10 Years of Supporting Distributor Sales Reps via Veterinary Advantage

Veterinary Advantage celebrates 10 Years

Cover image of January 2009 Veterinary Advantage Magazine

Veterinary Advantage magazine recently reached its 10-year anniversary as the only publication focused on animal health distribution sales representatives. To celebrate the past ten years, we caught up with Chris Kelly, Vet-Advantage’s founder and current Group Publisher for the NAVC, for a conversation about the journey of this unique publication.

Tell us about the genesis of Veterinary Advantage. Where did you get the idea?

“The idea really came out of my experience in health care, which is where I started my career. In the early 1990s, I was a partner in a manufacturer’s rep organization, which managed a number of different equipment-related product lines across the South and Mid Atlantic states. Our sales team sold all of our products through healthcare distributors, so the key to our success was the relationships we had with distributor sales reps.

George Blowers, who was on our advisory board and was a very accomplished business executive (he helped build Welch Allyn into one of the top healthcare brands), pointed out we had over 750 DSRs representing our products across 11 different states.

He suggested we start a newsletter to keep them informed on things we were doing. George was one of those guys who you didn’t say no to, so we went to work on our first newsletter.

Pretty quickly the phones started to ring, and reps would say, “We didn’t know you sold ambulatory blood pressure monitors or EKGs, can you come and work with me because I have accounts ready to buy!” We immediately discovered the power of sharing information in that way, and it was instrumental in building our business.

That newsletter became the impetus for a new publication, Repertoire Magazine, that focused on DSRs across the entire country. We launched it in 1994, and it quickly became a must-read publication for healthcare sales people.

In 1996 we sold our manufacturer’s rep business to focus on publishing full time. Here we are 25 years later, and Repertoire is still a successful and vibrant publication, a real testament to the power of sharing information, and to the role distributor reps play in bringing products to market.

I sold my piece of the business in 2008, intent on creating a similar business in animal health. The push came from my friend Ben Coe, who I met when he was with AJ Buck, a Maryland based distributor. After seeing Repertoire, he told me there was nothing like it in the animal health space, and sales reps really needed information like we provided. Well, the market dynamics in animal health made it a very attractive choice, and our family is full of animal lovers, so it felt like a very natural fit. I presented the idea to the AVDA board in August of 2008, they gave us their endorsement, and we launched in January of 2009 at NAVC (now VMX).”

What was your mission with the publication at that time?

Image of Chris Kelly

“We firmly believed that the DSR was uniquely positioned to bring value to veterinary practices. They are the lifeline to the outside world for their customers and are trusted above all other salespeople.

The more educated they are on market trends, products, services, promotions and technology, the more of a resource they become to their customers. That brings value, which helps make their customers successful, and ultimately secures their place in the market.

Ten years later, that hasn’t changed. The role of the DSR is still as valuable, if not more valuable, than in the past, especially as the market continues to change. Today, DSRs need to help their customers compete against well-funded, smart companies that understand how to build a great customer experience. Independent practices have to raise their game, and DSRs are well positioned to help.

But they have to think and act differently than in the past. So the core of what we do remains the same as it was ten years ago – promoting excellence in animal health sales.”

How have the Vet Advantage journal, website and affiliated content evolved in 10 years?

“When we came to market in early 2009, the flagship product was the print edition of Veterinary Advantage that was companion animal-focused, and we followed that with a livestock version three years later. We viewed print as a great venue for analysis and going deep into subjects that were affecting the business and changing the market.

While we were big believers in print, and remain so today, it has been digital technology changing the way we all live and interact, so many of our investments have been on the digital side of the business.

At the beginning of our second year, we launched the Vet-Advantage News weekly email, which quickly became a staple for DSRs. It’s a quick hitting, one-minute read that allows reps to keep up with what’s going on in animal health. Our open rates are very high, as they should be because it was built with busy DSRs in mind. Their customers rely on them for this type of information.

Of course our website, which has changed quite a bit since our launch in 2009, is core to our offering, especially for inside sales reps, who are big drivers of our web traffic. We also added our Resource App, which currently houses literature from over 35 of the industry’s leading manufacturers. It was designed for outside sales reps, and there’s a web version for inside sales reps as well.

One of our breakthrough products, introduced in 2011, was SoundBytes. DSRs are required to be educated on literally thousands of different products, and that’s very different than a manufacturer sales rep, who is expected to be an expert on a very limited number of products.

The problem is… most product detailers are built for that more in-depth conversation, and run 8-12 pages, meaning they’re rarely used by a DSR. The purpose of a SoundByte is to distill that information into a one pager that covers the 3-5 key features, functions and benefits, along with a limited amount of product information.

Perhaps most importantly, it models the conversation they should have with the customer. In simple terms, we just translated the in-depth information into a format DSRs wanted and understood, which also allowed manufacturers to better control their messaging in the marketplace.

Today we have over 125 SoundBytes in our library and many of them are accompanied by a video. Our survey data shows that over 90% of DSRs use SoundBytes on a regular basis, so it’s really been a home run.”

When you look back — what makes you proud of Vet Advantage?

“Well, it’s been a great run. We’ve been blessed with great people, we have created a lot of value and we’ve had a lot of fun. I’m proud that distribution has been such a strong supporter of our efforts. Their support requires a high level of trust, which they have given us.

I think some of our defining moments were seeing leaders like Kevin Vasquez and Jim Cleary up on stage at their national sales meetings, talking about the tools we had developed and telling their salespeople to use them. That was a great validation of the concept.

I’m also proud that many of the leading manufacturers selling through distribution have invested in the Vet-Advantage, and remain our customers today.

One other area I believe we have done a good job with is content. We have worked really hard to cover the key industry issues, keep it interesting so we have engaged readers, and create a sense of community. The credit there goes to people like Graham Garrison, Mark and Laura Thill, and many other industry contributors who are passionate about the industry and the role of DSRs.”

What can you tell us about the future plans of Veterinary Advantage?

“We will continue to evolve and remain the champion for distribution and their sales teams. I believe we need to focus on product areas where DSRs can improve, for example in areas like equipment and diagnostics. These are like any other products a practice purchases, and it should be coming through distribution, but that requires more education, time and attention. It’s a part of bringing value to a customer, and both are growth categories, so it should be an area of focus.

There’s also technology to consider. So much has changed and the pace of change is almost frightening. Millennials have changed the game, and have such different expectations of the relationship they desire with their veterinarian. DSRs can be a play an important role in helping their customers deliver the experience this group expects.

Understanding and deploying technology is a big part of that, and it will help practices protect and grow their customer relationships.

Look for some new things from us as well. We will be announcing a new, enhanced training platform with increased functionality this June. While we can bring a better training experience to the DSR, we will also be able to offer distributors use of the platform in unique ways we couldn’t in the past.

We’ve also recently redesigned our weekly news emails to be easier to read and read quickly. Readers will also see some brand enhancements and a fresher look sometime in the near future, and that will be in both our print and digital products.

All of this really comes down to one thing: we’re dedicated to delivering content, in the formats our readers desire, that will allow them to continue to increase the value they bring to customers.”