2012 Conference Preview: Serving More Patients: Strategies and Insights to Grow Your Agency During Turbulent Times

BY STEPHEN TWEED, LEADING HOME CARE

Join Stephen Tweed at conference for our keynote speech, “On a Clear Day You Can See Tomorrow: The Forces and Trends Shaping the Future of Home Care in America”, on July 24. In addition, he will present “Serve More Patients: Strategies on Sales, Marketing and Public Relations for Private Duty Home Care” on July 25, and “Successful Home Care from the Consumer’s Perspective” with his Jason Tweed on July 26. Click here to check out session summaries in the conference brochure!

Medicare is cutting rates. Medicaid is reducing payments and limiting services. Hospitals are experiencing reduced census. Private pay clients are counting pennies and cutting back on services they truly need. Doctors are overworked, frustrated and don’t want to talk with you. There is a new home care company on every corner. It’s tough out there.

In these times of turbulent change in home health care and hospice, only the strongest, fastest growing agencies will survive. We’ve seen it before: Hospital DRGs in 1983, the home health Medicare denial crisis in 1987, The Balanced Budget Act of 1997. During each of these periods, thousands of Medicare-certified home health agencies went out of business.

In an effort to help you be a survivor, we’d like to share some strategies and insights to help you serve more patients, increase your market share and strengthen your agency’s financial position.

The 2010 Home Care and Hospice Sales and Marketing Survey

To get a clearer picture of what is working in home care and hospice sales and marketing, Leading Home Care conducted an industry wide survey in the fall of 2010. This was a follow-up to previous surveys conducted in 2004 and 2008. We asked the readers of our two electronic newsletters, Home Health Care Today and Private Duty Today, to respond to an online survey.

The survey was divided into four segments of sales and marketing:

  1. Selling and networking;
  2. Paid advertising;
  3. Targeted marketing and public relations; and
  4. Web and internet-based marketing.

We divided the responses by provider; home health care, hospice and private duty home care. Because of the small sample size and the similar results for hospice, we have combined home health and hospice marketing but we have developed separate strategies for private duty home care marketing.

Selling and Networking

“Make calls, make more calls, make many more calls.”

The results are very clear. The most effective methods of increasing referrals are networking in the community and making direct sales calls to high potential referral sources. (This is also true for private duty home care.) The survey reinforced the value of the Seven Step Relationship Selling Process:

  1. Prospecting – Identifying high potential referrals sources, both current customers and prospects. Creating an initial baseline assessment identifying the targeted companies’ most obvious needs and priorities.
  2. Making the Approach – Getting past the gate-keeper in order to have a meaningful conversation with the decision maker.
  3. Developing Rapport – Rapport is a harmonious relationship based on trust, confidence and mutual respect. Developing rapport with referral sources is 90 percent of the battle.
  4. Determining Needs and Wants – Asking questions, listening and probing are skills to help you understand the business of your referral sources, how they serve their patients, how they work with home health and hospice and how they decide which agencies to work with.
  5. Presenting Your Programs and Services – For making powerful, persuasive presentations, we’ve developed the Four P’s. They are the problem, the premise, the program and the promise. Using this model, you can prepare a number of powerful presentations to use in your conversations with referral sources.
  6. Closing the Sale – “What would it take for you to give us one patient referral? Who else do you have that I can help you with today?” These are the closing questions that are most effective in asking for the business. Yet, many home health sales reps don’t have a comfortable way to ask for the referral. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  7. Exceptional Service After the Sale – Home health care and hospice are frequently recurring businesses, where you get ongoing referrals from the same sources. In fact, we have found that you can grow a very successful home health business with a small number of physicians or facilities who give you a steady flow of referrals.
The biggest challenge facing home health and hospice organizations in this arena is attracting and retaining capable sales professionals who get measurable results. We continually hear from agency leaders who are frustrated by the difficulty in finding capable sales professionals and by the poor results being achieved by their sales reps.

Paid Advertising

“How to build brand awareness without wasting a ton of money.”

The results of our survey showed that most home health agencies and hospices have not had great results using paid advertising to generate referrals. We have seen, however, some anecdotal examples of hospices that have done a terrific job of consumer and physician education using local television. The single most effective method of paid advertising, according to our survey respondents, is sponsoring community events. Having your agency name associated with a major event has worked for a number of agencies.

Targeted Marketing and Public Relations

“How to reach high potential referral sources at low or no cost.”

This category is a catch-all for techniques that don’t fall into one of the other three. The results of the survey showed that there are some very useful tools here and that execution is the key to success. The most effective targeted marketing and public relations techniques are:

Health fairs and trade shows – Exhibiting is effective if you use them as a networking opportunity and have a specific goal to meet new referral sources and add them to your sales and marketing database. Other exhibitors can make terrific referral sources and you need to get to know them. You also need to use your networking skills to identify the right individuals within those other health care organizations who can refer patients to your agency.

Direct mail – Direct mail is the most focused marketing tool available. You can focus like a laser on a very small, specific group of referral sources and send a message that is targeted just for them. Not many agencies use direct mail, mostly because of the cost and the perception of “junk mail”, but those that do have demonstrated measurable results. The survey showed that a focused program of mailing very specific information to selected referral sources can be a terrific supplement to your selling and networking activities.

Press releases – Reaching out to the local media in your service area can be a very effective way to get your agency name and information into the news. The most effective way to do this is with targeted press releases sent to specific journalists with whom you have established a relationship. The press release is followed up with several types of articles in the print media: articles by you, about you or quoting you as an expert.

Television and radio interviews – Being interviewed on local radio and television is a very effective way to get the message about your agency out into the community. You not only reach consumers but in the right time slots, you can also reach other health care providers. Whether you are talking about a new program or service or commenting on a national news story with a local twist, being on the air is a powerful way to connect with new patients.

Our research has shown that articles in print media or interviews on radio and television are much more effective in building brand awareness than paid advertising in the same media.

Web and Technology Based Marketing

“How to make your website the center of your sales and marketing efforts.”

The research study shows that the second most effective marketing method, after selling and networking, is your website. This is particularly true for private duty but is also true for home health and hospice. Having an effective website is a powerful tool for creating brand awareness, educating consumers and being an information resource for referral sources.

A number of years ago, Jason coined the phrase “Web-centric Marketing and Recruiting”. This means using your website as the central focal point of all of your outbound marketing and staff recruiting efforts. Everything that goes out of your agency drives people back to your website.

What About Social Media?

While there is a lot of buzz about using social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, we were not able to find data or anecdotal examples of agencies that have successfully used social media to drive referrals. We have an internet discussion group on LinkedIn called Leading Home Care Network. If you have a LinkedIn account, we invite you to join this group.

There has been a lot of discussion about social media and the pros and the cons. Yet no one has been able to give us any evidence that it works. When we have asked the gurus of social media to give us some data or examples, they could not. However, we do know that using social media to drive people to your agency website and to specific pages within your website can raise your search engine rankings. As we go forward, we’ll continue to study the impact of social media on home health and hospice marketing.

That fact is reinforced by our own personal experience. Learning to write — and write effectively — has been an important strategic tool for us in growing our speaking, consulting and publishing business. Writing will be an important tool for you and your home care team as well.

Then there’s repetition and consistency. The key to successful sales and marketing is spaced repetition. It’s sending the same message to the same prospect or customer over and over again. Look at highly successful consumer brands to see what they are doing with spaced repetition and consistency: Coca Cola, Starbucks, Apple Computer and Capitol One.

Developing a Focused Sales and Marketing Plan

The other day, we were working with a client group in Florida on the concept of focus. We came across this wonderful definition of focus: “Selecting the best and saying NO to the rest.”

This is true in home health and hospice marketing. We hear too many marketing directors wanting to know about the latest and greatest idea and wanting to try dozens of different techniques. Our approach is just the opposite. We want to focus on a few techniques that are proven to work, that fit our local marketplace and that fit our agency’s talent and abilities.

That leads us to the Rule of Threes: having three primary marketing tools and three secondary marketing tools. By focusing all of our time, talent, money and resources on using just six methods of reaching the market, you’ll quickly be able to determine what’s working and what’s not.

The Simple Strategic Marketing Plan

Based on your own experience, your knowledge of your local marketplace and the results of this home health and hospice industry survey, pick your three top techniques for reaching your referral sources. These will be your primary marketing strategies and you will focus on executing them with excellence every day. Then pick three strategies that will support your primary strategies. For example:

Primary strategies

  1. Networking;
  2. Direct sales;and
  3. Website.

Secondary strategies

  1. Direct mail;
  2. Email newsletter;and
  3. Public speaking.

This unique combination of six strategies focused on clearly defined target audiences will help you bring in referrals that turn into admissions. Tracking the results will help you know what’s working. When you get a new idea, give it a try, track the results and compare them to your current strategies. If you find something that works better, add it to your plan and drop one out. Select the best and say “NO” to the rest.Stay tuned for future articles on private duty marketing or visit www.privatedutytoday.com.

Stephen Tweed, CSP, has spent the last 25 years working with home health care, hospice and private duty home care organizations that want to grow, and with home care leaders who want to get ready for the future. He is currently chairman and CEO of Leading Home Care…A Tweed Jeffries Company. He can be reached at www.leadinghomecare.com.

Jason Tweed has spent the past 12 years researching, writing and speaking publicly about sales, marketing and business development in home health care, hospice and private duty home care. He is the editor of Private Duty Today, the leading electronic newsletter for private pay, non-medical home care. He can be reached at www.privatedutytoday.com.

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