I was at a veterinary continuing education event last week, but for the first time I was not attending as a vet; rather, I was a vendor promoting the management company I am part of. Watching the interplay between industry people and vets attending the conference, I was reminded of the disconnect in our profession between the two groups.
For example, over the years I have become very friendly with many of the suppliers, manufacturers and service providers to our practice. Some share stories of how they are treated by veterinarians and their accounts can be shocking. One time I had to call a service rep because our ultrasound wasn’t working. We went through some tests over the phone and made plans to send it off for repairs. When we were all done I thanked him for his help and his response was, “thank you for not yelling at me”. Yelling at you? Who does that? According to him, a lot of vets like to yell at service and sales reps. I couldn’t believe this, so I began asking other friends in the industry and they confirmed that a vet yelling and screaming at them was not unusual.
On the other hand, I’ve been very frustrated and annoyed by the sales rep who just shows up and asks to speak to me about a product. What am I supposed to do – cancel my appointments so I can meet with them? I’ve also been harassed and chased down the aisle of a veterinary trade show by someone trying to sell me something I obviously didn’t want.
The wide divide that is common between veterinarians and their industry partners is often due to a lack of understanding between the two. I thought I would offer my take on how vets should deal with industry sales people, and vice versa, in the two most common places we interact with each other: visits to our practices and conference trade shows.
Visiting a vet practice
Sales people offer a great value to our profession. They have the latest in equipment, medication and services. If we want the best for our patients, they have what we need. Our first question shouldn’t be, “How much is it?”. We hate when our clients do that to us. Just like all vets are not equal and there is a reason why your practice is more expensive than others, the same applies to veterinary medication, equipment and supplies.
Believe it or not, most sales reps are proud of what they sell and want to demonstrate the value of their product or service. When they want to make an appointment to meet with you take the time to do so. Hear them out and, if you aren’t interested in their product, thank them for their time and get on with your day. Don’t instruct your receptionist to ignore them or make up excuses why you can’t meet with them.
With this in mind, I would ask every sales person to make an appointment to see us. Don’t just pop by and hope you can grab a quick meeting. We are busy and thinking about our patients. When you just show up we get annoyed and embarrassed because you have put us in a situation of obliging you and resenting every second of it, or being rude and telling you that we don’t have time to meet with you.
Too often I have witnessed veterinarians walk into a trade show booth and strike up a conversation with a vendor and either belittle what they offer or, even worse, camp out for the next half hour and drone on and on about problems in their practice or start slamming another vendor’s product. Just like a veterinarian will patiently smile and nod their head while a client goes on and on about their pet, even though they are late for their next consult, sales people are at a trade show to sell. It’s nice to drop by and say hi to a vendor who is a friend – but keep in mind that while they want to maintain relationships with current clients they are there to get new ones too.
On the other hand, sales people who try to make a hard sell as soon as they see someone enter a booth are incredibly off-putting. When we walk into a booth, we are curious and want to browse a bit and read brochures or signs. Give us a chance to acquaint ourselves with what you are selling. Ask us if you can help us and then back off when we say we are just browsing. Many times, I have found myself avoiding certain booths at a trade show because I know the sales people won’t let me be. We are cautious by nature and we like to learn at our own pace.
Also, instead of telling us how great your product is, why don’t you ask us about our practice. Show some interest in us and try to understand what we need. Great relationships are built on trust and interest over the long haul. We can smell the desperate sales person trying to just make a sale to whoever they can, and we don’t mind telling our colleagues about the booths and products to avoid.
Finally, don’t brag about who else is buying the product. We don’t brag about our clients and patients, so we instinctively distrust those that do. Also, you probably don’t know how this ‘great’ vet you are bragging about is considered by their peers. I had one sales rep go on and on about the quantity of a supplement that a particular vet was buying. Unfortunately, that vet was unethical and a blemish on the profession. It made me think twice about buying the particular supplements.
Veterinarians and industry representatives have a symbiotic relationship; we couldn’t do our jobs without each other. They have the knowledge and information we veterinarians need, and we are the ones buying. A good industry partnership is very similar to the relationships we have with our best clients; it has a long view that is mutually beneficial, respectful and based upon honesty.