Selling Stuff in Veterinary Medicine Part 2: Entering Productlandia (AKA the Snakepit)
I really wasn’t planning on talking about selling stuff two posts in a row. But since I’m here at the AVMA’s annual convention in St. Louis, I just couldn’t help myself. Not after yesterday’s foray into the zone I affectionately call Productlandia (AKA the exhibition hall), where veterinary-recommendable products and services of all dimensions strut their stuff.
Literally strut, sometimes — that is, if you pay close attention to how the really good-looking, really well-dressed people in attendance (the drug reps) tend to stand, walk and posture. These are the people the drug companies hire to do their articulate bidding. And they do a very good job of it.
There they are in all their teeth-whitened, well-groomed, stairmastered glory standing beneath the protective canopy of their massive booths, resting their high heels and wing-tips in plush carpeting while the rest of us pass by in our sweats, scrubs, jeans, sneaks and Birks, trying really hard not to make eye contact so we don’t have to talk about flea preventatives, nutritional supplements and pet insurance — that is, unless they’re giving something (other than their looks) away and we deem it a fair trade to subject ourselves to "the talk."
In my less charitable moments, I’ll confess that I call the exhibition hall the snakepit. Though everyone’s really nice, and there’s plenty of amazing education to be had here (the AVMA now offers up to two hours of continuing education hours for those of us who troll these waters at length), I can’t help thinking it’s where the less savory stuff happens at a conference.
After all, everyone in sales has an agenda, and most of them get paid on how good they are at selling you. Yet there is one silver lining: At least here in the snakepit you know it. Elsewhere in the lecture halls and wet labs that populate any given professional meeting … not so much.
So it is that the veterinary students can be identified by their rolling carts (literally) of swag, spoils of war emblazoned with the name of a digital X-ray manufacturer (at least it’s a step up from last year’s rolling box touting a urine-cleaning product). Meanwhile, the veterinarians and technicians can be divvied up by their role in the hospital: Owners and managers stalk equipment solo, associates convene in groups under the eaves of booths, prepared to soak up yet another video on how this tick product is way better than our last tick product (especially now that our last tick product is off patent and OTC).
Cynical me. I should slap myself for thinking so despicably of the commercial interests that truly do offer veterinary medicine — and our pets, of course — such wonderful drugs and products. It’s not as if I don’t recognize that our pets are better off for all their efforts (and indeed they are). And it’s not as if veterinary medicine is any different than most professions. No industry is immune to the effects of increasingly conglomeratic supply chains with increasingly sophisticated marketing efforts.
Nonetheless, a stroll through Productlandia is enough to give anyone pause. Can I help it if all that outsized attention-seeking and swag-peddling rubs me the wrong way?
Dr. Patty Khuly