Rethink your stance on marketing and consider what it's really about: providing valuable information to a client so he or she can make an informed decision about purchasing a product or service.
Veterinarians Often Think Of "marketing" as a nasty, unethical word. After all, you went to medical school to practice medicine, not to be a salesperson, right? But successfully marketing your practice and services as well as the products you offer can have a deep impact on your practice growth. So what should you do? Rethink your stance on marketing and consider what it's really about: providing valuable information to a client so he or she can make an informed decision about purchasing a product or service. Simple enough, right? Here's a more technical definition, penned by Phillip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller in their book Marketing Management (Prentice Hall, 2006):
Marketing is a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating, offering, and exchanging products of value.
In equine medicine, this means knowing what your clients need and want—and letting them know you provide it. Use these techniques to help you improve your services and your medicine—and effectively market your practice.
James E. Guenther, DVM, MBA, CVPM
When was the last time you sat down with your team and fully discussed your medical protocols, deworming and vaccination programs, prepurchase exams, or any other services you offer? Why bother? Because your staff needs to know what's happening. Who has first contact with clients? The receptionist or technician. Who needs to expand on what you recommend? That same group of hardworking people.
To ensure that your recommendations hit home, hire employees who are also good teachers. When you take the time to educate your team, these "educators" will naturally share that information with clients. Plus, these same individuals are—or should be—clients of the practice. They'll become advocates for the high-quality services you provide. Advocates who spread the good word about the great medicine your practice offers will help clients understand the importance of accepting your recommendations. That helps you take better care of your patients—and it's a great marketing tool.
That said, if you're expecting your team to learn and educate others via osmosis, you're in for a rude awakening. Get your employees involved: Encourage them to stay on top of industry developments. Send doctors and staff members to CE meetings and require them to bring back at least three new ideas that they can discuss with the team.
If you agree to implement their ideas, put them in charge of helping to make it happen. This encourages employees to be both attentive at CE events and to be educators for the rest of your team.
Most equine practitioners wait for the phone to ring and use their management software merely as an invoicing mechanism. But instead of waiting for clients to call you, think about how to proactively use the phone. The phone is an important marketing tool. It's the front door of your practice. It's a means to educate clients. It doesn't cost much to operate, and it can give you a huge return on investment.
That is, if you use it in tandem with your management software, another underutilized marketing tool. Most practitioners don't understand how to harvest marketing information from their software. I see this scenario a lot: A team member who knew how to retrieve the info left the practice, and the software secrets left too.
Learn about your software and the wealth of opportunities it provides and delegate a team member "educator" to work on helping you discover the secrets. Specifically, examine your records to mine marketing tidbits. The records show which patients participate in wellness programs, want pregnancy and foaling information, own horses with chronic diseases, and so on.
Harvest that information and then use the phone to touch base with clients to discuss retesting a chronic case, scheduling vaccinations for a broodmare and foal, and making the next wellness call. It's this combination of using your records and the phone that allows you to proactively meet your clients' needs.
Now you've almost made the transition to thinking of all of your quality services as marketing tools. You're almost there. Now finish the job by showing clients the value of your services. Create value by setting the right price for your services and products.
Satisfaction is a feeling clients get when they compare your performance to their expectations—and they think they got a good deal. As a practitioner, you want highly satisfied, loyal clients who demonstrate an emotional affinity for your practice. Happy clients whose horses have received quality medical care are a great marketing tool because they help spread your reputation to other folks in the community. Those folks end up requesting your services, getting good medical care for their horses, helping your practice grow—and the cycle continues.
Creating customer loyalty and satisfaction means creating a client-centered practice. Let's expand on the premise of hiring and training your team to be educators. During meetings, encourage team members to discuss what they did right with clients and the resulting client reactions and responses. Also encourage team members to discuss situations that they maybe should've handled differently. Use this information to improve your service, and you'll start to create more loyal advocates—marketers—for the practice.
The services you offer might be similar to the practice down the road, but you can differentiate yourself by offering higher-quality care. Then you can present a special image of your services and your practice as a whole. Doing so takes a combination of hiring the right people and educating them, becoming proactive for the benefit of the patient, client, and practice, then creating advocates for the practice. These service-oriented techniques will end up being your best marketing tools.
3 service—er, marketing tips
1. Keep team members up to date about what's happening in the industry and within your practice. This ensures that clients hear consistent messages and recommendations no matter who they talk to in the practice.
2. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and reach out to clients instead of waiting for them to call you. Use your practice management software to your advantage.
3. Create a client-centered practice that offers excellent service. Happy clients will spread your reputation via word-of-mouth.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. James E. Guenther, MBA, CVPM, is owner and president of Mountain Management & Consulting Inc., in Asheville, N.C. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org