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The five most important marketing and development areas to focus on

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01 June 2013, at 12:00am

PAUL GREEN of Vets Practice Growth, looks at five areas – out of hundreds – that practices should concentrate on, the ones he believes will give the biggest return on investment

THERE are only three resources you have at your personal disposal while trying to grow your practice: time, energy and money.

None of us has enough of those to do everything that needs to be done. There are hundreds of things you could do to build your business. But seeing as you will only ever get a limited number of those things done, you might as well focus on the ones that make the biggest difference.

Here are five activities I recommend that you focus on. These aren’t the most interesting things to do, but they will give you the biggest return on investment.

1. Improve your website’s lead generation abilities

This is a never-ending task that you need to stay on top of. That’s because your website is the single most important marketing tool you have ever had.

Google the phrase “Google keyword tool” and look at how many people are searching for a vet in your area every month (i.e. look up the keyword phrase “vet Manchester”). Even the smallest town has hundreds of people looking. And this number is growing, especially as people rely more on their smartphones for everyday internet access.

Getting people to your website is just the first hurdle. Then you need to get them to take action – register their pet or book a consultation. This is where your site is most likely to let you down.

Most vets’ websites are boring. They contain the same dull information as all the other vets’ websites. In fact, with many you could swap the name of the veterinary practice for another and the website content would still appear to be correct!

Few vets’ websites answer the critical question: Why should I pick you instead of your competitors? What’s in it for me? What really makes you different?

An effective website – one that turns traffic into clients – is one that has:

  • unique content that could never be used by another practice;
  • lots of pages answering all the questions prospective clients have, using benefits not features;
  • a clean, fresh, modern design;
  • a clear call to action: e.g. here’s how to register or book a consultation.

2. Introduce and develop a pre-consultation questionnaire

It’s important that you get to know your clients and their pets as well as you can. The pre-consultation questionnaire enables a nurse or receptionist to find out more about the pet and the owner. The questionnaire can be a form they fill in, or better still a private discussion between the nurse and client.

What do they like? What don’t they like? What minor problems do they have that they might not want to “waste the vet’s time with”? What worries do they have? Have they noticed a change in behaviour? Is there something they’d like to do with their pet that they feel they can’t?

The more information you have about an owner and their pet, the more service and product solutions you can offer. Which is why this needs to be done with every pet owner at every routine consultation.

This will help you build up an information profile for every client that will ultimately help you sell more without being seen to be selling, and personalise their experience. The more their vet meets a client’s needs and delivers the things they really want, the less likely they are to be attracted away by a cheaper competitor.

3. Nudge up selective treatment fees

There are some prices that should be left well alone. Consultation fees, boosters and spaying, for example, are more likely to be price checked by potential new clients. I’m not saying you should never try to compete on price, but it’s crazy to lose a new client just because you are £10 more expensive than a competitor.

Instead, look for areas where you can nudge your prices up in a way that clients won’t really notice. If you can add £5 or £10 to the cost of a treatment that 99.9% of your clients won’t notice, then that money will drop straight to the bottom line. And extra profit is good, as you can either take it as extra personal income, or reinvest it in the business.

4. Tighten up booster reminders

Sending reminder letters is the simplest but most powerful retention marketing you can do.

Unless their pet is sick, most people don’t think about their vet a great deal. So if you send out just two reminder letters then stop communicating, they will not proactively chase you for an appointment. Instead they will do nothing.

Effectively, when you stop sending reminder letters too early, you’re willingly giving up on clients. You’re abandoning them to the corporates who are better at marketing than you.

Don’t do this. You should never ever give up on a client, unless they specifically tell you they are going to another vet (rare); or more likely their animal dies or they leave the area.

Keep sending a mix of reminder letters, e-mails, phone calls and maybe even text messages (SMS) until they return to you. Done well, this is not pestering clients, this is helping them make sure they look after their pets correctly.

5. Staff training and development

This final area is ignored by so many practice owners, yet it is critical. The simplest way to do this is to give every key member of your team 1-2-1 access to you at least once a month. Hold informal 1-2-1s off site, make them about 30 minutes long, and focus on 4 simple questions.

What’s gone well since we last met? What’s not gone so well? What do we need to do more of? What do we need to do less of?

Over time they will learn to trust you and develop a closer relationship with you. This helps you keep your best people and develop them to take on some of your workload. Which gives you more time to work on your business and get more of these important tasks completed.