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#73 – The Key to Improving & Managing Your Buyer Relationships

by | Oct 31, 2023 | People Management

Have you ever got a dog from a shelter or rescue? It’s rare to know the history of the dog, what trauma he endured, what he’s sensitive to, what he loved and no longer has. You spend those first few weeks sort of seeing what happens, does he like these treats or those? What will work with his stomach? Does he need deworming? What kind? Will he be afraid of shopping bags? Loud noises from garbage trucks or motorcycles? What drive will he have and how can I make sure I’m meeting his needs?

It feels like a lot of throwing mud at the wall, hoping some sticks.

What I wish I knew

There are also things you’ll never know. When I got Dakota, the dog, not the kid, yes, I named my kid after my dog, but I added an H for human, so they’re different. Anyways, when I got Dakota, my Shepard mix dog from the shelter, she was about a year old. She had been spayed already, was house trained (prior to making it to the rescue), and she was terribly afraid of plastic bags, especially dumpsters. I remember living in my apartment with her and she would yank and pull at the leash, deathly afraid of getting near the dumpster.

No one knew her story. She was found on the streets in Port Huron, Michigan. Yet to have been spayed and house trained, who knows what happened?

I’ll be honest, some people love this stuff, they love the idea of a tragic story that goes with their dog, a mystery that they can solve. Yet, the truth is, you’ll never fully solve it, you’ll never know the whole truth, that’s the nature of dogs, they can’t exactly speak human.

However, imagine if I knew her story, I knew that an older couple had had her, she was too much dog, and got out of their yard, maybe they were sick and went into long-term care and no one ever came back to look for her? Or, what if I knew she was in an abusive home, where the boyfriend didn’t like the girlfriend’s dog and decided to get rid of her by throwing her in a dumpster?

If I knew she was afraid of men or I knew she was afraid of dumpsters and plastic bags when I got her, I would’ve been able to work with those things better. If I knew what her mother and father were, or at least what they enjoyed doing, what toys they loved, actives they enjoyed, I would’ve been able to give that to her the whole time, giving her the best, right from the start.

You’re able to answer those questions for your buyers

That’s the beauty of being a breeder: we have all those answers. We know the backstory on our dogs, not just the parents, but the puppies. We know if they were in a big litter or a singleton. We know what they were exposed to, we know their drives and have a good idea of what will give them an amazing life.

You know what’s more amazing? We know about the expected health of the puppies, where they may have vulnerabilities, and ways to mitigate those things. We are like the little old lady on the corner who saw the whole thing and can tell you, the buyer, the story over coffee.

As the world evolves, the world is moving away from compromise, with its idea of giving up something to make it work and it’s evolving into collaboration. I love it. I struggled with it a bit at first, but now I see so many benefits to collaboration. Get the best man—or breeder, or trainer, or veterinarian—for the job. Ultimately, as breeders it has us asking how can we give our buyers the absolute best, so there is not compromise, they are bound for success.

As the market is normalizing and breeders are actually having to put a little work into selling puppies, gosh we got off so easy the last few years…well now we are like every other industry needing to actually market our product.

Buyers get not only a puppy but also your knowledge and support as a dog breeder

Part of selling yourself as a breeder, beyond the quality of your dogs, is selling your knowledge and support. When buyers feel supported, they are better able to provide and take care of their dog, when that happens the relationship between the dog and the buyer improves and a beautiful bond is formed. The buyer will think the dog is just amazing—and while the dog is amazing—a big part of that success story is that you, the breeder, set the situation up for success.

Let me give you an example. Let’s take two examples, say you litter box train your pups, but never mention that to your buyers. They don’t know they can take the techniques from the litter box training and use it to speed up their house training. They end up stumbling through house training, still using the old rub-the-dog’s-nose-in-it technique and it takes weeks of trial and error to house train their puppy. That sucks. They’re miserable, the dog is miserable, and they even question if they got a quality puppy.

Now, let’s try another example, same dog, same buyer, yet this time you set them up for success with house training. You send them home with some of the litter you use and then you write them an email or give them a handout that explains how to use the litter to help with house training, you also give them best tips and tricks for house training, how to plan a schedule of potty breaks around their feeding schedule with the pup. You even go so far as to send them the link to a YouTube video which addresses it further. That buyer learns all these techniques, implements them, and essentially has their dog all but house trained in a week. They think their dog is amazing, the smartest dog they’ve ever had, and feel so great when they talk about their dog, and you, the breeder, when telling stories to their friend.

Isn’t it funny how the buyer will change their opinion on the quality of dog they got based on their own level of education, completely outside of the actual dog.

Now, please don’t think I’m suggesting that the dog’s temperament and all you’ve put into breeding selection and buyer matchmaking aren’t important, they absolutely are, but when you put them head-to-head, the buyer’s education makes a big impact in the success with their dog.

Excellent buyer support without taking up all your spare time

How can we give our buyers that advantage on a consistent level without exhausting ourselves? How can you do it when you have three litters on the ground? How can you do it in the middle of your child’s busy season? Or when you are in the middle of a facility design and build?

Well, the answer is customer relationship management software. What is that you ask? Well it’s software that allows you set up a system that delivers consistent attention to all your buyers. It really does what it says: manages customer relationships.

I prefer to use the software HoneyBook. HoneyBook is the most fantastic software I’ve worked with. I started looking for software when I was struggling to keep organized with my waitlist, with my buyers, who had paid deposits, who hadn’t? Did they want a puppy from a specific litter? Have they signed my contract? It was a total nightmare. I had like notes on my phone, I used to, embarrassingly, search through text messages and try and parse it together. I would even have to go back into Venmo and Zelle transactions, trying to reassemble a picture of what was going on. Totally embarrassing. It was also clunky, super inefficient, and certainly didn’t make me look like the shining professional dog breeder I wanted to put my hat out as.

Oh and emails, holy cow. I used to type out all these individual emails for people when they asked, or long texts. I have said the same thing so many times I catch myself speaking the same series of words, sometimes I’ve questioned if I’m part robot, occasionally my joints creak like I am.

But I eventually got smart, it took me about eight months to play around with HoneyBook to really get the best use out of it, it’s so amazing and dynamic, yet not terribly complicated. It was originally designed for photographers, so it took me a little while to tweak things to make them how I wanted them, all within HoneyBook’s design and capabilities, but dog breeding is unique enough that the YouTube videos on HoneyBook weren’t exactly the most helpful.

What’s more, it has a ridiculously large Research and Development Budget, you know what that means? It means it has the money to continue to support you and upgrade, add new features, and increase functionality. To give you an example, support is mainly through chat and they get back to me within five minutes most of the time, great, friendly, knowledgable staff on the chat.

Get the MasterClass on Using HoneyBook for Your Dog Breeding Business

How I use HoneyBook

What does it do for my breeding program and how does it manage my customer relationships? The main thing is that I’m able to digitally send customized contracts to my buyers and have them sign digitally. If you’ve ever emailed a contract to people and asked them to print it, sign it, upload it, and email it back, you know that doesn’t happen much, and it’s definitely not fast. My ideal puppy buyer, they have the best intentions and some of the worst follow through. If it isn’t easy, it isn’t happening. What does that mean? I need to make it as easy and streamlined as possible. HoneyBook does this. I can send the contract from my phone, personalized to them if I, for example, give them a discount on a dog and need to update the price in the contract and the invoice. I did it once at a rest stop while my kids ran in to pee.

When you send the contract, you can also include an invoice and in that invoice set a schedule to pay. I know a lot of you use a deposit, some even use a waitlist deposit, then a second reservation fee or timed payments. You can put ALL of this inside HoneyBook and even have it automatically remind them to pay. They also don’t need to pay through the software, which is nice, so you have the option to record that they paid if they used a different payment method.

So the contracts and recording payments and deposits was the main reason I got HoneyBook, but then I started to use their email template feature. This is where you can premake as many emails as you like and send them easily to anyone at any time. So when that buyer asks you what dog food you feed, and then follows up with where to buy it, how much to feed, and also if it’s okay if the flavor isn’t the same…and you’re texting them back and forth while they’re at PetSmart…you can now skip all that. You have your Dog Food Email Template you can send, so you jump on the app of your phone, go to the client and send the email. In thirty seconds you’re done and they have all the information they need.

Customer Relationship Management software benefits you AND your buyers

I swear, after implementing HoneyBook I felt like I hired someone, but what’s better? The buyers felt so much more supported and their impression of me was improved, there was more respect for my program, which translated to respect for me and my time.

What else is amazing? Well, they have this feature called the pipeline. It is a series of all the stages in your business, everything from initial inquiry and follow up, to sending them contracts and waiting on deposits, to placing them on individual litters.

It actually starts with a contact form you create in HoneyBook, I have a few of them for my program, but the main one I use is the puppy application. I made mine in HoneyBook and when it’s submitted they get a nice email from me saying to give me a few hours to review their application and then I’ll reach out, plus it sends them some more information to review if they’re super excited to continue learning about the process.

I love being able to track where everyone is at and I know how many slots I can accept on litters that are still gestating.

I even got fancy with their automations and now my emails to my buyers are sent automatically, including scheduling an appointment for pick up.

I have a questionnaire—also through HoneyBook—and the number one thing buyers select as what helped them prepare most for their puppy was the email series I sent them.

I love it, as you may have noticed. It allows me to have a podcast, coach dog breeders, and run my breeding program simultaneously without a large team. Let’s be honest, the majority of my team can’t even drive yet.

You know me, I’m big on only advocating things that I’ve tried and believe in. I’ve been asked to test products and if I wasn’t satisfied I have elected to not allow them to advertise on my podcast. I’m not out to trash a company that I tried and didn’t like, but I won’t lie to you, especially for money. I just can’t justify that, you guys mean too much to me.

The point is, I’ve been using HoneyBook for three years and it’s made a big difference in my program and is partly responsible for why I can charge more for my dogs. I was on a strategy call with HoneyBook a while back, explaining some things I wanted to do with the software looking for the best way they’d recommend doing that and, as part of it, I explained how I use HoneyBook for my dog breeding program. A few minutes after my call, I received an email inviting me to be a HoneyBook Educator, which means I’m one of their ambassadors, but it gives me extra insight into what they are doing with the software, allowing me to try beta features and give feedback.

But you know what’s the best part of it? They give my affiliate link the best deal they offer, no matter what sale they have, my link will always be that or better. Currently, I’m able to offer you 50% off your first year of HoneyBook. The software is surprisingly reasonable for what it does to save me an average 4-6 hours of work managing buyers PER WEEK.

If you use my HoneyBook Link to purchase the software, I’ll also send you my templates to help you get started.

I also know that it’s a lot to take in at first, it’s hard to know where to start setting it up, so I’ve worked with my team and we’ve built a MasterClass on HoneyBook, a visual walkthrough of everything from how to set it up to how to design a workflow that takes care of and nurtures your buyers.

When I first started my podcast I wanted to help breeders get their lives back, get back to enjoying time with their dogs, and more importantly, their families. I know when the systems are in place breeding is a whole lot of fun, but when they aren’t, it can be so stressful.

Of all the things you can do to make your breeding business smoother, managing and automating quality customer service to buyers tends to give them the most back for the time invested.

If you decide you would prefer to brainstorm your setup with me or even have me set up HoneyBook for you, I do offer those services as well, you can learn more about getting HoneyBook for the discount and my service in setting it up at honestdogbreeder.com/honeybook.

If you’re a member of the Dog Breeder Society already you have full access to the HoneyBook MasterClass right now, I’ll be doing a HoneyBook strategy Live Q&A inside DBS. If you’re not yet a member, I have to say, you’re missing out. Enrollment is currently open through the end of October, I’d love to see you inside. Learn more here.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I’m meeting so many amazing breeders and seeing you adapt and overcome the challenges in the market recently. You have grit, like I always knew you did. Thank you again and I’ll see you in the next episode.

Show Notes

Referenced Links

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Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!