How to generate more clients at your veterinary practice

February 17, 2021
Robert Sanchez

Looking to increase your clientele? Find out why your current strategy isn’t working, plus some practical ways to fix it.

Let’s face it. Many veterinary practices struggle with stagnant client numbers. Some experience a decline in clientele year after year but aren’t sure what to do about it. As clinicians and scientists, we are uncomfortable with not understanding the underlying mechanisms of a process. Unfortunately, modern marketing bombards us with buzzwords instead of articulating a coherent understanding of how a new client acquisition strategy should look. We must think in systems to make purposeful, effective, and measurable decisions about our practice’s growth.

In this article, you will learn about the primary building blocks to a well-defined customer acquisition strategy. We’ll start with the modern customer journey (how people choose their veterinarian), outline the anatomy of a sales funnel (the structure that leads pet owners to you), and break down the components of a high-performing strategy. By the end of the article, you will have a solid foundation of marketing-first principles. You’ll also be able to ask more valuable questions so you can become one step closer to predictable business growth.

Understanding the customer journey

The customer journey refers to the steps that a potential customer takes to select a product or service. In the last 10 years, these steps have changed due to the disruptive force of the internet. While there is meaningful variance in how pet owners choose veterinarians, the typical modern customer journey often looks like this:

  • A Google search for veterinary options
  • A cross-reference with reviews
  • Investigating 2 to 4 practices via their website
  • Calling at least 1 practice to gather information or set up an appointment.

The modern customer journey is much different from our once full reliance on word-of-mouth referrals, print ads, or neighborhood events. While the channels pet owners use to find you have changed, the psychology of the journey is the same. There’s still a single question that the pet owner wants you to answer: Can I trust you? Your task is to build a system that effectively answers that question for as many local pet owners as possible.

Anatomy of a sales funnel

A sales funnel is the structure that leads a customer through their decision-making process (ideally) to you. Every business has a sales funnel, but most are haphazardly and unconsciously organized. Many modern professional industries rely on sales funnels to create predictable growth for their business, but this term is just slowly making its way into veterinary circles.

Traffic: The top of The funnel

There are pet owners in your community who could be great clients but have yet to engage with you. The first part of the sales funnel involves motivating them to connect with you on your website or another digital platform. This is largely accomplished using search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and content marketing. As an aside: Google ads are a fantastic way to increase valuable traffic, but running these campaigns is highly technical. It’s best to find a trusted professional to manage them for you.

SEO

A couple of years ago, Google significantly shifted the way it listed local businesses on search queries. They split organic ranks into 2 categories: traditional organic links and the local pack. The local pack includes the 3 (sometimes 4) businesses listed next to the map near the top of the homepage. It drives about half the clicks on the page, meaning practices who do well here earn a disproportionate amount of traffic on their website.

To improve your local ranking, you’ll want to do the following on your Google My Business page:

  • List all relevant categories (eg, veterinarian, animal hospital, pet boarding).
  • Add a compelling business description that includes services provided.
  • Ask for and respond to reviews (This is now a huge rank factor!).
  • Create special offers, posts, and respond to questions.

Social media

Social media has altered the fabric of how we communicate. It is a fertile ground for people with a knack for sharing stories, building relationships, and connecting with values. You must tighten bonds with your clients through engaging and compelling content on social media. However, the real value is in tapping into the power of their second-degree network. Your clients have friends with who they likely share characteristics. That’s why you must create a strategy that allows your clients to engage with and share your content so that their connections can see your brand.

To do this successfully, you’ll want to create “buckets” of post types. It is best to first focus on Facebook and Instagram. Your buckets should be comprised of the following types of posts:

  1. Patient stories (where you changed a life)
  2. Helpful and proactive guidance for pet owners
  3. Behind-the-scenes peeks into your practice, team members, and activities
  4. Content that celebrates the values you share with animal lovers

Content marketing

Through blogs and social media, you can educate a large swath of local pet owners. If you haven’t already, create an active blog page (at least 1 new blog post per month, ideally 2 to 4) where you write articles about relevant, helpful, and timely pet health and behavioral issues. Once the article is posted on your practice blog, promote it on social media. It’s typically best to spend about $20 on Facebook to promote a blog post to your community. The first step: create a content calendar with a list of compliance opportunities including dentistry, parasite control, training, nutrition, and whatever else you want your community to know.

Consideration: The middle of the funnel

Once a pet owner has engaged with you, they have entered the consideration phase. Pet owners want to know who you are, what you do, and where you do it. But in social relationships, we are driven by instinct, not logical calculations. Whether or not we feel comfortable taking that next step depends entirely upon a gut reaction to the question: Can I trust you? The way to create trust?: use storytelling.

We need to reframe the way we think about websites. They are not billboards, next-generation business cards, or opportunities to show off something flashy, rather they are a medium for storytelling and sharing your values in a way that personally connects with pet owners. Good storytelling blends aesthetics and messaging into a powerful experience that speaks to how you will make a difference in their lives. For a full explanation on how to do this, please see the previous article, What Luke Skywalker has to do with veterinary practice marketing.

Conversion: The bottom of the funnel

Make it easy for pet owners to connect with you on your website. Your aesthetics and copy should create compelling “calls to action” through phone numbers, appointment requests, and special offers. There should be several thoughtful calls to action on your homepage, and at least 1 on each inner page of your website. On mobile (where over 60% of visits will likely happen), incorporate a “sticky” call button so that pet owners are only 1 tap away.

Calls and measurement

The final step in this process is making a phone call. Many practices have a significant opportunity to turn more phone calls into new client visits. Prioritize training the front desk team to appropriately engage with callers. Make sure they answer pricing questions, thus demonstrating the unique value of your services. Then have them discuss appointment scheduling. Consider the value that each caller represents as a new client—thousands of dollars in lifetime revenue. Many practices find it helpful to have systems in place that track calls through marketing campaigns, record calls for training purposes, and refine strategies through call data.

The take-away

An effective new client strategy is not disjointed guesswork— it’s an integrated, purposeful, and measurable effort. Begin asking yourself what your sales funnel looks like, the purpose that your website serves, and the efficacy of the traffic strategies that you are using. Then, you will be one step closer to a higher number of new clients and predictable growth.

Robert Sanchez is the founder and CEO of Digital Empathy, an award-winning web design and marketing firm for veterinary practices. He frequently lectures at national conferences, leads a team of wonderful employees, sits on the board of VetPartners, and shares his home with two very spoiled dogs—Cole and Lula.