Steering a Successful Ride-With
What makes a ride-with such a powerful tool for manufacturer and distributor reps? Veterinary Advantage examines.
Distributor sales reps and managers, as well as their manufacturer partners, believe in the power of ride-withs, so long as the objectives are clear, planning (and follow-up) is thorough, and participating reps – both distributor and manufacturer – respect each other’s boundaries.
After Veterinary Advantage tallied the results of the recent Discovery Series questionnaire about ride-withs, we asked a few readers to share their thoughts about the topic. Participating were:
• Greg Jones, regional sales manager, MWI Veterinary Supply
• Dave Roeder, partner/ Hudson Valley sales representative, NEVSCo
• JD McCoy, west region sales director, Patterson Veterinary Supply
• Terry Walsh, Great Lakes senior regional sales manager, MWI Veterinary Supply
• Cameron Aguiar, national account manager, Merck Animal Health
• Clay Cass, executive vice president, Merritt Veterinary Supplies
Veterinary Advantage: How often do you – or your reps – do ride-withs with manufacturers? How often do you believe distributor reps should do such ride-withs?
Greg Jones: On average, my reps ride with manufacturers about three times per month. My preference is that manufacturer and distributor reps work a full day and ride together in the same vehicle. The relationship that is developed is much stronger when conversations occur about the previous call, then the next call, family, and what each other does for fun. This happens in the time driving from customer to customer. Some of the most active sales representatives work with their manufacturer partners up to ten times per month. They have face-to-face interactions that occur, on average, five times per month. Some of those interactions include meeting and planning, lunch-and-learns, or dinner meetings. I like to see sales representatives ride with their manufacturer partners between five and 10 days per month. A strong ride-with is important for both the manufacturer and distributor rep.
Dave Roeder: The average is two or three times a month, with some reps doing more and others not doing any. There is no magic number for how many ride-withs per month; each territory rep and his or her relationship with the manufacturers within that geography determine the frequency.
JD McCoy: Let’s define “ride-with.” We have days in which the manufacturer rep gets in the car at 7:30 in the morning, then gets dropped off at 5:30. They go to every call. But quite frequently, we agree to meet the rep at one, two or three target accounts; they’re the subject matter expert; then we go our separate ways. There are a couple of issues with full-day ride-withs. First, there may be accounts where the manufacturer knows another distributor owns the business; in those cases, the manufacturer rep may be reluctant to go into the account with us. Second, we don’t have enough time in the day for a manufacturer – especially an equipment manufacturer – to demo his or her equipment to all of the accounts we call on. So, the product – and the length of time you need to demo it – has something to do with the nature of the ride-with.
Terry Walsh: On average, a distributor sales rep should ride with three manufacturers per month. It is not uncommon for our most engaged DSRs to have two to three ride-withs per week. DSRs should be with top manufacturers three times per month, and supplement with other manufacturers as they deem necessary for their territory. Full days provide the most benefit, because they allow reps to spend time planning, targeting and communicating about mutual accounts.
Cameron Aguiar: I feel that to build a working relationship between a manufacturer rep and a distributor OSR, a ridewith once a quarter is not out of line. This could be done by getting in the car with the rep and spending the entire day targeting accounts, or just by meeting at a few accounts during the normal call cycle. The most beneficial time is spent riding in the same vehicle, strategizing and getting to know each other. This time in the car can also help with clearing up any misinterpretations in the field and create clear expectations of each other.
Clay Cass: The reps who are riding at least three times a week with manufacturer reps are my top-producing OSRs. Reps should do ride-withs as often as possible, but I believe two out of the five days is good.
Veterinary Advantage: Are most of your ride-withs (or those of your reps) conducted at the request of the manufacturer, or the distributor rep, or someone else? Can you elaborate?
Greg Jones: Ride-withs are often requested by the distributor rep, but other times, it comes from the manufacturer. Some of that is driven by the regional manager, based on company objectives with key manufacturers. Some manufacturers are working toward targets where a certain distributor rep has a great relationship, and they know the distributor rep can help them get deeper into the clinic. Other times, they recognize that going into a clinic with someone else creates a scenario where they often get to meet the decision-maker. Distributor representatives often request to work with a manufacturer to gain a stronger knowledge of their product, hear how objections are handled, and better prepare themselves to answer common questions from the customer. In cases where the distributor representative is newer or does not have as strong a relationship, the more experienced manufacturer representative is helpful introducing them into the clinic. After that introduction, the distributor representative can then demonstrate their full offering to the customer and build a strong and trusting relationship.
Dave Roeder: More often than not, it is at the request of the manufacturer, which is too bad because distributors can learn from their vendors as well as have a better success rate of placing product.
Terry Walsh: Ride-withs should be viewed as mutually beneficial for both manufacturer and DSR alike. So either can and should initiate the ride-with. Full days provide the most benefit.
Cameron Aguiar: Most of my ridewiths are at my request, to get a better understanding of the business. In a previous career, I spent the majority of my time riding with distribution reps. Typically distribution management is very supportive of these, because not only do they build relationships at the field level, but they are an opportunity for their reps to become more knowledgeable about specific product lines.
Clay Cass: I would say that 70 percent of the time, it is our reps who reach out to the manufacturer reps for ridewiths, and 30 percent of the time, it’s the manufacturer reps reaching out. But I believe this percentage could change depending on who the distributor rep is in that particular area.
Veterinary Advantage: What is the best reason for a ride-with? What is the best thing that you can hope to accomplish? That’s another way of asking: What does success look like in a ride-with?
Greg Jones: The best reasons for ride-withs are: 1) better relationship development between manufacturer and distributor; 2) knowledge-sharing, so the distributor representative can better demonstrate features and benefits of a manufacturer’s product or product line; 3) demonstrating a strong partnership between the manufacturer and distributor, so the veterinary customer knows they have support from both parties; and 4) accomplishing goals set forth from pre-call planning. Success for a ride-with comes when both the distributor and manufacturer representative feel they accomplished any of these objectives.
Dave Roeder: Often it is very helpful to understand a new product and how it should be positioned in a practice.
Terry Walsh: The best and most important reason for a ridewith is to establish a strong working relationship between OSRs and vendor representatives. The rapport that results from a successful ride-with is key to a successful long-term relationship between the two. The manufacturer can provide depth regarding product/services, particularly the more advanced technical components.
Cameron Aguiar: The best reason for a ride-with is for both companies to gain market share in their respective markets. When you schedule the ride-with, it’s a good idea to set up the expectations at that time. I like to let the rep know why I am scheduling and what I would like to accomplish. The reason can be as simple as getting to know the rep and their customers, or as direct as targeting a select customer base with a certain product. If these expectations are clear when setting up the ride-with, there is no confusion if the ride-with is successful or not. This does not always mean a direct sale has to take place during the day to make a successful ride-with.
Clay Cass: Building relationships with the manufacturer rep, informing the customer of the products available, and learning from the manufacturer rep how to sell