I’ve helped a lot of animals in my time, and I’ve made a lot of people’s last moments with their friends a little more bearable than they might have been.

I get a lot of things wrong, but I get a lot of things right too – I was no God’s gift to the profession, but I’ve made a success of it. Mostly.

pound-of-pounds-pixabayHowever, it occurred to me the other night (as these dark things like to do instead of letting me sleep) that there was one metric by which vets are measured I was never any good at.

The more I thought about it, the more those dark voices in my head told me it wasn’t just one metric – it was, really, the only important way vets are measured. Certainly it’s only going to become more important, as the corporate practices gradually (okay, not all that gradually) replace the old vet-owned ones.

This is the first of a couple of blogs about earning money…

In their shoes

I have always got on well with clients and their pets. I’ve always been empathetic, and found it easy to put myself in the place of the owner, or the animal, and imagine how scary it is coming into practice.

I never was much of a salesman, though. Some part of me rails against it – and that’s nothing to be proud of. We are businesses, after all, and we have a perfect right to make money just like everyone else does, but still…

…I hate the idea of someone coming to the vets with their companion, wanting to make sure everything is okay, only to be faced with a hard sell for the latest wonder drug from a medical professional. They want reassurance that everything is okay, not to be given new things to be scared of.

Is honesty the best policy?

“I hate the idea of someone coming to the vets with their companion, only to be faced with a hard sell for the latest wonder drug from a medical professional.” Image: Andy Dean / Fotolia.

I think the problem is my strategy with clients, always, is to be honest with them. It’s very obvious I am being so, and I suspect it’s why I’m popular with clients – but it’s not good for my sales figures.

Honestly, hand on heart, how many of you worm your pets every three months, deflea them monthly, and use tick prevention?

A fair few, probably – but I’m willing to bet not all of you. Perhaps not even half of you.

I generally consider it something of a triumph if I remember my dog’s vaccination, and I know all the lives vaccines have saved. These are drugs I know prevent disease and suffering, which I struggle to push hard in the consulting room because I’m too aware of my own failings in these regards.

It’s not I don’t think these drugs are important, but there’s a part of my soul deep down that tells me I’m a hypocrite if I tell my clients to use these products as often as they’re recommended, as opposed to my more relaxed (and dangerous) “whenever I get around to it” strategy.

Not entirely convinced

Then we have the grey areas, beloved of so many reps – the lands that evidence forgot:

  • glucosamines for joints
  • essential fatty acids for skin disease
  • myriad “nutraceuticals” for this or that condition (which probably don’t do any harm, and the rep showed you some graph with six dogs on it during your busy morning surgery)

The thing for me is I’m never going to believe in a product until I’ve seen some real evidence it works – and if that’s really what I want, I’m in the wrong profession.

Some of these products seem to help. Some of them do nothing. Some of them are so caught up in competing drug companies trying to prove “their particular molecule works when all the others don’t” that the truth of their efficacy seems as hard to find as the Philosopher’s Stone.

Salesperson of the Year

I never was much of a salesman, admits Nick Marsh. Image: jemastock / fotolia.
“My strategy with clients is to be honest with them – but it’s not good for my sales figures.” Image: jemastock / fotolia.

I have worked with colleagues who were phenomenal salespeople – clients would leave their consulting rooms with arms stuffed full of the latest, greatest medicine on the market and 15kg bags of the newest, bestest food.

I don’t know how they do it. I just tell people, honestly, what I’ve been told, what I think of the evidence, and whether I would use it on my own animals. I don’t like to pressure people. That’s not what they came into my consulting room for. I want them to consider what I’ve said and investigate it for themselves.

It’s my job, or so I thought, to arm pet owners with information so they can make the right, informed decision – except, when I do that, my clients gratefully thank me for the information then promptly forget all about it. Or find whatever I am talking about cheaper online. Or come in a week later to meet my more business-minded colleagues.

Lasting legacy

We – or at least I – like to think we’re in this job to make animals’ lives better – and to some extent we are. This part of my career has been a success. I performed, for the most part, as well as an average vet could do – better than some, worse than others; I’m happy with the legacy. But we are also in the business of making money. That’s what business means, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

We shouldn’t be – but here’s where I’m going to be honest with you, as well as my clients. It’s not rational, it’s not right, and it certainly doesn’t make me any better a person, but deep down, ingrained on my very soul, I am ashamed.

Let’s talk about this more next time.

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