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Healthcare Marketing Is Only Half Of It

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June 17, 2015

In a recent blog post, we shared an anecdote about a campaign that our healthcare advertising agency launched on behalf of a favorite client. To summarize, we used an integrated mix of marketing tactics including online and offline components to promote our client's service line. The call to action sent prospects to our client's website. While we generated an overwhelming number of inquiries measurable results directly tied to our medical advertising we didn't see a commensurate increase in patient appointments for the advertised service.

After researching the issue, we hypothesized that prospective patients may prefer to schedule appointments over the phone, rather than online. So we modified our campaign to direct prospects to a vanity phone number instead of a URL. Again, we saw quantifiable results. And this time, we did see a slight uptick in scheduled appointments. However, we were still dissatisfied with the total number of new appointments, especially given the response to our advertising.

We dug deeper. We listened one-by-one to each phone call to pinpoint why more people weren't scheduling appointments.

As it turns out, we had a sales problem. The office staff responsible for scheduling appointments failed to effectively capture leads and convert them into patients. Why? Most likely because these employees and most healthcare organizations don't see frontline office staff as sales people. Moreover, healthcare organizations spend a disproportionate amount of time and money focused on marketing versus sales.

How can we fix the problem? First, it's important to remember that sales is a separate and distinct function from marketing, and it requires a different set of skills and tools. As a healthcare marketing firm, we can and should be involved in the sales process, but only in a supportive role. At our agency, we start by examining the sales (or inquiry) experience to identify system frailties. Then we recommend actionable steps that can improve outcomes. Finally, we develop tangible sales support materials that our clients' employees can lean on during the sales process. These may include phone scripts, talking points, or collateral materials with product descriptions and pricing.

Of course, handling phone inquiries is only one example of a sales transaction that takes place within a healthcare organization. How patients are treated when they arrive for appointments, how they are treated by clinical staff, and how they are treated after receiving care all influence perceptions about a healthcare organization. And those perceptions affect current and future sales.

In today's healthcare market, we call this the patient experience. In other industries (and in another era,) we call it customer service.

Our client is not alone in facing the challenges of converting prospects into patients or the challenges of delivering a patient experience that will foster loyalty, word-of-mouth referrals (including social media mentions), and ultimately, future utilization. It's a major issue that nearly every healthcare provider, from a sole practitioner to a multi-state hospital system has to address.

Yes, it's a big issue. But at our healthcare marketing firm, we tackle these things step by step, or as we say on our website, "eat the elephant one bite at a time." In this regard, stay tuned for our next post where we'll specifically focus on steps providers can take to convert more prospects to patients.