Doctor.com recently cohosted a webinar on relationship marketing with eRelevance, a marketing agency from Austin. During the presentation, we discussed a conceptual model for new patient marketing that updates the marketing ‘lead funnel’.
If you manage marketing for a large group practice, you may already be familiar with the term lead funnel. A lead funnel is the age-old analogy used by marketing types to describe a traditional sales process. Prospective patients (sales leads) make an initial inquiry and, after passing through a process of needs evaluation, price negotiation, they end up in your office. It’s a funnel since, in most cases, the top is bigger than the bottom: more prospects than patients.
But the funnel analogy is imprecise since it focuses attention on the new patients that emerge from the bottom. Somehow we ignore (or forget) the potential patients that didn’t quite make it into your chair. In some marketing campaigns, this can typically be 60 to 80% are “in the funnel”. A failure? Hardly.
Not every patient books an appointment on the first call. Not every patient who books shows up. In real life, those people did not just evaporate.
- Candidates for elective surgery take weeks, even months to decide about a new provider. During this search, they are in an intense, information-hungry frame of mind.
- Some new dental patients make an appointment for teeth cleaning knowing they have significant dental issues. The initial visit is a way to “kick the tires” on what could be a long-term care relationship.
- Patients considering aesthetic procedures can take months to summon the courage to even consider a procedure before they get serious about researching a provider.
In a world where new patient decisions are not binary, it is important to remember that an inquiry is an opportunity for some future new patient. If you’re doing your marketing correctly, many of these people are qualified and interested, just not ready…right now.
Worse, some sales organizations apply imprecise/arbitrary judgements when “qualifying” a prospective customer. This means that viable patients who are merely indecisive or cautious could be ignored or deleted simply because they do not meet some arbitrary definition of a “good” lead.
Rockets, Not Funnels
Rather than a funnel, think about your new patient marketing program as a continuous process – capturing and keeping patients in the “orbit” of your practice. To get more new patients, you need to increase the forces of attraction (gravity):
- Intelligent, consistent branding.
- Effective local search presence.
- Great online reviews.
- Personalized email marketing and marketing automation (also known as ‘lead nurturing’).
- Regular & savvy social media engagement.
- Strong customer experience (friendly staff, short waits, streamlined paperwork).
The stronger the pull, the deeper the gravitational well.
Potential new patients who are not ready yet will appreciate a steady stream of interesting, patient-centric information. So long as they interact (open/click on your emails), they are demonstrating their continued viability as a new patient.
Existing patients locked into your orbit, with deeper and stronger interactions, will reward you with reviews, testimonials and referrals.
And, the opposite is true. If you don’t exert enough gravitational force, you will attract and keep fewer patients. Those you do keep are weakly held in your orbit, and could be pulled away by stronger forces.
Regular, personalized emails, social media posts + strong online reviews, combined with staff training and a great in-office experience, are the rocket fuel that keeps patients close. These tactics eventually get prospective patients to become new patients, and existing patients referring friends and family.
Advertising is still an important way to get new patients….just don’t dismiss a prospective patient who didn’t become a new patient right away.
Empirical evidence of patient behavior, not arbitrary judgement, is used to measure your success:
- Total number and value of patient bookings in the month, by primary and secondary lead source. Be sure you include your calculation of the total lifetime value of a new patient, not just the value of the treatment on the day of the appointment!
- Total number of qualified inquiries in a month, by source.
- Total number of positive interactions in a month, by source:
- Clicks, calls or chats from web visits
- Any inquiries from social media
Be sure to differentiate between branded search (keywords that mention you by name or address) vs. non-branded search (generic keywords that mention your medical specialty + some geographic identifier).
Notice we’re not placing any time limits on leads. So long as they don’t unsubscribe or unfollow, they’re still in your orbit and should be regarded and valuable sources of potential revenue.
While most marketing consultants talk about a lead ‘funnel,’ that conceptual model tends to focus only on current sales and tends to ignore or discount qualified leads that are not yet ready to become a new patient.
Instead, it is more valuable to think about your marketing program as a continuous process with a goal of strengthening with a goal of building relationships , with degrees of Lead nurturing (via email and social media) helps build strong relationships with existing and prospective patients, leading to deeper relationships that yield reviews and referrals in addition to new patient bookings.