Reap rewards from sales reps

Reap rewards from sales reps

They e-mail, call, and knock on your door. Don't ignore your account reps—befriend them and get information, favors, and freebies.
Dec 01, 2008

So what have you done for me lately?" If you're asking that question of the manufacturer and distributor sales representatives who e-mail, call, or show up on your doorstep, chances are you're dissatisfied with their service. You don't know them well, and you don't trust them to give you helpful information, professional respect, or the little extras that keep you coming back to buy from them. It's time to change that. You can build better relationships with sales representatives—and get more from them in return.

Cut down on your reps

The bottom line
Today's sales reps aren't what they used to be, says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jim Kramer, CVPM, who owns Columbus Animal Hospital in Columbus, Neb. Or, rather, there just aren't as many. "We used to have 12 distributor and manufacturer reps stopping by regularly at our practice," he says. "They were hungry to educate us on any new product, because the first one in the door was usually the one we'd order from."

No more. The business landscape for veterinary suppliers has changed a lot in the past few years. Manufacturers and distributors have merged, representatives cover larger territories, and more intensive scheduling at clinics has squeezed out a lot of face-to-face sales calls. At Dr. Kramer's practice, he gets more e-mails and phone calls than visits.

But that's not necessarily bad, he says. "It was almost a problem before when they'd all show up at our practice," Dr. Kramer says. "You couldn't buy from everybody, and most of the sales reps were very likable people." Dr. Kramer misses that face time, though, so he's learned to buy from people who value it, too. It's how he's built good relationships with salespeople. "It's not all about the lowest price," he says. "Loyalty has value." Veterinarians enjoy loyalty from clients who don't value low price above all else, Dr. Kramer says. Veterinarians' sales reps expect a little loyalty, too.

They really know their stuff
Dr. Kramer now works mostly with just three distributors and buys almost everything from a handful of sales reps. They help keep him up to date on new products and sometimes even talk him into purchases that sounded like they wouldn't work for his practice—but did. These "detail guys" understand his practice and know what information he needs regarding medical advancements, price changes, and discounts. Dr. Kramer does his own research as well, but he often hears about new developments first from his reps.

Dr. Kramer attributes these strong relationships to mutual respect. "I know when they visit me they're taking time away from their family, and being on the road isn't easy," he says. "Anyone who comes to my practice deserves a moment of my time."

He says some doctors treat sales reps as adversaries, playing them against each other to squeeze discounts out of them. Dr. Kramer, though, says it's not all about how much he pays for a bottle of medicine. It's often about the sales rep letting him know about new developments so he can improve the quality of medical care for his patients.