Taking your marketing efforts to the next level (Proceedings)


Your customer is the most important asset to your practice and likewise it is important for you to measure, manage and maximize the use of this asset.

Your customer is the most important asset to your practice and likewise it is important for you to measure, manage and maximize the use of this asset. Applying this concept and using your own practice database to develop your marketing plan can help you unlock the potential of your practice.

To begin you need to understand a customer life cycle. There are five stages to a customer life cycle.

  • Stage 1 — Prospects- these represent potential value. When marketing to this group it is very important to realize that communications at this level set the "stage" for future relationships with that customer. It is during this phase that the initial expectations for a product or service are created.

  • Stage 2 — First Time Buyers- These customers have made one purchase and have the lowest retention rate. They are still in the evaluation process for your practices product or service. If the product or service has one failure at this early level –defection is usually the result.

  • Stage 3 — Early Repeat Buyers-Customers arrive in this stage once they have made at least one repeat purchase. They are still in the evaluation stage and each purchase that is made is meant to provide "confidence" in their selection.

  • Stage 4 — Core Customers- have the highest retention rate of all customers. They are regularly repeating purchasers of your product or service. These customers rarely reevaluate a firm's product or service UNLESS a major problem arises. These customers may also represent your highest sales and are therefore very special. They should be treated as such!

  • Stage 5 — Core Defectors- due to a variety of external factors, including competition, an unresolved problem, relocation and even boredom, a core customer may choose to consider a product or service elsewhere. Some of these defectors are normal but, it is important for practices to know what external factor is at the root of the defection to determine what their response should be.

Using your client database and your community demographics you can determine where in your customer life cycle your clients are. Most practices should initially focus on the customers in Stages 2-4. Recognizing your Core Customers first is recommended. The ideal core customers that your practice should focus on are those that have frequent repeat purchases (i.e. multiple unique visits over time) AND whose sales are in the top half of your "sales per customer" list.

Stage 2-3 clients are sometimes found towards the middle of your "sales per customer" list- they may have made return purchases but have not moved into the Core Customer Group. It is important to keep an eye on both the number of clients in these two stages and the percentage that are migrating to the Core group.

Stage 5 clients or core defectors may or may not be of concern for some practices. If you are living in a community with relatively high housing turnover (transient community), you may see a larger number of core defectors. However, if defection is due to competition or an unresolved customer service problem, these are issues that your practice must confront. It is well worth the effort of a personal contact with one of these core defectors to find out the reason why and see what steps you can take to rectify a situation.

Stage 1 Prospects are frequently a target for many clinics. New clients are always important however; the amount of marketing dollars earmarked for this group should be based not only on your potential for cost recovery but, should also take into account the retention rate of those clients.

Once you have chosen the current customer stage that you will target your efforts on you need to glean more information from your own client database. The following is just a partial list of things you might want to find out when considering services and products to offer to your targeted customer group: type of animals in this group, age of animals, breeds of animals, number of pets per client, client longevity, and a client map- where your clients come from.

Combining the information from your client list and the information regarding your client base can help you make the best conscious marketing decisions. For example, if you are contemplating starting a senior wellness program the information that you might want on the targeted customer group includes: the number of potential clients (be sure to know if they have received these services in the past), age of animals in this group (prefer to use median vs. average), the type of animal, the number of visits per client, client longevity, average household income and the current economic situation of client base (i.e. any major layoffs/ new job openings). Your list can also help you determine new services to offer, where you should advertise, what community groups to support and help you take a back to basics approach i.e. focus on compliance for the most basic of preventative health plans.

Don't be afraid to ask your client about their needs! Surveys, focus groups and simple phone calls can provide you with vital information. It is also wise for most veterinarians to "take off the veterinary glasses" and think like a pet owner or even a "parent". Think of convenience issues, talk to your staff, ask the questions and act on the results. Marketing doesn't just happen, you hold the key to the potential all you need to do is unlock it.

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