Random Things Non-Marketing Leaders
Need to Know About Marketing

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Random Things Non-Marketing Leaders
Need to Know About Marketing

Pat Kroken, FACMPE, CRA, FRBMA
January/February 2022  RBMA Bulletin

“Our new marketing rep has been in place for six months and the physicians aren’t sure it’s working.” 

  • Is the marketing rep doing a good job? 
  • What should be expected in terms of results? 
  • How long should it take to see an increase in business?

All are legitimate questions and as usual, the answers may not be as simple as hoped. 

Unfortunately, many practice administrators are placed in the situation of managing a process with which they may be unfamiliar—and then asked to determine its effectiveness.  In some cases results are obvious but in many a new marketing program, expectations may well exceed reality. 

What are some of the key considerations in terms of setting up a marketing program and managing expectations?

Hiring the Right Marketing Representative

In the early days of radiology marketing, the approach seemed to center on “cookies and smiles,” with the presumption if the marketing rep passed out goodies and was friendly, that was a solid program. 

Many radiologists feel a person who works in radiology operational processes can effectively transition to the role of marketing if the person is “nice and friendly.” 

Not to say it can’t happen, but it is uphill climb if the person in charge of scheduling or the ultrasound technologist is given a stack of referral pads and sent merrily out the door to drum up business. 

Is it more important to hire for sales and marketing experience and train for radiology—or to expect a technologist to go into the field and effectively develop new business? 

Tech Turned Marketing Rep

An experienced salesperson will understand the “how” of customer relationship development and is more likely to successfully identify features, benefits and service elements.  He/she is also likely to be experienced in the development of communications materials and the maintenance of a customer database that tracks calls, people and results. 

Not that these areas are so mysterious they are beyond learning but moving from the defined structure of a technologist’s position for example, to the ambiguous schedule of a marketing representative can represent a difficult step that costs time in terms of producing results.  In other words, a tech turned marketing rep will need sales training and a longer period of time to demonstrate success.    

Ideal Marketing Rep

The ideal marketing rep would have previous radiology experience, but at a minimum should be able to demonstrate how results were generated and documented in previous positions. 

A sales representative (which most often represents the actual role expected by the practice or imaging facility) is used to scheduling time and activities and should be able to provide examples of past successes in terms of percentage increases, revenue or other forms of measurement. 

While the ability to discuss certain procedures and modalities will be helpful, in most cases the marketing rep communicates with an office manager and/or front desk staff more interested in hours of operation than how an MRI works.  (In addition, the experienced marketing person knows how to enlist the help of the experts for the development of materials, presentations and Q&A sessions. I have also encouraged new marketing people to spend time in the radiology reading room to learn the “how” of the business, especially terminology).  

Yes, we want the marketer to be an educational resource and they should demonstrate an interest in the “student” aspect of their jobs but in real life, referral patterns can be influenced when life is made easier for the referring office’s scheduling staff. 

Market Position and the Relationship to Cost

In terms of market position, it’s always good to be first.  That might mean first in terms of market share, name recognition or even the first facility to implement a marketing program.  If you are first, someone else has to take business away from you in order to succeed. 

If, on the other hand, you are working to take business away from “Number One” in the market, the task can be formidable, especially if Number One has a reputation for service excellence and a history in this position.

Establishing Realistic Expectations

One of the first tasks in establishing realistic expectations is to determine where the new marketing effort fits in and how well the competition has entrenched itself.  If the group just opened the first imaging center in the area, it should be relatively easy to generate referrals and quickly see results in terms of both volume and revenue, often simply from telling the referring physician community what is available. 

If the group just opened the fifth or sixth MRI center in a highly competitive market, the emphasis shifts to providing sufficient reasons to change existing referral patterns.  In this instance, progress will occur much more slowly and the importance of strategy, operations and sufficient time to produce results will be more critical.  The program focused on shifting referral patterns is more expensive–and results more erratic as competitors fight back.

The new entrant in the market may have to invest in advertising in order to establish visibility and name recognition, while presenting a compelling reason to try someone new.  At the same time, first impressions will be critical and operational workflow must match or better the competition. 

There is little room for second chances, which will sound like, “I know the last time we told you we were really good and could provide better service than Number One…but this time we’ve worked out the kinks and really mean it.”         

Marketing and Operations

A marketing program will not meet business expansion expectations if day-to-day operations cannot deliver outstanding service.  Service for the referring physician begins with the ease of scheduling patients, including how promptly and courteously phones are answered.  Service can also mean important insurance plans are accepted and patients’ billing accurately handled.  Patient feedback to a referring physician office regarding wait times, interactions with technologists and cleanliness of the facility can influence whether additional referrals to the facility continue.

The radiologist is critical to operational excellence, not in terms of wining and dining referring physicians, but in providing prompt, meaningful communications regarding exam results.  This includes telephone calls for significant findings and developing a consultative relationship with physicians regarding the appropriate ordering of exams and discussing difficult cases. 

Finally, the radiologist is key in terms of setting an example for the rest of the staff in terms of filling the schedule, working in additional procedures and not shorting the workday. 

Operational excellence translates into observable, measurable elements and it is important to continually solicit feedback—and act on it—in order to continue leading the market.  Again, if your center is faced with taking business away from other facilities, service levels must exceed those of the competition and a “me too” stance will not provide sufficient reasons to change current referral patterns.  Everyone will talk service, but only the top centers will deliver—each and every time.

Feedback and Problem Resolution

Patient Satisfaction

What do patients experience when they visit your facility?  Is the lobby area tidy, with all furniture in good repair?  Is the staff attentive to patients in the waiting area or are people “efficiently” completing paperwork and ignoring the people aspects of their jobs?  Or worse, are staff members obviously on personal phone calls or chatting with each other when they should be registering patients and answering questions? 

Personal observation can begin the process of assessing the environment, but actively soliciting feedback from patients can identify areas for improvement—and give credit where it is due.  Patient satisfaction surveys provide feedback from both satisfied customers as well as those whose experiences were less than satisfactory.  If employee evaluations, pay raises and/or disciplinary actions are linked to customer satisfaction, the importance of ensuring a positive experience becomes consistent with marketing promises.

Referring Physician Satisfaction

Referring physician surveys can also provide valuable information in terms of operational improvement. 

  • Where does the office currently send its patients and why? 
radiology medical billing
  • What are the major health plans accepted by the referring office?  (This is an often-overlooked strategic element in facility contracting, but many referring offices will direct patients to participating plan providers who help patients manage their healthcare costs). 
  • How does your facility stack up to the competition in terms of ease of scheduling, hours of operation and report turnaround? 

Without sufficient “reasons,” the referring physician is not likely to send new patients.  Ask questions and be prepared to act on the findings.    

Marketing Representative

The marketing representative is also invaluable in terms of problem resolution, which can be a strong operational service element.  No matter how well run, any facility will at times experience problems in terms of equipment failure, rescheduling, wait times, billing errors, technologist interactions and more. 

Referring physicians and patients will be forgiving if problems are promptly addressed, which can include a responsive telephone apology or a letter explaining feedback regarding a reported problem was appreciated and processes changed as a result. 

More importantly, problems should be viewed as an opportunity to improve service levels.  If feedback, both positive and negative, is reported back to the staff on a regular basis they can often assist in modifying processes to prevent a recurrence. 

Final Comments

A marketing program should be measurable.  It is easier to grow additional business from existing customers than to convert a new customer, so both aspects should be included in the program’s measurement.  A new facility will of course be working to develop business and reach profitability, and an existing site may be introducing new technology or procedures.  In either case, results can be measured in terms of both volume and revenue.    

Developing realistic expectations must begin with an honest assessment of the market, including not only the competition but the practice or facility’s strengths and weaknesses.  The greater the challenge, the greater the cost—both in terms of the financial investment and the time necessary to produce results.  Marketing is part science and part art, with the ability to successfully develop relationships at is core. 

Patricia Kroken, FACMPE, CRA, FRBMA,
has an extensive background in radiology practice management and directs education and corporate communications for MSN Healthcare Solutions

She worked as a consultant for radiology practices, billing companies, software developers, and hospital radiology departments for 20 years before joining MSN.

She is a regular contributor to the RBMA Bulletin and a frequent speaker on topics related to radiology practice management. 
Pat can be reached at pat.kroken@msnllc.com
or 505-856-6128

headshot of Pat Kroken Director of Education and Corporate communications, MSN Healthcare Solutions