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Taking the wind out of veterinary sales


An arm-twisting, high-pressure veterinary salesman meets his match in the form of a practical joke.

My friend, Arnie, gave me a call last week to plant the seed of a practical joke in my mind. Apparently Tom Hardsell, a high-pressure salesman from Bill-A-Goods Supply Company, had just left Arnie's office and would soon be arriving at mine. Mr. Hardsell is one of the few veterinary product salesmen that I would categorize as an arm-twister. He has, on occasion, stuck me with a white elephant he claimed I could not live without. Arnie figured that if I knew the sales pitch in advance, I could have a little fun at Tom's expense. So I hustled over to the water cooler to find my head receptionist, Polly. We quickly formulated a plan to take the wind out of his "sales."

Michael A. Obenski

Ten minutes later I found myself listening politely to his persuasive rhetoric. "Doctor," he said, "research shows that today's veterinary clients are more capable of making their own decisions than you veterinarians think. Our new line of flea products will allow you to use this to your advantage."

There was a knock on the door as Polly interrupted with one of our prearranged inquiries. "Sorry to bother you, Doctor, but Roger Mortis is on the phone. His cat is very sick but he doesn't have time to come in today. A friend told him that a dead cat will get stiff, and by then it's too late to do anything. He wants to know if he can wait until only half the cat is stiff."

I told Polly to have him rush the cat over right away. Then I told Tom the amazing story of Mrs. Neuron. She called me a few years ago just two days after I had declawed her cat. She was very worried about him. He was hidden under the sofa. His eyes were dilated, and he wasn't moving. She thought he was dead. I told her to bring him right over, figuring there might be something I could do to revive him. "Oh, I can't do that," she said. "He's growling at me, and I'm afraid of getting bitten."

After sharing a chuckle at Mrs. Neuron's expense, Tom continued his explanation. "Each of our new flea products comes with labels, wall charts and a DVD. They cover the life cycle of fleas, the pathogenesis of fleabite dermatitis and the mechanisms of action of insecticides. Your clients will become better informed and make well-thought-out decisions without you ever having to answer a question."

He stopped when Polly appeared at the door again, according to our plan. "Just a few questions, Doctor O. Mrs. Semi doesn't want Pookie to have a rabies shot. She says $20 is a rip-off and wants to know if you'll give half a shot for 10 bucks. Also, Mr. Glottid thinks his dog, Pro, may have worms. There are little things around the tail that look like pieces of coconut. He thought that's all it was until he saw some of the pieces move. He wants to know if pieces of coconut ever move or if you think the dog has worms."

I took care of the questions and let the sales lecture continue. Tom pointed out that my clients were ready to educate themselves voluntarily—if only I would let his company cover my walls with literature.

Polly was back soon after. She needed to know if I could help Constance Pation with a problem. Her old dog hadn't had a bowel movement in six days. She couldn't understand it because she had been massaging a few drops of mineral oil in his ears every day just like her friend told her to do. At any rate, since the dog was very old, she thought it might be time to put him to sleep. However, the thought of making the pooch go through a scary car ride and having to get a needle was horrifying to Mrs. Pation. She wanted to know if we could dispense some chloroform for her to administer at home.

Polly didn't let up. She went right into the next question. "And Mr. Abacas needs to know about his dog's pills. The directions say to give one pill each morning and one each evening. He wanted to know how many pills the dog should take each day."

I held up two fingers to indicate the number of pills and also to signal that we were approaching sales-resistance victory.

As she left, I asked Tom to finish making his point. "Never mind," he said. "In light of what I just heard, I don't think I'm going to convince you to rely on client judgment. By the way, did I mention that the right size purchase qualifies you for a free Freddie the Flea picnic jug?" Well, why didn't he just say that in the first place? I ordered the necessary 12 dozen.

Dr. Michael Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

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