Expand business with field staff marketing

Subtle sales efforts increase community awareness

Increasing and diversifying revenue in today’s challenging operating environment is a real necessity. Owners and managers often go the extra mile to bring in more business, selling the company to hospitals, physicians, and payers, but field staff can play a role too, according to Mark Deutsch, vice president at Homecare Resource Center, a management and marketing consulting firm in Mechanicsville, VA.

"Marketing is not just market share; it’s also share of customer. [We encourage people] to maximize the services you can get from them," he says.

Field staff, with day-in, day-out patient contact and a highly visible community presence, can be an important link in your overall marketing effort. Harnessing their marketing potential, however, "is a challenge. Sales is seen as dirty, but the best sales people are clinicians. They can build rapport with physicians and families [that others can’t]," Deutsch notes.

He advises helping field staff overcome their sales aversion and lead them down the business development path with several simple measures, as follows:

o Communicate with staff.

"Get staff involved. Communicate [with them] about your services and let them talk about what’s happening in the community," Deutsch suggests. Diversified providers may find that field staff lack knowledge about the full range of your company’s services. Likewise, "staff may work for other companies, and they can tell you lots [about your competitors] if given the opportunity," he says.

Harness employees’ competitive information and increase their understanding of your operations with regular staff meetings, Deutsch suggests. Present information about different company services and ask every staff member to bring up one sales-related idea each meeting.

o Educate staff.

Clinicians tend to see themselves as healers, not marketers, but "health care is so related to sales," Deutsch notes. "Sales is building relationships, understanding customer needs, and providing products and services that fill that need," he adds.

Field staff obviously have a relationship with clients, and they conduct a clinical assessment at every visit or shift. Identifying other care and service needs is merely another type of assessment, according to Deutsch. "The only hump they have to get over is asking [clients whether they are interested in other services]. They can still generate the lead even if they don’t ask [clients] themselves," he notes.

Providers can increase staff awareness with focused sales and marketing training or sales education during general staff meetings.

o Create a sales plan.

Staff can learn to at least identify, if not ask, clients about additional services. But "often if they identify a need, it either doesn’t get back to someone in the office, or it isn’t acted upon," says Deutsch. Creating a sales plan with specific targets and accountabilities can help provide a mechanism for staff feedback and a system to build on their efforts.

o Incentivize staff.

"Incentives are usually very cost-effective [and something that almost all employees respond to]," says Deutsch. Set up a simple incentive program to build on sales training and achieve results, he advises. You might ask field staff to identify one referral source or contact each week, as a minimum, and reward them after they provide two contacts above the minimum.

Even small incentives such as an extra hour of paid time off or a department store gift certificate can produce desired results, he says.

o Provide marketing materials.

Once you have staff headed down the marketing path, provide them with professional but subtle collateral materials, Deutsch suggests. "Get a nice brochure. It doesn’t have to be a major four-color piece — that can work against you — but have it printed professionally." Staff can mention your organizations’ other services and leave the brochure.

Generic business cards with a blank line for staff to write their names on are also fairly inexpensive and enhance the organization’s professional image, he says.

o Get out in the community.

"Traditional marketing techniques don’t work the same [in health care]. People only think of it when they need it, so you have to be in as many places as possible," Deutsch says.

Expand your share of the exploding senior care market by reaching out to baby boomers. "[They] feel badly they haven’t spent as much time with [their parents]. They feel guilty and want to make it better, but don’t want to spend a lot of time themselves," he explains. Encourage staff to speak out in forums with heavy baby boomer participation such as churches and Optimist and Kiwanis Club meetings, he suggests. After identifying themselves, staff can talk about a home care issue and never mention your company again, but the connection will have been made, says Deutsch.

Field staff marketing training "is intangible. You can’t tie it to referrals or revenues," he acknowledges. However, in today’s competitive environment, without the luxury of waiting for business to come to them, providers can use clinicians to blanket their organization over the community and get their rightful market share.

Sources

• Mark Deutsch, Vice President, Homecare Resource Center, P.O. Box 758, Mechanicsville, VA 23111. Telephone: (804) 559-9330.