sales representatives can provide more than the product they represent, if the team allows. For example, representatives can:

  • Bring outside skills and knowledge (eg, inventory management ideas, practice management tips, OSHA compliance strategies) to the practice. 
  • Organize nationally known speakers and consultants from their company to speak to the team.
  • Provide funding to help send exceptional team members to CE courses and conferences. 
  • Provide access to training programs at other institutions (eg, territory managers for Patterson Veterinary University can make available the university’s courses on human resources, inventory, OSHA rules, marketing, finance, communication, and customer service).

Spending time listening and learning can reap rewards in improved client communication and service, and personal and professional growth.

Sales Representatives as Resources

WellMP tap resources offered by their sales representatives to:

  • Learn strategies to reduce inventory cost
  • Enhance usage of their online pharmacy platform
  • Provide CE to bolster the team’s knowledge and communication skills (eg, increasing team members’ knowledge, confidence, and comfort in communicating the role diet plays in optimum health ensures healthier pets, happier clients, and success with food sales growth*)  

*Online nutrition education modules are available through Royal Canin Academy E-Learning Modules, Hills Veterinary Nutritional Advocate courses, and Purina’s Daily Nutrition Matters.

Sources:  

  • Benchmarks 2015: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants & Advanstar Publishing; 2015:45. 
  • Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants & Advanstar Publishing; 2016:24.

Maintaining Relationships

Once the relationship is established, the respect and trust that have been developed must be maintained by both parties. If the team wants the sales representative to provide products, information, and education opportunities, team members must do their part (eg, recommending to clients new products the representative provides, trying out product samples on their own pets, participating in programs and challenges associated with products). 

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Enhancing Relationships 

Like all relationships, the sales representative–veterinary team relationship must not remain stagnant but must be nurtured.

Sales representatives can continually bring new value to the practice; however, practices often do not give them the time or the opportunity. Set aside time to take advantage of all that sales representatives have to offer. Set a standard appointment time that allows the relationship to grow. Ask the representative to participate in practice events (eg, lunches, outings, open houses). Practices may also ask the representative for honest feedback about the practice, regarding odor control, cleanliness, and team member–client service (eg, friendliness, helpfulness).   

Conclusion

Take advantage of the many ways sales representatives can enhance the practice and the team—their jobs require them to cover large areas and they have connections and professional knowledge about trends and opportunities (eg, writing, lecturing, consulting, other positions).  

Allow sales representatives to build more than practice product inventory—allow them also to build the team.  

1A sales representative can bring more than inventory to a practice—take time to learn the added value he or she can provide to every veterinary team member.

2Set aside enough time for the team to meet with the sales representative, which will build strong relationships and allow information to be shared in a respectful, rather than a rushed, setting.

3Include inventory management systems in practice policies and procedures and train every team member in the systems.

Author information Show
Author

Heather Prendergast

RVT, CVPM, SPHR Synergie Consulting, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Heather Prendergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, has been in the veterinary industry for more than 20 years, working in small animal practice and as a consultant. She authored the book Front Office Management for the Veterinary Team and lectures nationally on practice management and veterinary nurse-related initiatives.

FUN FACT: Heather drives a customized Harley Davidson Fat Boy when time allows.

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