Practice Management | April 2016 Hearing Review
It all starts with a marketing plan. Here are some basics to get you started.
Marketing planning is one of the key areas in practice management. It must be thoughtful, based on data, goal oriented, well directed and flexible, communicated to staff, and measured and evaluated using benchmarks, with rewards for the goals reached.
Changes are everywhere in our business—from how you find customers to how you keep them. Your marketing efforts should reflect these changes if you want to compete effectively.
The way you reach customers includes both the media used and the messages you send, and both are in transition. For example, ignore digital media at your own risk. Neglect your customer database, and watch them find other providers. The only way to effectively increase existing customers’ loyalty is through active involvement.
Today’s buyers are highly informed, well connected, and hold strong self-belief systems. To reach them, you must:
- Precisely target new customers in different ways.
- Consistently interact with prospects to nurture and convert them.
- Gain empathy with prospective patients.
- Do not approach them as if they are impaired; you will feel their irritation!
Lewis Carroll wrote that “If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The key to successful marketing is advance planning. It is the central strategic action that directs all subsequent tactical activities. Planning identifies:
- Strategy and structure
- Products and services
- Customers and markets
- People and processes
- Systems and support
- Measurements and rewards
The alternative to planning is to conduct periodic ad hoc marketing activities. We at American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) preach the advance planning approach as opposed to “making it up as you go.”
Pros & Cons of Following a Plan
The advantages of following a plan include identifying a route the company wants to follow, and setting corresponding goals at the outset. You can present these plans to others in your organization to ask for concrete support and involvement, then track results. This makes it easier to stay focused and gain staff buy-in.
Some of the cons include the inevitable disruptions in plans. Sometimes life gets messy, and we have to adjust quickly. Psychologically, if a marketing plan is derailed for any reason, it may cause you to feel “off track” or bring on a foreboding sense of failure.
Therefore, as your plan proceeds, be flexible in the journey, no matter how it unfolds. A well-developed plan provides a framework for actions and expectations, but does not prevent you from taking advantage of new and unforeseen opportunities as they arise. However, operating without a plan only results in an unfocused lack of control over your marketing.
Planning and Adjusting
To reconcile planning and adjusting, you must first build a plan. Then track and record progress and measure your results against the goals and objectives. Another consideration is to adapt and adjust to changes in the market and incorporate new opportunities into the plan.
Identifying Audiences for Your Products
There are three audience segments for your products and services. The first is new leads, those unknown external targets that have a likely need for your offerings. The second is existing customers. This is your database of patients who have purchased previously. The third is prospects: potential customers with whom you already have had some contact and established a relationship.
New Leads. In traditional marketing (direct mail and newspaper ads) new leads are people residing within your geographic range who meet a preselected age threshold. In digital media, when targeting new leads, you’ll want to look for informed persons who do relevant online research. Also identify “connected” persons who are influencers in the communities your practice serves. If you are successful in satisfying these individuals, they will spread the word to their social and business network contacts.
Finally, attract people who have an active interest in their health. These include people who subscribe to health-oriented media and ones who participate in health-oriented activities.
Existing Patients. Fostering relationships with existing patients is golden. If you have served them well, their loyalty will pay huge dividends for you. Loyalty must be earned, so work hard to gain their loyalty and distinguish your practice from the competition. Patients share their positive and negative experiences with their circle of friends, so take care to ensure that their experiences are positive with your practice.
Emphasize with your staff the need to focus on existing patients—especially after the purchase of hearing aids. In your practice, foster a patient-engagement mentality before and after they buy. This allows you to build and nurture their loyalty, expand your relationships with them beyond the initial sale, and cultivate a lifelong connection that encourages them to sing your praises.
Retaining current patients is vital. According to marketing gurus Reicheld and Schefter of Bain & Co, increasing customer retention rates by just 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. That is a goal worth reaching for!
Prospects. Prospects are better than leads, but of course not as good as existing patients. As with new leads, they will be informed, connected, active, and involved in their healthcare.
Prospects are important because they are willing to listen, and they are looking for value and solutions to their hearing and communication problems. Prospect names are readily available in your database: think about tested not a candidate (TNC), tested not sold (TNS), cancellations and no shows, previous referrals, and attendees from community events you may have conducted.
You can convert prospects to customers by connecting to the interactions you already have with them, nurturing and building on those relationships, and communicating and establishing the importance of your services in helping them.
Leveraging Your Website for Marketing
The media you have available for your marketing efforts include the traditional methods like direct mail, email, print advertising, telemarketing, public relations, radio/TV, and special events.
Today they also must include digital media tools like your website, which is undeniably the most important of the digital media. It is estimated that more than 100 million Americans search online for health information, and looking for healthcare providers is their most prevalent search. The most effective websites are highly visual, purposeful, efficient and, most important, findable.
Many vendors are available who design websites. Your essential goal is to find one who can design a site that is visually effective and functional, that comes up high in search engine rankings, and that keeps people interested once they are there.
It is best to build your website within a Content Management System (CMS) platform. Examples of CMS applications include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. A CMS platform provides many benefits. The primary advantage is that it supports easy updates without needing knowledge of programming language, and it is basically optimized for search engines.
The content of your website is critical. It must be totally based on meeting hearing healthcare needs. New leads and prospects in particular are searching for this information, and it is how they find you online. Keep your content fresh and unrestricted. Some ideas for content include news related to your products and the industry, exclusive events and deals, interviews with subject-matter experts, and responses to customer inquiries.
But above all is the need to establish a mindset in your practice that is customer centric, and this may require a shift in attitudes within the practice. There are many hearing healthcare providers in your area. The ones that focus hard on satisfying patient needs are the ones who will be successful in retaining them and making them loyal proponents.
Using Data to Assess and Plan
We at AHAA advocate the “crawl, walk, run” approach to marketing planning. You have data that will allow you to assess the effectiveness of your current activities and which will provide a guide to what you need to address and in what order.
You must analyze and understand your data. This includes looking at such areas as your sales, the TNS statistics, the number of people served by each provider in a given period of time, and the types and amounts of your sales. Where are your greatest successes? Where are you weakest?
Your data will allow you to establish benchmarks for these areas. From this information, you can plan more effectively and measure all subsequent performance against the benchmarks (with a goal of moving the improved benchmarks higher as you go).
Aligning Your Messaging and Delivery
Messaging. Your new leads, in particular, have mindsets composed of three dimensions relative to messaging: desires, identifications, and beliefs. Each is made up of equal parts emotion and thought:
Desire: Do your products and services give your clients what they want?
Identification: Who do your products and services allow your audience to be?
Belief: What are the beliefs that inform your products and services? Are you addressing, then, targeting an audience who shares those beliefs?
Delivery. Know who your target audience is and what is important to them. This knowledge should be data driven. Be selective. Shotgun approaches are not effective these days. The more closely you can identify your targets, the better.
Craft messages that are relevant and that will resonate (desires, identifications, beliefs). The most important elements of your messages are calls-to-actions, limited availability, and offers that are time sensitive. Send targets messages via their preferred media; that is, be where your new leads and prospects are most active.
Planning for all areas in a practice is critical. Marketing planning is one of the key areas. It must be thoughtful, based on data, goal oriented, well directed, written and communicated, and measured and evaluated, with rewards for successful goals reached.
Finally, as the great marketer Walt Disney said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
This article is based on a presentation made at AHAA’s annual convention in 2015. More information about AHAA is available at www.ahaanet.com.
Jerry DeRosa joined American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) in 2010 as director of marketing and has 30 years’ experience in traditional and digital marketing. He is a graduate of The College of New Jersey.
Keara Piekanski, marketing manager, also came to AHAA in 2010. Previously, she worked in ad agencies in B2B and B2C sectors. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.
Original citation for this article: DeRosa J, Piekanski K. Take the Lead in Marketing. Hearing Review. 2016;23(4):28.?