“Sale” isn’t a Four-Letter Word

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Every partner hospital is different, and so are we!
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I’ve been reading Cindy Adams and Suzanne Kurtz’s terrific book “Skills for Communicating in Veterinary Medicine”, which should be a requirement for every clinician. When I think about how we deliver veterinary services, however, I can’t help but see it in retail terms. We have a customer (although we prefer to use the term client), a product (diagnosis and treatment of the patient) and a reckoning (paying the bill). As with any retail business, to be successful requires a knowledge of customer needs, the ability to fulfill them and the opportunity to close the deal.

Looking at the provision of medical care in this transactional way presents an opportunity for a win-win scenario. Some of our responsibilities as professionals feel fiduciary, where the interest of the customer/client comes first. From a business perspective, the practice needs to be a going concern – meet payroll, buy equipment and keep the lights on – so that making a profit is equally important side of the equation.

This is where the concept of a sale can pull the two interests into alignment. Don’t think about the classic used car salesman (no disrespect meant to those involved in actual vehicle sales unless they deserve it). From Wikipedia, where the “buyer” is a person interested in acquiring a product or service:

“Buying and selling are understood to be two sides of the same “coin” or transaction. Both seller and buyer engage in a process of negotiation to consummate the exchange of values…It is implied that the selling process will proceed fairly and ethically so that the parties end up nearly equally rewarded. The stages of selling, and buying involve getting acquainted, assessing each party’s need for the other’s item of value, and determining if the values to be exchanged are equivalent or nearly so, or, in buyer’s terms, “worth the price.”

It’s a pretty neat summation of nearly every effective veterinary consultation. It’s a sale, even if we couch it in the terms of employing clinical communication skills. A skilled salesperson explores the customer’s needs, assesses the cost/value proposition and manages the exchange. Win-win.

How often do veterinarians fail to deliver products or services that their client is interested in receiving because they feel like they’re “selling”, and retreat from reaching a successful conclusion? How often do patients fail to receive the best care because, in the eyes of the veterinary team, enhancing their health isn’t seen as “worth the price”?

Every effective client encounter should end with a successful “sale” – the delivery of the valuable products and services that you’re ready to provide to a willing and needy owner. Clinical abilities must include hard communication skills – assessing client needs, generating trust and explaining the cost and value of the services you can offer. Clinicians who haven’t developed those skills are both financially underproductive and suffer emotionally as they struggle to deliver care to their patients.

In the end, it’s about getting to “yes”, and shouldn’t success be judged by the ability to close that deal?

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