MARKETERS AND VETERINARIANS
The greatest ally for agri-marketers of livestock products and services can be the local veterinarian. Vets are in constant contact with the producer and, in many cases, are selling the products they are prescribing.
After a decade of practicing large animal care in upstate New York, Dr. David Horn switched to relief work as a management consultant. Horn says a balance must be struck between a company's efforts to sell its products and the consequential need for vets to educate producers about them.
"Companies have a right and the need to get their information out to the end user," Horn says. "The problem comes with the correct usage, dealing with problems and the constant training that needs to occur. That is best done by the vet.
"Vets are still considered the best source of information by producers and companies needed to leverage that strength to benefit them and the vets."
Horn says suppliers should not underestimate the value of support from vets. "If the vet doesn't see the value of a product they will be very reluctant to support it. Also, companies need to really partner with vets to help them solve the problems they encounter in their practices," Horn observes. "That includes producer/client-based issues as well as vet-specific issues. When companies become true partners with vets, in all parts of their practice, they become irreplaceable in the eyes of the vet, and the company will be much less vulnerable to price and loading strategies by competitors."
Dr. Kent Henderson is Pres of Northwest Veterinary Associates, St. Albans, VT. The practice includes seven veterinarians covering the Lake Champlain Valley with a special emphasis in dairy cattle.
Northwest is a full-service practice offering nutrition, genetics, reproduction, medical, emergency care plus an array of other services. It serves 250 clients ranging in herd size from 80 to 2,000 cows. "Our practice works primarily with single-family size units who usually purchase drugs from the vet while we are on our visits," Henderson says. "So we are continually screening and searching for the best value of those products on our clients' behalf."
With 30 years experience and 23 years in his own practice, Henderson says he has seen many changes in his profession, but the criteria in choosing the most valuable drug has remained the same. "The most effective advice to sales representatives is to present the results of field practices for their products. We like to see product efficacy studies done under field circumstances. What happens in many lab studies often differs from results in the field because conditions can vary."
REACHING THE VET
Horn says there are a variety of ways for agri-marketers to reach his practice. "It depends on the type of information, but usually I think the best is through direct, concise, science-based mailings that are followed up by a visit from a knowledgeable rep. Another way is at educational seminars or conferences."
Henderson believes the most reliable information stems from research completed at the university, but unfortunately he said he rarely receives this type of data from sales representatives. "Data from companies are rarely backed up with university tests because there are so few university herds anymore. Studies are now done on company farms or private farms funded by the company," he says.
THE INTERNET FACTOR
A new trend for large animal producers is to purchase drugs in bulk through Internet Web sites or catalogues which have presented a new challenge for vets. "Through our experience and working with companies to evaluate products, we are trying to ensure our clients get the right product," Henderson says. "However, several drugs must have a prescription, so the vet still has to oversee their use and writing protocol."
Horn says many clients prefer to purchase their drugs from the vet to ensure their reliability and follow-up service. "When vets sell the products they provide better health programs to their clients because the client is more likely to call early when there is a problem," he says. "Vets need to be competitively priced but most clients prefer buying products from vets, even if they pay a little more, as long as it is competitively priced."
For agri-marketers trying to directly reach producers, their message will be amplified when the vet is kept informed of the product's benefits. "I think the mistake companies make is going directly to producers and excluding vets from that communication," Horn says. "Vets can be the company's best friend or worst enemy when it comes to proper use and in dealing with problems that are inevitable with new products or information. If vets are in the loop before, during and after the producer is targeted, it works much better."
Agri-marketers selling to livestock producers will have a long row to hoe without the support of veterinarians. Those who partner with them are much more likely to strike gold. AM
Dan Kelley is a freelance writer living in Kirkwood, MO.