One of the best referrals for a dog trainer is a veterinarian. They are the first ones to see the puppy at 8 weeks, sooner if a breeder brings a litter into the office for a health exam. The veterinarian will discuss the importance of socialization and starting young with training but sometimes the conversation stops there. The client is left to search all the listings for a dog trainer in their area. So what do you do to get those referrals? Drop off some business cards and brochures and hope the referrals start coming?
I am in a unique position as I am a dog trainer and I work in a veterinary office. Removing myself from the training position, here’s what I have seen for successfully establishing a relationship with veterinarians and their staff.
Go to the office in person! If the vet clinics are within driving distance, take the time and deliver the material (cards, brochures, packets, etc.) in person. Block off a day dedicated to making these deliveries and call ahead to try and schedule a meet and greet. Not that this speaks for all clinics but when packets were received from trainers, boarding kennels, groomers, etc. they were read and then placed aside and often forgot about. The business cards might get placed on the bulletin board but there was no relationship established with the staff to make it personal. The referrals might be given but without enthusiasm and often a list is provided, once again, leaving it to the client to sort through and decide which one is best.
When you go to the clinic in person, you are being interviewed. Discuss with anyone who is available your training techniques, method, and position on training. If they work at a vet clinic chances are they have a pet or two of their own. Offer some tips to help them with any issues they might mention their pet has. This shows them you are easy to talk to and that you have valuable information to help them. Be open to any and all questions that they have. At the end of your meet and greet you then leave them with the material you would have otherwise mailed to them for them to review and have available to their clients.
Now that the clinic has had a positive experience with you as a trainer, your brochures and business cards aren’t just pieces of paper anymore, they are a visible reminder and representation of you, the person they met.
If you are unable to go in person, call ahead and ask if you can mail along some material for them to display. If you have brochures send along a brochure stand; don’t assume they will have one empty and available to fill. Get the name of the person you spoke to when you called to inquire about sending along information and put a friendly note inside and use the persons name, “I spoke with Jane the other day on the phone…” – anything to make it more personal. Ask them to follow up if they have any questions, or better yet, let them know you will follow up in a few days to see if they received it and have any questions.
If you use an intake sheets for clients have a space available for them to let you know how they found you. Did someone refer them? The vet? If so who and/or which vet clinic? Then encourage them to tell the vet if they are happy with your services. Word of mouth is power! If clients start to rave about you it will speak volumes to the veterinarians and other staff members.
Lastly, don’t forget to thank the veterinary clinic for any referrals. You can do this once a year, twice a year or quarterly. How often may depend on how many referrals are being pushed your way. Bring by a thank you card and maybe something tasty, since we know food can be a powerful motivator. Again, delivering in person is always best because you become a familiar, friendly face, and you continue to establish and build the relationship with the staff.
How have you established a relationship with local veterinarians?