Find marketing distasteful? Get over it with this simple approach

November 4, 2019
Kyle Palmer, CVT
Kyle Palmer, CVT

Long-time dvm360 magazine and Firstline contributor Kyle Palmer, CVT, is hospital manager for VCA Salem in Salem, Oregon, as well as a practice management consultant for a number of other hospitals.

Vetted, Vetted February 2020, Volume 115, Issue 2

Contrary to old-school belief, word-of-mouth is not enough to market your veterinary practice. Put together a simple plan to get your team on the same page and give clients the information they want.

Don't worry. Marketing won't turn you into a disgusting salesperson. (master1305 / stock.adobe.com)

“Marketing” is a word that is used to give veterinarians a good case of the hives. Old-schoolers still worry that they've crossed an ethical line by creating an intentional strategy for boosting sales and services that's beyond “good old word-of-mouth.” Regardless, more and more practitioners are recognizing that this is a competitive advantage that shouldn't be overlooked.

Just saying, “We're here” isn't enough. You need to employ both internal and external marketing. Here are the differences and why you need both.

Internal marketing

Internal marketing refers to how you market your services to your own team and prepare them to carry that message on to clients. To start, you need to articulate the medical culture of your practice. Do you have a special focus? Are you aiming for affordable services that are accessible to everyone? Are you setting the bar for only the highest level of services and the clients who are committed to them?

All of these things need to be determined before you can begin any marketing strategy. Once some of those questions are answered, you can start drilling down to what that culture means in terms of specific approaches to care, and ultimately some very specific product and service choices. Some examples are:

  • Will you recommend annual vaccinations or favor an extended vaccine protocol?

  • What will your core vaccine recommendations be?

  • Will you require a heartworm test annually or just at the initiation of continuous treatment?

  • Will you require an intravenous catheter and fluids with every anesthetic procedure?

  • Will you require full-mouth radiographs with every dental procedure?

  • Will you declaw cats?

  • Will you have a policy that guides the age that you spay or neuter, and will you proceed if pregnant?

  • What flea, tick and heartworm preventives will you recommend?

This list could go on for miles, but these things must be decided by someone-or some group of people-and used for the foundation on which your practice will be built.

Once you have those first few bricks laid, it's time to sell the message to your team. The great news is that you won't have to do this alone. Nearly every manufacturer or distributor in our industry is chomping at the bit to come in and buy your team lunch, solely for the opportunity to speak to you about their products and services. Take them up on it, and do it often!

Provide your team with specific strategies for increasing their ability to educate (market to) your clients. Create Q&A sheets, FAQ sheets, and scripts your team can use, and train through role-playing. Remember, the quickest way to torpedo your clients' confidence is to have team members on different pages on an issue or, worse, on no page at all.

External marketing

Once you have internal marketing down, it's time to move on to external marketing. This is strategic client-focused outreach, and it may be where some of you start to get queasy. You may be wary of the “hard sell” or appearing to be too pushy, but you need to remember two things:

  • Clients really, really want to understand their options and know what you recommend.

  • If you aren't providing No. 1, someone else is-a competitor, the internet, staff at a feed store, their neighbor … you name it. If you want clients to have the information needed to make an informed decision, it has to come from you.

The great news is that you won't have to do this alone either (or at least all of it). The same industry partners who were more than willing to parade in front of your team members with lunch and an educational presentation will provide many of the physical marketing materials you need.

Next, it's time to put together a plan to reach your clients. First, your plan must include vaccine and wellness reminders (either mailed or emailed) and actual callbacks from your team (or you) related to specific case management. Clients should receive reminders using a three-tier system-send a reminder a month before the vaccine is due, send a reminder once the vaccine is overdue, and send one more a month after the vaccine is due. Studies have shown that this is the best method of creating compliance with your vaccines.

Now that we've identified what you must do, let's talk about what else you can do. I personally am a huge believer in Facebook, but much of the same value can be found in Twitter, Instagram and, to a lesser extent NextDoor. These platforms allow something your website can't: interaction and engagement. Yes, your website is vital, and, yes, it must be up to date with detailed information and some great visual elements. But your website isn't you. A website is the brain of a business, but in this day and age, social media is the heart of a business.

A website is the brain of a business, but in this day and age, social media is the heart of a business.

I would absolutely use social media for announcing your new initiative for pet wellness, a program focusing on heartworm prevention, or even a special on some product or service. That said, if those types of posts occupy more than 20% of your total posts, it's time to change things up. Clients value the information contained in that 20%, but it's not why they came. Clients visit your social media page because it makes them feel like they're part of your hospital. They want to get to know you via this platform, and they want it to be a window into the hospital.

To use social media-which is arguably the greatest business marketing tool ever invented-simply follow these guidelines:

  • Educational posts: no more than 20% of your total posts

  • Non-educational posts: no more than 80% of your total posts

Additionally, to fully leverage the external-marketing brilliance of social media, share pictures of your team doing difficult things. Share pictures of your doctors in surgery. Share pictures of your technician doing a tough nail trim. When a patient comes in, ask the owner for permission to use their images on social media, then do it. Pick a pet of the day. Focus on a difficult situation in the practice then build your week talking about it. Be sure to share updates on patients that were subjects of previous posts.

In short, open the doors of your hospital to your clients via social media, and you won't have to advertise anywhere else (if you still have yellow page ads, kill them now). Use that external marketing portal to increase your practice's clients by leaps and bounds.

There are other forms of marketing, but there's really nothing like these strategies both to introduce you to the community and to continue that relationship. If you're not doing them deliberately, it's time to create some internal strategies to shape your culture and external strategies to share that culture with your clients. You'll be surprised how often they engage with you-and share you with others.

Longtime dvm360 magazine and Firstline contributor Kyle Palmer, CVT, is hospital manager for VCA Salem in Salem, Oregon, as well as a practice management consultant for a number of other hospitals.

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