Savvy healthcare advertiser’s true confession

Quick note – Just got an email from a client that absolutely is consistent with the spirit of my past two posts. I have taken out the specifics to keep it anonymous.

“I talked with the President of a big competitor this week and he said on behalf of his company, ‘We don’t believe in marketing.’  I was a little speechless, particularly because he couldn’t understand why our  program was so successful, while his had been a disaster.  Go figure. Anyway, I am happy he doesn’t believe.”

Your Competitors Are Rooting for You to Stay on the Sidelines.

I know competition is not a topic for polite conversation in health care, but I thought I would follow up my last blog post with a true story.

Awhile back I was contacted by the leader of a large group who was alarmed about an aggressive new competitor who had appeared on the scene.  Like many of my new clients, she and her partners had never given marketing much thought – until now.

What’s more, they had been caught flat-footed, and were still reeling from this unexpected assault on their livelihoods. Even worse, their very best referrer had defected entirely.

It turns out that their new competitor had certainly done his homework. He’d hired professional salespeople, armed them with first-class branded materials, and immediately went about building relationships with all of my new client’s most important referral sources.

Because my new client had not previously done any marketing or proactive relationship building, their referring doctors were  naturally open to “spreading referrals around a bit.”

Be forewarned. Playing catch up is really tough. If you have been ignoring your referrers, any efforts you subsequently make in response to your competitor can look insincere.

“Oh, NOW you are willing to pay attention to me after all these years.”

Fortunately in this case, while my clients had been a little lax with their relationships, they had not been rude. (Those who are rude often never recover once a smarter, better communicating competitor arrives on the scene.)

So my first step was to build a “Referral Marketing Plan” for my new client. It detailed exactly what they needed to do to turn things around, including time lines, goals, strategies and budgets.

Because they had never spent a dime on marketing, some of the partners were taken aback when I suggested they’d actually have to invest some money in order to protect their livelihoods. (Some were still in denial that their “free ride” was over.)

After endless deliberation amongst themselves, one of the partners looked at me and said, “Stewart, what do you think?”

After a dramatic pause, I told him, “If your competitor were here in the room looking over your shoulder, do you think he’d want you to take my advice and get back into the game, or would he rather see you end this meeting deadlocked and ultimately do nothing?”

The biggest detractor sat up in his seat, looked at his partners and then said, “OK, where do we sign?”

The good news: They DID turn things around, and with my suggestions even won back their most important referral source.

The bad news: They could have prevented the whole mess by taking action BEFORE they had to.

I urge you to be proactive now, rather than try to react to competitors later.

When I teach our medical marketing seminars, I always remind attendees to, “Take care of the people who take care of you.”

In fact, those who are really tight with their referring base can actually PREVENT a competitor from moving in.

So think of marketing and referral building strategies as an insurance policy.

It’s a lot better to prepare appropriately than to rely on a miracle, come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter.