Times are Tough? Don’t Cut Sales & Marketing!

When business is slow and cash flow falters, many healthcare providers, like all business owners, face some tough choices. Simple math forces the business rule that financial outlays must be adjusted to match shrinking revenue. How an owner handles those critical moments often determines success or failure.

Time after time, I see one particular mistake repeated. It is a move that seems logical in theory but, in practice, it makes the crisis worse instead of better. In the midst of a reduction in census, it is absolutely the wrong decision to cut sales and marketing efforts! Simply put, by removing the only people focused on bringing in new business, you lose new business. Conversely, an influx of referrals can quickly and easily solve cash flow issues. What creates an influx of referrals is relationships, which take time to build. and building relationships to sustain that influx is an essential piece to your future strategy. Many providers choose a different path and it plays out like this:

“I’m trying to save my company. Times are tough, so we cut back on our liaisons and sales reps. Since we are a care provider, it seemed wrong to let go of our clinical team.  However, six months down the road we still don’t have patients coming in and now I’m letting go of my nursing staff. At this rate, there won’t be a company left to save.”

By removing your outreach to potential referral sources, you increase the likelihood of them sending patients to your competitors. This doesn’t mean you should keep a sales team around that isn’t producing referrals for you, but it does mean that you should be taking steps to gain a foothold in your community.

Another all too common scenario sounds something like this:

“I opened this agency to provide care to those who desperately need it at home. Even thinking about sales makes me feel slimy. If you wanted to be sold to, you’d go to a used care dealership. I want to provide care for patients, but am not interested in ‘selling’ our services.”

This one seems more rational, but it contains a deadly flaw. It doesn’t matter if you call it “sales” or “marketing;” at the end of the day, you are educating. If you don’t let your referral sources know to refer to you, then you can’t expect them to send you anyone. Why would they? If you just cannot handle the idea of “selling” care, then you need to either hire someone to sell it for you or consider another type of business. It doesn’t matter if you are doing what you love or not, there is no reason to open a business that doesn’t make money. You are not going to make money without patients and you are not going to get patients without some effort to educate the community on your existence.

I hear this reason to not have a sales force all the time:

“We get all the referrals we need from the hospital (or the facility, ACO, etc.…). We don’t need to do any marketing. I have more patients than I can manage.”

This one sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. If you are the only agency in your market, this could be true, but when you have competition, there is a good chance that you are taking low-reimbursement insurance, Medicaid, or high-labor, high-acuity patients. Every year, I meet with hundreds of agencies with this excuse and only a quarter of them are actually getting more than 60% of the hospital’s Medicare patients. You only have to dig a little bit to realize that you have not optimized your intake from the hospital. You will find that your profitability comes from twice as many patients than your competition and you could be working smarter by implementing a liaison to keep your relationships and communication strong with your referral sources.

Below, I have listed some steps to get your referrals up and get your company back on track.

Hire, and heed, a professional consultant

There are several great consultants in the market today that will go as far as to come in and run your sales team for you. Most of them have a track record of success and have a plan you can follow that will help you manage your team to grow your census. The key to working with a consultant is to actually listen! If you do exactly what they say, you will most likely flourish in your market. I just left a sales-based leadership conference where each of the consultant’s clients that I met were experiencing a gain in profitability. The number one challenge consultants have is when they offer training and then the agency doesn’t actually do what they were advised to do. If you are going to hire a professional, listen to the professional.

Learn your market

Data is king. Use market intelligence data to zoom in on the main referral sources in your market. There is no need to guess which physician or facilities are referring for your products or services. Instead, identify the top referral producers and make sure your marketing efforts are focused on them. You only need a handful of reps with the right tools and data to capture the most referrals in your market. Make sure they have those tools and that your agency understands your market and who the key players are.

Leverage your outcomes

A day is coming when you will not be able to out-market your outcome scores. Charisma, good looks, and copious amounts of charm simply don’t lower re-admissions. They won’t give hospitals, facilities, and physicians millions back in lost revenue. Arm your sales team with your outcome scores and be sure that they are trained on how to sell using them. Make sure they understand what key areas have the most value to your referral sources and help them to understand why. We rely too heavily on our salespeople for natural talent, without giving them the tools and training to go from successful to superstars.

Promote all of your clinical team to sales

Okay, so you are not going to put your whole team on the road to get your referrals, but do they understand how they can impact your numbers? We all know that person in your company whom you hope never answers the phone, right? Perhaps he or she is incredible at coding or scheduling, but you’ve heard him or her on the phone and the “no-nonsense attitude” is a huge turn-off to referral sources. If you can think of that person in your office, you need to keep him or her off the phone. This cannot wait until next week. If your entire team isn’t focused on turning phone inquiries or referrals into admits, then they need to be.

Consider that you invest a decent amount of money into a sales team and you may be thinking about cutting that investment down. What good is the investment if when the referral comes over, the clinical or non-sales team does not keep the relationship healthy? Your referral sources can like your salespeople as a best friend, like a sibling or even as a son, but if they have a bad experience when they send referrals in, they will stop sending referrals. You have to take a moment and ask yourself this question: Does your entire team value our referral sources?

There are many factors to consider when your agency is not growing the way you want or when you are losing revenue. Much like a car will not drive without gas, your agency won’t run without patients, clients, or customers. Sales are the fuel for your agency’s engine and if you want to succeed, you need to fill it up!

To learn more about how PlayMaker CRM can help you grow your business, request a demo or contact us today!

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