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“Developing a Sales Culture in a Non-Sales World” – VHMA
Unlike many other professions, people enter the veterinary field purely because of their love of animals. While this is a match made in heaven for passionate staff and satisfied customers, the focus on the fact that every business is a sales business is often missed.

According to author Daniel Pink, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now. And as you say, most of us don’t like it. We think of sales as sleazy, cheesy, and slimy. But that view is outdated. It’s more about the conditions in which sales has long taken place rather than about the nature of sales itself. Selling has a bad rap because most of what we know about it arose in a world of information asymmetry — where the seller always had more information than they buyer and therefore could rip the buyer off. But today, information asymmetry is giving way to something at least close to information parity. That’s changed the game in ways we’ve scarcely recognized. We now live in a world not just of ‘buyer beware’ — but also of ‘seller beware.’”

The challenge is that, in order for veterinary practices to grow, they must continually stretch out of their comfort zone and “plug the holes in the bucket.” This means that practice managers must find ways that they and their staff can capitalize on missed revenue opportunities. So, how do they do this?

There are three important steps in developing a sales culture:

1 – Look in the mirror! A veterinary hospital practice manager must be real and honest about their own attitude and perspective regarding being a “sales organization.” If there is, what Jan refers to as “head trash” regarding a stigma about “salespeople,” then the leader will always hold themselves and the team back from getting to that next level of growth. With one consulting client, Jan found that the veterinarian had such a distain for salespeople that he had a written policy on how to abruptly brush off any solicitor contacting the business. You can imagine the challenge he had in attempting to flip the switch of the mindsets of his staff to genuinely offer products and services that would be valuable to the clients they served. An open examination of the practice manager’s own beliefs is the first (and often times most critical) step in moving toward a sales culture.

2 – Look around! Identify opportunities for additional service offerings, up-sells or bundled packages. Utilize two angles regarding this step:

A) Use the staff to get creative. When it is their idea, they are more likely to buy in to “offering” (code word for “selling!”) additional services and products to existing customers. Ask questions such as “When Mrs. Jones sets an appointment for Fluffy’s annual check-up, what are other valuable treatments/services/products that we offer that would be beneficial to Mrs. Jones and her pet?” As personnel begins to view these offerings as a solution to a problem or potential problem, the stigma regarding slimy salespeople begins to melt away.

B) Find out where the profit is. What services, exams, products (shots, vaccines, x-rays, tests,
identification mechanisms, etc.) are most profitable for your practice? One must evaluate the time, materials, labor and resources to obtain, stock or administer these items to determine what is most profitable. Choose three to five targeted products or services and then educate the staff on when and for whom these are the best fit. Starting small and giving the team specific tools to use will help them all dip a “paw” in to the water regarding upselling to existing clients.

3. Create a system! Setting up written procedures is critical in order to change the culture of an organization. Having employees understand and practice a process, along with realistic incentives, will begin to turn the tide of a “non-sales” culture. Three beginning steps are:

A) Questions – Teach the staff HOW to offer additional services and products to clients. What written questions can you teach them to ask and when should they ask them?

B) Procedures – Put a “policies and procedures document” in place that holds staff accountable and teaches them how they will be measured on this aspect of their job. Remember the old method of show them how to do something, explain why it is important, have them try it, give feedback and have them try it again until they are comfortable with this new method of operating.

C) Incentives - Just as our pets respond to rewards, so do humans. As part of staff’s compensation package, include “selling” as part of their role. This includes measurement in three areas:

1) Behavior – are they offering upsells consistently as part of their process of setting up appointments, intake, evaluation, check-out, etc.?

2) Results – are they consistently seeing an increase in added services and products as an indication that they are effectively offering what is best for clients and their pets?

3) Exceeding expectations – is there a financial bonus associated with those who go above and beyond to make sure that every pet and their owner that enters the practice has all that they need to live a safe and healthy “pet family” life?

Changing culture in an organization does not happen overnight. However, by starting with these initial steps, a practice manager can begin to turn the tide and lead the company in to the future focusing on growth.

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