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Issue: 68 - Aug 15, 2014
How to Simplify Your Marketing Plan
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

Marketing a veterinary practice can be a daunting challenge especially in today’s competitive marketplace. Practice leaders often struggle trying to decide which marketing efforts are most effective as well as finding resources – e.g. time, personnel and money - to execute marketing initiatives. As a result, marketing plans never get off the ground or lose momentum. Don’t let this happen to you. Set aside time now to implement a marketing plan for the rest of the year. The key to your success is to move from planning to execution. If you follow the five-step process below, you can achieve significant results within one week.

1. Focus On Client Communication Rather Than Marketing.

Veterinary team members think of marketing as advertising, getting the word out about the practice and efforts to increase business. While these are components of marketing, this line of thinking doesn’t help team members focus on actions that will lead to the best results for the business.

The American Marketing Association approved the following definition of marketing in July 2013:

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

For veterinary practices the key part of this definition is “communication, delivering…value…for clients…”

Veterinary teams need to communicate and deliver value to attract new clients (external marketing) and to enhance service utilization by existing clients (internal marketing). The delivery of veterinary medical services cannot occur without client communication. So, rather than thinking about how to market your practice, think about how to improve client communications about the value of your services.  Here’s a short list of client communications that are ideally part of any marketing plan:

  • Phone skills that result in conversion of calls to appointments, and build client loyalty
  • Exam room client communication skills that increase compliance
  • Use of technology in exam room to better communicate the value of medical services
  • Client call backs and reminder systems to increase client visits
  • Social media to keep in touch with the community and be seen as trusted advisors

Rather than implementing a marketing plan, think instead about implementing a client communication plan and you will be sure to focus on the best marketing actions.

2. Set and Adhere To Deadlines

To be successful with your marketing or client communication plan, set specific deadlines for planning and implementation. To begin, decide now that you will take action on the steps in this article within one week. Don’t forget that every action item that is delegated to or discussed with team members must also have an established deadline. For example, if you elected to focus on improving your Senior Care Program, then those employees organizing the program need to know when they are to complete tasks associated with this marketing initiative.

3. Prioritize and Focus On the Greatest Opportunity

Since you don’t have an unlimited amount of time and money, you need to decide which marketing initiatives will yield the best results for your practice. To make this decision, draft the following lists:

  • A list of all your current marketing activities (website, online marketing, client surveys, staff training, promotions, mailings, advertising, community events, client referral programs, hospital programs, reminders)
  • A list of marketing activities that haven’t been completed or have been considered
  • A list of challenges related to client communications- e.g. client wait times, poor online reviews, clients not agreeing to treatment plans, poor compliance with reminders, etc

The purpose of these lists is to help you gain an understanding of whether your marketing initiatives are effective. Are there gaps in your marketing plan? Do you have plans in place to address your client communication challenges? Are you spread too thin with way too many irons in the fire? 

In addition to these lists, look at your practice data to find the best opportunities for marketing. For instance, do you need to increase new client numbers, increase dentistry revenues or improve senior testing compliance? 

4. Establish one or two goals

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you set unrealistic goals. Unrealistic marketing goals occur if they are too numerous, too complicated, require too much time or require unavailable resources. Rather than trying to accomplish an unrealistic goal, decide on one or two goals that you can achieve within one month. The marketing goal may be on-going but the initial execution should be able to be accomplished within one month.

Don’t forget to focus on the right balance of internal and external marketing goals. If you have a low number of new clients per month, focus on efforts to attract new clients. Ideally, the practice should have 25-30 new clients per month per full-time equivalent veterinarian. The industry average has trended down the last 5 years to 18-20 new clients per month for most practices. But who wants to be average? Set your target goal to 25-30. 

Internal marketing (remember: think efforts to improve client communications about the value of your services) is usually the best area of focus for established practices.  Make sure you set goals that are measurable. Otherwise how will you know if you are successful? For a goal to be measurable there needs to be a number associated with the goal. Here are examples of measurable goals:

  • Increase the number of new clients per month to 60 (for a 2 DVM practice)
  • Increase the number of senior profiles by 3 more per week
  • Increase dentistry revenues by 20% for 2014

After you have your goals set, decide on one to five action items that will help your team achieve the goal. 

5. Get The Ball Rolling With Delegation

Marketing plans aren’t successfully executed by the leadership team but rather by the collective efforts of the team. The leadership team provides the plan and direction but individual employees take regular action to implement the plan. Make sure you aren’t trying to take on marketing all by yourself. Create dialogue at a staff meeting about how the practice can better communicate and deliver value to clients so more pets get the care they deserve. Gain insight and feedback from the team to facilitate buy-in and enthusiasm about your client communication plan. Delegate specific action steps to appropriate team members.