Pharmacy Marketing: Learning to herd cats
My wife grew up on one of the prettiest dairy farms in the country. It’s been in the family for over 100 years. She always said that she would never marry a farmer after seeing how hard her dad worked and how her folks were always so tied down to the farm. But, you know, dairy cows need to be milked… twice a day, every day. Even on holidays. Maybe she was right about not marrying a farmer.
I’m grateful she settled for me, a pharmacist, before she found that there were a lot of similarities between dairy farming and running a pharmacy. Pharmacy customers, like dairy cows, have needs to take care of, especially when they are ill. It doesn’t matter if it’s after hours or on holidays, their prescriptions still need to be filled.
There have always been cats in the dairy barn her grandfather designed and built. Anywhere from 3-4 cats up to 20 or so, depending on the time of the year. I’ve had the opportunity lately to assist my elderly father-in-law by feeding his barn cats. He’s had an established routine, or maybe I should say the cats have an established routing… twice a day – morning and evening, almost like dairy cows, they need to be herded to the barn to be fed. I’ve often teased him about being a ‘cat herder‘ as he would ‘herd’ the cats to the barn to be fed. I’m not near the cat person that he is… I tolerate them at best, but I do what I can to tend to their needs.
Although herding cats can be a difficult chore at times, it can be done with the proper technique. You can even build up the ‘herd’ if you work at it. I’ve come to learn that any other neighborhood cats will join the herd if they know about you and know you are feeding them. All you have to do is tip them off that there is food involved. If they are hungry they will join up pretty quickly. It’s not hard at all to increase the size of the cat herd if you find out what they need and start giving it to them. Treat them kindly and they’ll always be back next time.
Getting new customers into your pharmacy or for your pharmacy consulting business can be somewhat like trying to herd a bunch of cats. They’re just going to go willy-nilly about their daily business, not paying too much attention to you unless you give them what they need. In order to do that, you have to find out what their needs are or educated them so they know what their needs are.
When most people think about a pharmacy they think about a drug store. A place to get their prescriptions, cough and cold needs, health and beauty aids, greeting cards, etc. From my experience I know that most any pharmacy can fill these basic customer needs. So how do you do this better than the pharmacy down the street?
Do you provide better service? Most often this basic business tactic can be successful to an extent. But when business gets ‘sticky’ during poor economic times or times of increased competition you can’t just rely on this. You need to develop a different approach – one that will differentiate you from your competition and make you stand out.
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do your regular customers know ALL the special services that you offer them? Do potential customers in the community know these services and understand why this makes your pharmacy business a better choice for them? Do your customers promote or recommend your services to their friends and acquaintances?
- Do potential new customers even know you exist? When was the last time you offered a ‘value added’ service to potential new customers? Have you taken time recently to talk to potential new customers or speak to a community group on a relevant and interesting topic?
- Do you take the time to network with other health care professionals in your community? Are you a Chamber of Commerce member and do you actively participate? Does the community know who you are and how your business is different from your competitors?
By finding out what your customer needs are and filling those needs you will discover ways to make yourself stand out. By providing value added services, possibly medication therapy management MTM services or other personal pharmacist related services, you can increase your business. But you need to work at making sure your customers and potential customers know about these services. You need to develop a marketing plan to promote these services to them.
Yes, rounding up a herd of new customers is similar to herding up a group of cats. Find out what their needs are. Let them know you’re out there and can fill those needs. Pat them on the head and stroke their backs and you’ll get them purring and eating out of your hand in no time.