How to have an awesome meeting?

It’s a short blog this week because I’ve been consulting for one of my clients and helping facilitate a vet project they have in the pipeline. I’m really excited for them and of course I’d planned my workshop meeting and facilitation well.

However, I didn’t expect quite the level of engagement I got and I thought I’d share why the meeting was so successful.

Plasticine

(A.k.a modeling clay or Mála if you’re from Ireland.)

All of the pictures in this blog are productions of people in the room, whilst fully engaged in a very important strategic workshop. Aren’t they awesome? Who knew that we’d have some many budding Michelangelos in the room?

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It seems counter-intuitive to actively encourage a person’s mind to wander whilst you want them “in the room” for their meeting. Surely you want them focused and on task?

In a creative workshop such as the one I ran this week, we started with a problem and a group of folks to try and solve the problem, or at least to come up with the first iteration of a solution. There’s lots of evidence to show that the average human attention span is in minutes and runs in cycles. In a room of several people the challenge is to let the natural variation in the cycle of attention run, whilst trying to engage the team in a flow experience, which you might recognize as being “in the zone”. When you get in to a flow experience, time passes imperceptibly and people become deeply absorbed in what they’re doing. The quality of work is high and the experience in pleasurable and highly rewarding.

Pleasurable meetings? Really?

There are lots of flow models, but essentially in the creative scenario that we needed, we had to let the mind wander outside of the room, to alleviate the risk of boredom and to stimulate creative thought. Massaging plasticine, building Lego, using a fidget spinner and doodling all fit in this category. It enables your higher unconscious thinking to flow freely, in a mindful way. The skill of the facilitator is to then harvest the creativity and focus the outcomes in a framework for the team.

Here’s a suggestion on how you can do that.

  • Agenda and prework: Have an agenda that people can align with in advance. Set a simple pre-work task to get people in the mood of the meeting in advance, e.g. “bring an example of something that interests you on the topic of the meeting.”
  • Set up the room and have your tools ready. A few quid on plasticine, a bucket of Lego and some high protein snacks will help. Schedule and stick to the breaks or perhaps even schedule a walk as part of the meeting to freshen things up.
  • Frame the meeting objectives: Ask for personal objectives for the meeting or use the prework examples to get people thinking about the subject matter.
  • Let the subject go wide: The facilitator lets the subject run in different directions, whilst keeping the end in mind. They should be asking open questions, coaching the team and helping them drill down on ideas. This is the plasticine section and the longest part of the meeting by the way!

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  • Consider an exercise in the meeting where the team get off their bums and move around. A Post It note ideas boards, a white board or flip chart scribble session helps consolidate ideas and move the team towards consensus. Get them to draw what success looks or feels like.
  • Focus: As the meeting nears completion, start to focus the team on the stated objectives. Build the roadmap or action steps coming out of the meeting and start to build SMART goals that the team can use to keep each other accountable.

Post meeting follow up is always a challenge. A dry set of minutes isn’t anything other than a record of the meeting. Consider what is required. Is it an action list, a project plan or activity tracker? Or is it to evolve thinking? Certain people will go home and continue working on the meeting subject on the train home, in the shower or at the gym as well. Consider how you’re going to capture that energy and thought productively too?

Having a great meeting or workshop is a skill and requires planning and practice. Start small and invest in how you gather people together to do work: It will pay dividends.

For small business coaching, facilitation and mentoring, the VBC can support you. Get in touch and you too could have a team of micro-mascots on your windowsill.

Why vets need to be adding value for their clients

I’ve been asked to create a number of podcasts for a friend’s business, which is called Carefree Credit. It turns out they like my blog and think I’ve something to add to their offering. Well, I’m flattered and of course I will because it’ll help me too. I’m writing them now and have even bought a fancy lavalier mic to ensure the sound quality is great. And that’s where my thought process for this blog started.

What are you doing for your clients to add value to their experience?

Carefree Credit works with veterinary practices to offer zero percent interest finance for pet owners. It’s simple, straightforward and offers a critically important payment option for veterinary practices. It’s an every day fact of life that in the course of offering the best of animal care we incur costs for the owners. We all know that vets aren’t great at communicating this properly and I’ve written before about the pros and cons of pet insurance. Most practices offer credit to owners accidentally in the form of bad debts and this is devastating for the practice finances. Adding a 0% interest payment option from an appropriately set up credit broker means you have three options for payments; pay now, payment plan or payment via insurance.

Using consumer credit for your clients should instantly simplify your bad debit management and significantly increase the accessibility of your veterinary care for owners.

So why do they need my help? Well, it turns out they want to add value for their partner practices. They already add value for their clinics in terms of cash flow and bad debit management or client options and client satisfaction, but they want to go further an demonstrate even more value. Why? Because they not only want to be a service provider, they want to be differentiated and critically they want their customers to succeed. Only then, will they succeed themselves.

For example, they have a list of practices whose clients come directly to them for a payment solution because their own practice doesn’t offer a payment plan. Imagine the value they could add to those practices, if only the practice concerned would work with them. Adding value with free content is part of their overall marketing plan. They have to go above and beyond with their offering to engage with these clinics. That’s where my podcasts in.

Looking at it from my perspective, why am I happy to help them and give away some of my content? It adds huge value to my business in terms of business development, introductions and PR. Clinics get some great free content and can see what I do, which should generate business leads for me. Everyone’s a winner!

So where are you with your added value proposition? How much time, energy and resource have you allocated to that? In the first instance it should be part of your annual marketing plan with a budget and it should have a calendar of activities against it.

Turning up and just being a vet is not good enough anymore.

However, it doesn’t mean that you the vet necessarily have to do it. Be the best clinician you can be. But it does mean that someone in the practice needs to have it as part of their job description or you have to outsource it.

Typically, added value items are free to consumer. They are used at the top of the marketing funnel to drive awareness, consideration or conversion to charged services. Alternatively they can wrap around paid for services, enhancing or supporting the use of the product. If nothing else they’re designed to stimulate an authentic conversation with a potential or actual consumer.

Here are a few hints and tips to adding value to your offering.

  • Have a marketing plan for the year and start with a return on investment mindset. Technically, added value services are a Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI), in that they are classically given away and don’t generate a direct cash ROI. This is because their influence is felt in another way such as recommendation, net promotor score or satisfaction surveys.
  • Map out the different elements of the marketing plan
  • Decide which core elements you want to promote and budget for them
  • Work with your team to allocate roles, responsibilities and accountability for each activity and each element
  • Create a workflow for each marketing activities, with a time line or Gantt chart, key performance indicators and ROMI assessment. It doesn’t need to be complex, but it is an essential part of marketing planning.
  • Chart the progress of the activity using the KPIs and ensure a consumer feedback loop to improve the offering over time.
  • Keep a look out for local collaborators who could help you add value. If there’s a mutually beneficial opportunity, then it needn’t cost money as you help each other out.

By the way, it is possible to have an added value fail. That microphone I bought? The company’s free app that should enable my iPhone to use the mic properly hasn’t been updated since mid-2106 and therefore doesn’t recognize the latest mic. You would have thought that one of the worlds biggest microphone makers would have sorted that out wouldn’t you? If the conversation isn’t fulfilling or authentic, then your consumer engagement will be fleeting. Put it this way, that app didn’t last 5 minutes on my phone.

So what veterinary examples are there? Numerous is the answer and I bet you’re doing a bunch of them already.

If you need help with your marketing planning or working out the ROMI on the following examples, get in touch:

  • Nurse Clinics
  • Weight management clinics
  • Vaccine reminders
  • Consumer newsletters
  • Practice and website information sheets
  • Telephone advice
  • Medicine compliance programmes

If you don’t measure the ROMI, why are you bothering? If nothing else this week, reflect on what you do and consider whether they’re really adding value or whether they’re lost revenue or just poorly leveraged or measured.

The VBC has been doing this for years and we’ve got some great tools to help you drive your marketing. Drop us a few lines and we’ll call you back

Three ways to veterinary business success

Once upon a time, you could be a successful vet just by being there. The geography was your friend and as estate agents say: Location, location, location. You found premises, usually a building with a historical link to animals, such as a farriers, a yard, or a big townhouse in the centre of town that was always the vet’s and you screwed your plate to the front door. Away you went. Since the turn of the century though, the number of vet sites has more than doubled in the UK1.

This explains why the new generation of vets is dislocated from the older generation of vets. A lot of retiring vets are property tycoons, not veterinary tycoons and in the current property market, that’s not a viable route to financial success for young vets.

Note: For the purposes of clarity and to twist your thinking a little, I’m going to only refer to clients as consumers in the rest of the blog.

Well, aside from a few rural locations where geography is the limiting factor, that’s not how vet businesses thrive today. Various studies have shown that there are lots of factors affecting how consumers pick their clinic2,3.

Here are the key ones:

  • Recommendation – word of mouth mainly, but increasingly online reviews.
  • Local to them – why would they want to travel when the world is now delivered to them?
  • Relationship with the vet. We work in a service industry after all.

Interestingly clinical skills, competence and price aren’t usually in the top 5 reasons and critically; the consumer is not vet loyal. Consumers may frequent several local vets, for different reasons or with different animals. They almost certainly buy a chunk of the animal care products, food and medicines online.

So how do you become a successful veterinary business when the density of clinics is getting greater, access to veterinary care is simpler and communication is getting easier?

There are three routes any business can take to win consumers; you just need to decide which works best for you.

 1. Be a low-cost provider

In a highly charged financial environment, post recession, pre-BREXIT and with the internet now creating open book pricing comparisons, a low price offering will always win a group of consumers. It can be done well; just have look at the success of the not-for-profit practice Animal Trust.

However it’s a challenging financial model for clinics to adhere to and remain profitable. If your service to product sales ratio is worse than 80:20, then you have a big risk. You’ll be too reliant on margin generated from sales and it opens you to risks of pricing fluctuations and on-line competition. If you have the time to manage your pricing daily, the supplier relationships to ensure negotiated pricing wins and a relentless focus on cost management for the service elements, then great; crack on.

2. Have a differentiated proposition

This is the holy grail for most retailers and product manufacturers. Invent a new widget, gadget or service. In the supply of veterinary services as we know it, having a differentiated proposition can be very difficult though. The public has preconceptions of what going to the vet means and it can be difficult to surprise and delight a consumer. The proposition could change with telemedicine and as yet unknown services, so if you are an innovator, go for it!

It’s possible to offer a unique service to the consumer, but not at the level that most vets think. The thinking goes something like this: Wouldn’t it be great if we had ultrasound or CT or a new dental machine? That means we could offer service X, Y or Z and we’d be the only clinic around here with those facilities.

That’s flawed thinking though, because owners don’t think in terms of the medical facilities you have. Remember the reasons consumers choose a practice? Clinical skills and competence aren’t high up the list. Consumers are much more oriented to the way you care for them and their animals. Don’t forget, most of the time we’re talking about family members not animals.

You could offer a differentiated proposition in terms of how consumers pay for veterinary services, for example, a pet club direct debit scheme, payment plans or credit terms. That’s great for your cash flow and in theory great for the consumer too because you can bundle services and products very economically. But again, it’s flawed thinking because price isn’t in the top factors defining the choice of vet.

3. Deliver exceptional service

So if price and differentiation are difficult or not high in the vet consumer’s mindset, then the only way to be successful has to be in the delivery of exceptional service.

That makes sense doesn’t it? If we think as consumers and all else were equal, we shop where we get the best service, we eat in the restaurants with the most engaging waiting staff and we buy from those online stores with the best user experience and delivery services.

And so it must be for vets as well. All the clinical skills and medical facilities count for nothing unless we recognise the special relationship between people and their pets and we can create a special relationship between that consumer and ourselves. How can you surprise and delight a consumer? If you can achieve this, then word of mouth will become your biggest driver of new consumers, in person or online.

To steal a phrase from a colleague’s practice, they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Here at the VBC we can help you review your current offering. We’ll be challenging but at the same time nurturing, because you’ll need to make some big decisions. Working as partners in marketing, social media and business development, we’ll help you build, develop and implement your business plan. Any of the three routes to success can work and at the end of the day, it’s your plan.

Get in touch to arrange an initial confidential chat.

  1. http://www.rcvs.org.uk/publications/
  2. http://www.onswitch.co.uk/uploads/docs/france%20vet%2013.pdf
  3. http://www.cm-research.com

Big Data and what vets can learn from it.

We’re gathering so much data these days that it is perhaps beyond comprehension in terms of bytes. It’s a frightening amount, but the reality is that the technology that generates the data also gives us the ability to analyze and gain insights at the same time. Data scientists are hot property right now, earning really good money.

So as vets, how can we interact with this data and what will it do for animal welfare and our businesses? Our practice management systems (PMS) should be a mine of information right? What’s the reality of getting good data and engaging your PMS provider in actively providing it for you? I’ll leave that question hanging out there.

So what options do we have?

For this blog I’m going to focus on that last idea. In veterinary research, EBVM is our gold standard aspiration, but it’s time consuming and in most cases the statistical power of the research is not great. The number of animals in each study is just too small. So what about the vet groups or insurers that aggregate huge amounts of data? Let’s look at one example.

When Banfield speaks, we should all listen. They publish their State of Pet Health Report annually in the spring and you should read it. Here’s a link to the 2016 report.

If you’re analyzing and publishing the data on 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats from nearly 1,000 Pet hospitals, the phrase, “in our experience” takes on a whole new meaning. Ok, so you could argue that it’s a very particular view of the world and being North American, you could argue that it’s not relevant. Well, two things; firstly, the statistical power of 3 million pet consults and secondly, with the possible exception of the regional parasite burden, why would the UK be that different? It just isn’t.

What insights can we draw straight away? Pages 8-11 handily lay out the disease and age profiles of the Banfield pet population. You could design a preventative health strategy for your patients on this data alone! It’s phenomenal data and it’s freely shared.

What about our own large vets groups in the UK? Pets At Home and Vets4Pets publish two reports annually and currently don’t share the same level of data as Banfield. They make interesting reading though and, yes, they’re designed for PR activity, but there are insights to be taken and their aspirations are laudable.

So here’s my Monday Call To Action:

  • Read the reports
  • Then consider what insights you can draw from them and how you can turn these insights in to business and health drivers for your clinic.
  • Oh, and don’t forget to challenge your PMS provider to deliver on the data you hold yourself.

If you need help getting to grips with the power of big data, or just the data that your own clinic could be sitting on, then click this link and start the conversation.