Three ways veterinarians are their own worst enemies

Three ways veterinarians are their own worst enemies

Introverted? Hate selling? Business-phobic? You're not alone, but these traits could be killing your veterinary practice.
Jul 01, 2012

As a practice management consultant, I have met and advised thousands of my colleagues on every permutation of companion animal practice. On the whole, I observe that we veterinarians are basically introverted, we hate selling and we just don't want to "manage" our practices. This professionally disastrous triple threat is entirely self-determined and blocks the path of our optimum success and personal fulfillment. Of course, no one has ever accused our profession of acting in its own best interests.

1 No people skills

Many of our veterinary colleagues are introverted and just do not have well-developed people skills. (Raise your hand if you recognize this in yourself.) Yet people skills are the most important determinant of practice success. In fact, in too many practices success and competence are not found together. We all know stories of ol' Doc Smith, who had two radiographs in his practice: one positive for hip dysplasia, one normal—and no x-ray machine. He made a fortune diagnosing hip dysplasia despite clients' concerns having nothing to do with lameness. If you can get away with that, you have some excellent people skills (albeit no clinical skills).

The question here is: how can honest, competent, but naturally introverted veterinarians develop great bonding relationships with their clients?

First, we have to realize that we are not in the dog and cat maintenance and repair business. We are in the people business. Our state legislatures have given us licenses to serve the people of our states. We can connect with our clients and have a powerful impact on their lives by nurturing their pets' lives. The secret is that there is no secret—simply take a sincere interest in everyone you meet, client or not.

Most women are better communicators than men. Women know (and most men need to learn) that the secret to high-quality conversations is to ask meaningful questions with a sincere interest in the answers. Finding out more about the life and lifestyle of the pet's human companions is very important to tailoring prescriptions for that pet's health. It is extremely fortuitous that veterinarians do not have to be the life of the party (because, short of a fifth of something, we are not always capable). Rather, we just need to be caring souls. Connecting and building relationships with your clients is a much more powerful and rewarding experience than "just" serving their pets' immediate needs.

2 A distaste for selling

Too many veterinarians feel that "selling" is not professional. That's another destructive mindset that needs to be addressed.

The only way that I know to convince a professional of the importance of sales is to show them the consequences of not selling. If I did not convince my clients that dental treatment was important, how much more oral pain (not to mention tooth and periodontal bone loss) would that pet have to endure? We are not selling here, but instead "influencing for a higher purpose," to use the phrase coined by author and lecturer Tony Robbins.

We veterinarians want to be givers, not takers, in our doctor-client-pet relationships. While we do need to take care of our practices as businesses, our profession wants to serve first and foremost. That's what it's all about. Therefore our focus needs to be not on sales but on the repercussions of failing to influence our clients to act on their pets' behalf. Think of clients' happiness in enjoying the "longevity enhancement properties" of your advice instead the pain they will experience from the pet's suffering as a result of not influencing them enough. The mindset of selling often involves manipulation. The mindset of service brings happiness all around.

3 Avoidance of leadership

Now, finally, we know that effective management and leadership skills are required for success. However, too many veterinarians see themselves as skilled craftspersons. They only want to work with their furry, feathery patients. Pet owners are a necessary evil.

Often it's impossible to make a leader out of one that does not exist. My cure for this conundrum is to get the practice owner to admit that he or she is a poor leader and let another staff member take over. That is no dishonor to the owner. Think about the artists who appear in our film industry—very few are able to direct and produce as well as star in their own productions.

The key, here, is to appoint a practice manager or administrator and delegate both responsibility and authority to that person. There is no worse fate than responsibility without authority. The first time you let a staff member talk you into an exception to the rules set in cooperation with your manager/administrator, you destroy the system—so be very careful.

I guess we can all admit to a few faults, can't we? Perhaps the greatest example of how damaging these three semi-deadly sins really are lies within a simple statistic: 30 percent of all veterinary practice owners in the U.S. are making less than they would as an associate in another practice in their own town. If you fall in that 30 percent, the time is now to make the necessary changes that will change your practice for the better.

Dr. Snyder, a well-known consultant, publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity. He can be reached at 112 Harmon Cove Towers Secaucus, NJ 07094; (800) 292-7995;
; fax: (866) 908-6986.