Thou Dost Protest Too Much-and why Vets need to Sell
Okay, I’m not a terribly cultured person, but “thou dost protest too much” was an expression I heard growing up from my (more) cultured parents. I could never get a handle on Shakespeare’s plays. Maybe it was the tedium of my grade 10 class taking turns reading the plays aloud that did it.
This phrase comes to mind when I read certain vet articles lately. Have you recently seen a wave of public articles from veterinarians about all the things wrong with how we are treated by our clients? Defensive articles that espouse our profession’s student loan debt, the high rate of suicide, and the stressors of having a less than desirable salary, as justification for complaints such as high fees. I find myself wondering what the authors of these articles hope to accomplish? I don’t know if I’ve ever read a “let me tell ya” article and changed my mind, in fact it tended to confirm whatever bias I had in the first place.
In a short time frame, veterinarians have gone from well-respected community members to being scrutinized, distrusted and sometimes villified (and in some cases – if I’m honest – I get it. Like the vet who shot that cat with the bow and arrow. Seriously, wtf). For me, as a vet for 20 years, I’ve seen the transition from clue-less to clue-d in by Google, any random person with a dog, and anyone with access to a smartphone. I don’t know how many that is, but it seems like a lot. When I first started practising, I had to write my emails offline then send my email through a modem. Gives a bit more time to think than an emoji on IM.
So, as vets are questioned by our clients and challenged on our treatment plans, I often see a withdrawal into defensive mode. WE aren’t in it for the money, WE love animals, WE just want to make a good wage, WE want to have qualified staff that last more than a few years, WE just want you to appreciate how hard we work to make your pet better.
I’m curious about this. Because, honestly, nobody gives a crap about us. What they care about is themselves. And their pets. So I don’t think playing the victim card is the right way to go. So what should we do? We all want to be appreciated, live a good quality of life and have enough money to live on.
What if we switch from defensive mode to offensive mode. Hear me out. Those roadblocks and criticisms we get from clients like “I don’t want to spend money on an old dog” or “I won’t pay for that test” are just part of the buying process that is common among all industries. Are we just figuring this out? We have never had to sell before, people just decided from our options what they wanted to do. There was no “option d”. I think those objections have always been there, but clients are now emboldened by public support online to voice their concerns.
Here’s a crazy thought – why don’t we start to sell our services? The favourite 4 letter word. I hated selling too. I’m still not overly good at it. I thought it was unethical, demeaned my professional standing and felt it was manipulative to my customers. It was not until I took a Communicate to Influence and Persuade course that I had my epiphany. In the introduction to the course, our instructor defined the difference between Persuasion and Manipulation.
per·sua·sion – the action or fact of persuading someone or of being persuaded to do or believe something.
ma·nip·u·la·tion – the action of manipulating someone in a clever or unscrupulous way.
If you believe you are manipulating a client when you are explaining to them the value of preoperative bloodwork, or that you are being unscrupulous when you advocate for a fine needle aspirate on that suspicious lump – then I would argue that you don’t believe what you are doing is in the best interest of the animal. If you are using techniques to “sell” them on these ideas, and it is in the animals’ best interest, is that unethical? If you think yes, then don’t complain that Susie is asking the pet store person about nutrition, or Dolly in North Carolina about what he should do about that lump. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that Susie is selling. Hard. With less education and experience. Now, I’m not advocating getting people to spend money they don’t have or do unnecessary tests. That would be manipulation (see definition above especially the “unscrupulous” part). A treatment plan, as we all know, is always titrated to the individual situation and client. I am advocating getting behind a recommendation and not being afraid to use tried and true techniques to help it land properly, compassionately and appropriately on the client’s ears.
So why don’t we sell? We hit that sales objection and it stops us dead in our tracks. We take it personally, we get offended, we roll our eyes and think “oh cripes not one of these….insert annoying client behaviour here”. I did a google search on “dealing with sales objections” and I came up with 410 000 results. I guess it’s a common problem. Who knew? This was the first article that came up from Salesforce, a popular customer relations software. I found it helpful to summarize what are objections and some ways to handle them. Read it. Tell me what you think.
I passionately believe that embracing sales strategies in veterinary medicine will contribute to the improvement in veterinary wellness in general. When you sell ethically, with the aim to serve the pet and the client in the best way possible, there is no shame or dishonor. When you have a “process” there is less emotional investment in the stages if they are recognized for what they are. Instead of feeling attacked, dismissed, or judged, we can step outside and view the interaction from a more analytical viewpoint – that of the sales process, including dealing with sales objections.
So, the next time someone says “but that’s too expensive” you can think Ah!!! Here is the Objection!!! Put on your rational process pants, and realize “I know how to handle this”!
Your patient, you and your client will all be rewarded with a richer, more fulfilling relationship. And you won’t have to mention your rusting beater car or your hefty student loan. You can probably mention your mother-in- law, though. Everyone likes a good mother-in-law story.
What are the most common objections you see in your practice? And what works for you?