Marketing your business isn’t easy. Having a comprehensive marketing strategy is especially important in dynamic markets where change is the norm. In health care, and especially in the ASC industry, effective leaders tend to focus on concrete operational and administrative items that keep the doors open for business. Surgery centers often operate with a precise number of staff designed to support the current client base. An all hands-on deck culture leaves limited time to consider, let alone implement, a robust ASC marketing and sales strategy. Some stakeholders may argue a robust ASC marketing and sales strategy is not vital – after all, physician practices drive business to the site of care. While this is true, environments change. Those who are committed to tactics that have worked well in the past may soon find they have been left behind.
What is an effective way to go about marketing an ASC? Here are some strategies to consider.
Selling – Manipulation v. Persuasion
It is said, “Any successful business sells well.” What does that mean exactly and how does it apply to surgery centers?
As an administrator in a health care entity, it may be difficult to imagine yourself selling as one does, let’s say, in a retail store. When we think of health care in a typical clinical environment, we picture sick patients, caring providers, medical equipment, medicines, and other related items. It can be difficult to imagine selling in the health care arena. In fact, it almost feels wrong – perhaps because most health care isn’t elective. However, I would venture to say this is true only if you consider the old school perception of selling. What do I mean? The old mindset of selling embodies characteristics of manipulation which, by definition, entails, “artful, unfair, or insidious means.” There is a much stronger ethical consideration in health care than in many other industries. Artful, unfair, and insidious means go against the ethics of medical practice.
Shifts towards globalization and mainstream use of technology have allowed for greater sharing of consumer insights. Consumers in turn have become more savvy. Selling now focuses more on persuasion. Persuasion means to move by “argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position or course of action.” Selling deals with intent, purpose, and an end goal. If the end goal is to rip people off, then, yes, selling feels terrible. That is manipulation. However, health care leaders can expect to feel something different when their selling mindset moves toward persuasion.
The Norwegian word for sell is “selje,” which directly translates to, “to serve.” As a business operator, if you believe you are there to serve the marketplace, customers will find ways to buy your services because you are serving them. With this shift in perspective, selling becomes more palatable for our surgery centers, right?
Understand Your Customer
The best way to attract customers – new patients or physicians – is to understand your prospects. Health care providers ask leading questions to understand the root cause of a health problem. The same practice holds true with your customers.
Let’s say you want to recruit a spine surgeon who just moved into your market. What are your next steps?
How about a visit to the surgeon’s practice, bringing his or her favorite lunch and dessert, to entice the surgeon to stick around while you rave about how great your surgery center is for his/her cases? This represents the old way of selling. And many physician recruiters would feel good about this method because you walked in with intent, purpose, and an end goal. But you would be doing yourself, the physician, and the surgery center a huge disservice if you didn’t take the time to understand the real needs of the physician. The favorite lunch and dessert will only satisfy for a short while. The positive statements in favor of the surgery center will only maintain impact until the physician experiences a negative event that doesn’t measure up to these claims. Even though this sales approach may provide immediate success, it is wiser to invest more effort in understanding the physician’s needs.
Taking time to get to know the physician and asking the right questions will create and sustain a longer-term relationship with them, which should be the real end goal. Another reason to ask the right questions is to assist customers articulate their needs. Your exercise may help get them to a place where they feel better about taking a step forward with you. Conversely, you may encounter a physician who has his or her defenses up because they have run into someone who sold, manipulated, and ripped them off in the past.
How can you engage physician recruitment prospects in deeper conversations about their needs? Here are some examples of focused questions to get you started in better understanding your customer.
- “I understand you just moved into the area. Where would you like to see your practice go in the next 3-5-years?” or “What are your goals for you and your practice in the next 3-5 years?”
- “What are your current patient demographics? Are there any additional cases or services you would like to start performing?”
- “Are there any special equipment needs for your surgical cases?”
- “Have you worked in an ASC before?” If yes, “What are some of the best or worst things that have shaped your ASC experiences? What things do you wish you could have changed? What things have you enjoyed?”
To accurately gauge if you are asking the right questions, determine if you are simply selling to your customer or truly servicing them. Servicing your customer entails understanding their needs first, rather than presenting to them what you think they want.
When you ask better questions of your customer, you get better responses about pain points and aspects your customer expects from your service. These answers can help you pinpoint how your ASC stands out from competitors. Sometimes your ASC is a better site of care for a physician; sometimes it’s not. Not being able to serve every client’s needs is okay. Develop your strategy, then focus on servicing your clients if it makes sense for you, your staff, and the business. Avoid being stagnant. Communication about your customers’ needs allows you to uncover hidden opportunities for business growth which can yield untapped profit.
Understand Customers’ Preferred Channels of Communication
Once you obtain the answers you need from your customers, work to understand how your customers want to receive future information and communication. Do they prefer phone calls, texts, emails, or paper communication? Do preferences change depending on the content? Identify when it is appropriate to send out a mass form of communication to all clients and when to communicate with clients on an individual basis. When you communicate with clients one-on-one, tailor your messaging and communication channel to fit their communication preferences. The best way to find out is to ask!
Making Every Sale Count
The last tip in marketing your surgery center is to make every sale count. Air Force veteran and “sales whisperer” Wes Schaeffer claims, “To make any sale, you must make every sale.” He goes on to explain: “Suppose you are going on a date. You would brush your teeth, dress up nice, approach with a smile, and perhaps pay for dinner. All these little gestures are viewed as little sales along the way, contributing to a larger sale.”
The same holds true for your surgery center. Some of the little sales to consider as part of your larger ASC marketing and sales strategy are:
- Is your pre-registration pamphlet easy for patients to read and understand?
- Can patients easily navigate your website? Is your website enticing to patients? Do they get a good feel for the care they will receive at your facility?
- Do patients receive any form of communication prior to their procedure to ensure they are ready?
- Do front desk personnel warmly greet patients and/or friends and family when they arrive?
- Do your nurses and providers explain all necessary steps and set up expectations throughout each patient’s episode of care?
This is just an example of some of the mini-sales opportunities that occur when providing service to patients. There are many more touch-points in the patient journey. Each of these touch-points allow an opportunity to complete a mini-sale.
What works for your surgery center today, may not work for your surgery center tomorrow. Opportunities to improve customer experience occur with technology updates and patron preferences. The customer experience should be monitored, updated, and modified over time. The best way to identify the quality of your customers’ experiences is through patient satisfaction surveys and online reviews. Identifying how your customers navigate through your supply chain, including all the mini-sales touch-points, lends itself to better customer experiences and opportunities to retain customers long-term.
Effective ASC Marketing and Sales Drives Business
ASC marketing and sales requires an unceasing commitment. Customer needs are your number one priority in providing services, whether that customer is a physician or patient. Ensure you prominently address those needs in your strategic plan.
Effective ASC marketing and sales expresses your story. Never forget, your sales pitch should reveal your passion – to provide the highest quality service to consumers. As every consumer and every industry is different, so too is every business and every sales pitch. When you embrace the unique direction your customer base is encouraging you to move in, customer loyalty and unique service offerings will drive your business growth.
Trista Sandoval, VP of Business Development & Physician Relations