Let’s be honest. Many veterinary practices are struggling with stagnating customer numbers. Some experience a decline in customer base year after year but aren’t sure what to do about it. As clinicians and scientists, we feel uncomfortable when we don’t understand the underlying mechanisms of a process. Unfortunately, modern marketing is bombarding us with buzzwords instead of giving a coherent understanding of what a new customer acquisition strategy should look like. We need to think in terms of systems in order to make targeted, effective and measurable decisions about the growth of our practice.
In this article you will get to know the most important building blocks for a precisely defined customer acquisition strategy. We start with the modern customer journey (how people choose their vet), outline the anatomy of a sales funnel (the structure that leads pet owners to you), and break down the components of a powerful strategy. By the end of the article, you will have a solid foundation of marketing first principles. You can also ask more valuable questions to get one step closer to predictable business growth.
Understand the customer journey
The customer journey refers to the steps a potential customer takes to select a product or service. In the past 10 years, these steps have changed due to the disruptive power of the internet. While there are significant differences in the selection of veterinarians by pet owners, the typical modern customer journey often looks like this:
- Do a google search for veterinary options
- A cross-reference with reviews
- Investigate 2 to 4 practices through their website
- Call at least one practice to gather information or to make an appointment.
The modern customer journey is very different from our once full reliance on word of mouth, print ads, or neighborhood events. While the channels through which pet owners find out you’ve changed have changed, the psychology of the trip is the same. There is one more question that the pet owner would like you to answer: Can I trust you? Your job is to build a system that will effectively answer this question for as many local livestock owners as possible.
Anatomy of a sales funnel
A sales funnel is the structure that guides a customer through their decision making process (ideally) to you. Every business has a sales funnel, but most of them are arbitrarily and unconsciously organized. Many modern professional industries rely on sales funnels to provide predictable growth for their business, but the term is slow to find its way into the veterinary community.
Transport: the top of the funnel
There are pet owners in your community who could be great customers but haven’t contacted you yet. The first part of the sales funnel is motivating them to connect with you on your website or other digital platform. This is largely achieved with the help of search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and content marketing. As a side note, Google Ads are a fantastic way to drive valuable traffic. However, running these campaigns is very technical. It is best to find a trusted professional to manage them for you.
A few years ago, Google made significant changes to the way local businesses are listed in search queries. They divide organic ranks into two categories: traditional organic links and the local package. The local package includes the 3 (sometimes 4) companies listed next to the map at the top of the home page. It accounts for roughly half of the clicks on the page, which means that practices that do well here will earn disproportionately large amounts of traffic on their website.
To improve your local ranking here are some things you should do on your Google My Business page:
- List all relevant categories (e.g. vet, veterinary clinic, animal boarding facility).
- Include a compelling business description that outlines the services provided.
- Ask for reviews and respond to them (this is a huge rank factor now!).
- Create special offers, posts, and answer questions.
Social media has changed the way we communicate. It’s fertile ground for people who know how to share stories, build relationships, and connect with values. You need to cement customer loyalty by engaging and engaging content on social media. However, the real value is in harnessing the power of their second-degree network. Your customers have friends with whom they are likely to share traits. Because of this, you need to create a strategy that your customers can use to interact with and share your content so that their connections can see your brand.
To do this successfully, you should create “buckets” of post types. It is best to focus on Facebook and Instagram first. Your buckets should be made up of the following types of posts:
- Patient stories (where you changed a life)
- Helpful and proactive guide for pet owners
- Behind the scenes, take a look at your practice, team members and activities
- Content that celebrates the values you share with animal lovers
You can educate a large number of local pet owners through blogs and social media. If you haven’t already, create an active blog page (at least 1 new blog post per month, ideally 2 to 4) where you write articles on relevant, helpful, and timely questions about pet health and behavior . Once the article is posted on your practice blog, promote it on social media. Usually, it’s best to spend around $ 20 on Facebook to promote a blog post in your community. Step One: Create a content calendar with a list of compliance opportunities, including dentistry, parasite control, education, nutrition, and anything else you want your community to know.
Consideration: The center of the funnel
As soon as a pet owner has become engaged to you, he has entered the consideration phase. Pet owners want to know who you are, what you do, and where you do it. But in social relationships we are driven by instinct, not logical calculations. Whether or not we feel comfortable taking this next step depends entirely on a gut reaction to the question: Can I trust you? The way to build trust ?: Use storytelling.
We need to reshape the way we think about websites. Rather than being billboards, next-generation business cards, or opportunities to display something eye-catching, they are a medium for storytelling and sharing your values in a way that is personally related to pet owners. Good storytelling combines aesthetics and messaging into one powerful experience that shows how you can change your life. For a full explanation of how to do this, see the previous article, What Luke Skywalker Has To Do With Veterinary Office Marketing.
Transformation: The bottom of the funnel
Make it easy for pet owners to connect with you on your website. Your aesthetics and copy should generate compelling “calls to action” through phone numbers, appointment requests, and special offers. There should be multiple thoughtful Calls to Action on your home page and at least one Call to Action on each inside page of your website. On mobile devices (where more than 60% of visits are likely to take place), incorporate a “sticky” call button so pet owners are just a tap away.
Calls and measurement
The final step in this process is making a call. Many practices have a significant opportunity to convert more phone calls into new customer visits. Prioritize training the reception team to properly engage with callers. Make sure they answer pricing questions, thus demonstrating the unique value of your services. Then have them discuss the scheduling. Consider the value each caller represents as a new customer – thousands of dollars in lifetime revenue. Many practices find it helpful to have systems in place that track calls through marketing campaigns, record calls for training purposes, and use call data to refine strategies.
Take that away
An effective new customer strategy is not a disjointed guess; it is an integrated, focused, and measurable effort. First, ask yourself what your sales funnel looks like, what the purpose of your website is, and how effective the traffic strategies you are using are. Then you are one step closer to higher numbers of new customers and predictable growth.
Robert Sanchez is the founder and CEO of Digital Empathy, an award-winning web design and marketing company for veterinary practices. He regularly lectures at national conferences, leads a team of wonderful staff, sits on the board of VetPartners and shares his home with two very spoiled dogs – Cole and Lula.