As anyone working in the private healthcare sector will confirm, practice owners have an extremely difficult job. You need to wear many hats at once, relying not just on your clinical knowledge, but also a range of skills they don’t teach at medical school: business management, people management, marketing, finances. That can be a lot of pressure on your time and your expertise!
In my experience, most practice owners are motivated by a desire to provide an excellent standard of patient care. They want the other aspects of their business to look after themselves, leaving them time to focus on their clinical work. There’s nothing wrong with this aspiration, but if you want your practice to reach its full potential, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right systems in place to keep revenues growing.
No matter what their specialism, all private practitioners face the same fundamental challenge: how to ensure a constant stream of patients coming through your door. Why is this such a problem for so many practices? Some reasons include:
- Limited patient pool Your practice has to compete with other treatment providers for the limited number of patients who exist within your catchment area.
- Trust If they’re going to put their health in your hands, patients need to be fully assured that you and your team have what it takes to look after them.
- Everyday pressures As your practice grows and your days get busier, it can be difficult to find the time to dedicate to managing your patient pipeline.
- Patient expectations Especially in the wake of Covid-19, patients increasingly expect to be able to contact and receive services online in a smooth and seamless manner. In a life full of distractions, any amount of friction or hassle will likely drive potential patients to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the strategies that many practice owners are currently using to tackle these challenges actually tend to make them worse! In this blog, we’re going to look at some of the most common mistakes being made, as well as exploring the available solutions. By implementing the strategies laid out below, you can help ensure that your practice is reaching as many people as possible.
What are people getting wrong?
Marketing a high-value service like medical treatment is a complex business, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. Four of the most common issues faced by practice owners are:
Lack of oversight
A prospective patient might get in touch with your practice in a number of different ways – through
- A website form or landing page
- A chat bot
- A digital advert
- Via word of mouth
- Facebook, Instagram Messenger or WhatsApp
This is a good thing! You should take advantage of every available channel to promote your services.
However, when it comes to managing your marketing process, this variety can create complications.
- How do you know which leads have been followed up on, and which ones are due an email or a callback?
- How can you tell which channels are doing the most to bring in new business?
- How can you tell the origin of each lead?
- How can you tell which treatment they are interested in?
Without a centralised overview of your incoming leads, you have no oversight of your patient pipeline. You don’t know how many leads are currently active, or which of your colleagues are responsible for converting them, which can create a lack of clarity and accountability. This also means it will be impossible to properly measure your marketing ROI, and makes projecting future revenues a real headache.
Lack of adequate training
Between your front-of-house, care coordinators and clinical staff, your practice will boast an impressive range of talents. However, marketing might not necessarily be amongst them.
To maximise the number of leads coming into your business, then convert those leads into paying patients, requires a specialised skill set. Your staff need to understand what questions to ask on first contact, when to follow up, and what information will help overcome objections and get a prospective patient over the line. Without this know-how, convertible leads will inevitably start slipping through the cracks.
Lack of clarity and accountability
No matter what kind of business you run, the best way to lose your grip on a promising lead is when they go cold through inaction. Inaction is almost always a product of uncertainty: staff are unsure what their next step is and when to take it, and so they end up doing nothing. It’s important to remember that, for most of your staff, proactive marketing and lead management isn’t their primary role, and they may find themselves too busy with all of their day-to-day tasks in the practice. Without a solid process to keep your team engaging your leads, and prompting to re-engage those prospects with your offering, the prospect’s attention will wander, making them more likely to consider other providers.
Lack of documentation and record-keeping
What information do your staff collect from leads at the point of first contact? Is it just name and contact details, or do they also record their reason for getting in touch, and any questions they might have had? When did the contact take place? Has a callback or follow-up email been scheduled, and if so, when?
In too many practices, this information is either not collected, or is not stored in a clear and accessible manner. This makes it impossible for other staff to take over a particular lead if the original contact becomes unavailable, and makes it even more difficult for managers to have an overview of the process.
How do I put things right?
I’m not going to pretend problems like these can be solved overnight. To fix them, everyone in your business will need to embrace a new approach to the customer experience, and you may require specialist support. However, there are three core strategies which, if implemented correctly, will immediately boost your return on your marketing spend:
1 – Create a centralised leads database in a CRM software (Customer Relationship Management)
Your first and most important step should be to create a centralised database to house all of your contacts and active leads. As well as their name and contact details, it should record how they first contacted the practice and for what reason. It should also show where they are on their customer journey with you. For example, are they due a follow-up? When? Who is responsible for contacting them? Do they need to pay a deposit?
This type of system will provide oversight for you and your management team, whilst offering clarity and accountability to your staff. You’ll be able to see how many leads are engaged with your practice at any given moment, how close they are to conversion, and whether you need to take action if you see a promising prospect slipping through the cracks. You’ll also be better able to evaluate which parts of your marketing strategy are working, and which can be improved.
2 – Create efficient, repeatable processes
From first contact to the completion of treatment, your staff should always know the next step in the customer’s journey, and when to take it. The best way to ensure this is to create repeatable processes – a series of step-by-step routines that can be followed in the case of every lead. If your staff are ever unsure about when or how to reach out to a prospect, they can simply refer to the process, reducing the chance of indecision and inaction.
These processes can be made more efficient through the strategic use of automations. If a patient contacts the practice out of hours, they can be provided with a scheduling link which will allow them to book an online consultation with a treatment coordinator or a clinician.
Similarly, follow-up emails can be automatically delivered after a predetermined number of days. Informational booklets, videos and web articles can be slotted into your outgoing communications according to your patient’s specific needs. There are all sorts of creative possibilities available that will free up the time of both you and your colleagues, allowing you to focus on what you do best – delivering a world-class standard of medical care.
3 – Take advantage of data
A massive side benefit of the strategies described above is that they will vastly increase your ability to measure and evaluate different aspects of your inpatient pipeline.
What sources are your best leads coming from? Which demographics are more likely to convert into patients? Where are you falling down? Do you do more business at particular times of year? How have the changes you’ve made to your marketing strategy affected conversion rates?
Once you’ve implemented a centralised leads database and repeatable marketing processes, the answer to all these questions and more will be at your fingertips. Not only will this support planning, evaluation and service improvement, it will also provide hard data that can be used to project future patient numbers and revenues.
Turning patients into fans
Ultimately, marketing shouldn’t be seen as separate from clinical care, but as an essential part of the patient experience. The strategies described above are all about helping you engage with your patients and understand their needs.
Engaged patients feel listened to and cared for, building their trust and confidence in your practice and preparing them for medical treatment. The goal here is not just to create customers, but fans who will not only come back when they have need of your service, but will enthusiastically recommend you to others.
See if you can spot some of the gaps in your patient journey with our quiz The Practice Health Scorecard