By Claudio Gormaz

Are you missing out on those critical opportunities that can lift your practice to the next level? You know, those elusive signs that have kept you from increasing your profits, additional procedures, and referrals?

If you have answered yes to these questions, your solution may very well be found within this article.

As medical professionals, you know that there are three ways to grow your businesses. First, acquire more patients. Second, do more business with the patients you already have. Third, do more work more frequently with the ones you have.

In the daily rush of building and maintaining a successful medical practice, we often miss those subtle signs that transform a practice from a “one-and-done” clinic, to a practice that builds its strength on patient loyalty.

Your goal needs to be one of creating an ongoing resource as your patients’ lives unfold. However, before you can be that source, you need to know your patients so you don’t miss those indirect, yet vital clues that each patient provides. It’s those clues that determine where they are in their specific life cycles and transform a medical practice.

Traditionally, the accepted formula for building a lucrative practice consists of putting your nose to the grindstone from morning ’til night, and repeating the following day.

Well, that’s one method, but there is a better way.

Did you know that simply by increasing patient retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%? (This is according to Frederick Reichheld in a study for the Harvard School of Business.)

Also, multiple direct response advertising studies have shown that up to 95% of all ads written only target 5% of the intended audience.   Conversely, the probability of selling to an existing patient is 60% to 70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5% to 20%.

However, a superior plan for reaching success comes with learning how to identify where each current and future patient lies within their own unique life and buying cycles.

According to Sales and Marketing Magazine, nearly 80% of all people who inquire about medical procedures take action within 1 year (emergencies notwithstanding). Interestingly, they seldom do business with the practice they initially contacted. This means you (the practice owner) are educating your prospects to do business with your competition.

Why does this occur? Very often the reason is threefold:

First, the contact person (aka, whoever answers the phone) at the medical office defaulted on their responsibility of influencing the prospective patient. Very often it’s passively assumed that said prospect will remain loyal to the practice because the practice provided friendly service to them. Instead, besides being friendly, practices need to do everything possible to make sure they actively influence these prospects to do business with them. No one is teaching receptionists to engage future patients with confidence and relationship-building questions!

Second, technology has changed the landscape. Now, both current and prospective patients will peruse your website. Far too many websites are aesthetically appealing, but they don’t engage. Many provide a laundry list of services they provide, but they don’t capture a patient’s interests. Information is presented that is dry, full of medical jargon, and not interesting for readers.

Think more like a patient rather than a doctor to appeal to your patients’ self-interests.

So as you can see, the problem lies in the delivery. This may have you wondering about things such as how you are going to present your vital messages. Moreover, what are you going to say (since you can’t just provide a menu of everything you do)?

Again, the key lies in the delivery of this information. Your message must be engaging, compelling, relevant, and most importantly, interesting. This leads us to the next portion: What do you say?

As mentioned above, you will never know what to say if you don’t know your patients.

You have to do an inventory of all of your patients. Like most medical practices, you will find that your patients cluster in particular procedures (but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be open to other procedures). For example, your practice may perform breast enhancement, facial contouring, facial rejuvenation, body contouring, etc. However, we need to dig deeper. You need to find out what percentage of patients see you for tattoo removal, neck lifts, gynecomastia treatments, liposuction, tummy tucks, breast augmentations or reductions, etc.

Once you establish what your patient profile looks like, start speaking directly to them. For example, provide a series of brief (2-minutes or so) procedure-specific patient testimonial videos. These videos should be prominently featured on your website and your waiting area. Have several videos with different patients raving about the results they received from you for your top three services (again, based on the percentage of patients within each procedure type).

Third, examine your approach. Ironically, in this case, both the problem and the solution can be found in the same place. In fact, many medical practices find themselves falling into one of two mind-sets, which seems to be perpetually in play: 1) Either the practice develops some unwritten, collective philosophy that all patients share the same qualities, interests, needs, lifestyles, and timelines, etc. Or, 2) It never occurs to them that each patient’s needs are ever-evolving in their lives and purchasing cycles.

By far, the most compelling and succinct explanation of the relationship between patients’ lives and their purchasing cycles I have heard came from Dean Jackson, noted author and real estate business enhancement coach. Now, keep in mind that that proceeding is written for the real estate industry, but the information is sound.

“There’s practically nothing you can do to convince anybody of anything… unless they already want it.

You can’t wrestle your leads down until they give in, can you? The only thing you CAN do is to find out who already wants what you have.

You can’t turn someone into a 5-star prospect, but you can discover who already IS one. And you can do this simply by using the following five-step criteria.

Number 1: They’re willing to engage in a dialogue.

Number 2: They’re friendly and cooperative when you talk with them.

Number 3: They know what they want.

Number 4: They know when they want it.

And number 5: They want YOU to help them.

But here’s the thing… All five of these steps have to be true for you to be working with an ideal client. You can’t skip ahead. And you can’t artificially speed the process up.

Don’t be focused on short-term results, and hammering your leads down with promotions trying to get them buy right away.

Think of it as a long-term investment. Something you’re willing to spend your time on. You patiently educate and motivate your clients, week after week, presenting them with new information. Until they convince themselves that working with you is the right thing to do.

And make no mistake. It’s always until THEY convince THEMSELVES; because you can’t wrestle anyone into conversion.”

It goes without saying that ignoring these levels of “observation” can have disastrous effects on both your income and leisure time, and the total prosperity of the practice!

So this is where the rubber meets the road.

What if you knew exactly when a patient was in the market for another procedure? How valuable would it be, for example, if your patient told you when they were attending a high school reunion or wedding so you could ease their wants and desires? The sooner the practice begins to qualify its current, past, and prospective patients, and takes actions accordingly, the better off the owners of the practice will be.

Incidentally, now would be an excellent time to stress that what is being proposed should in no way be perceived as a suggestion to “pimp” unneeded or unwanted services.

However, with proper awareness and dialogue of a patient’s life, there may be many opportunities to provide necessary and timely services for your patients that they may not of known about or had previously considered. For example: If you provide restorations for unsatisfactory cosmetic procedures, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to offer to assist. If a patient mentions in passing that they are beginning a physical fitness regime, it wouldn’t be out of line to remark on nonsurgical options for those “difficult” spots that don’t tighten up as easily as they once did. Would it be inappropriate if a patient casually mentions hating her C-section scar, and you reference the latest advancements in scar treatment, and so on?

The illustrations above depend upon the awareness of a patient’s lifestyle; but, if the practice doesn’t know about their patients, then the patient may never know that these services are available or suitable treatment options for them.

To conclude, practice growth depends on you and your commitment to its success. You must be diligent, open, and a good listener (and keep good notes). Below are several practical strategies to boost your practice.

1) Know Your Patients Better. Have the entire office learn how to engage with all patients (past, present, and future) in safe, non-intrusive, friendly, comfortable conversations. Get to know them, find out about their lives, their interests, upcoming events, what they do for a living, etc. It just comes down to good open-ended questions that lead to trust and casual conversation.

2) Fine-tune the information you have gathered. Transform the information from simple raw data into profitable patient pools of knowledge.

At this stage, a shift in viewpoint is required, from one of only influencing your current and prospective patients to do business with you immediately to learn how to service the patient at every phase of the patient/doctor selling/buying cycle. In essence, a transfer occurs in your mode of contacting patients, from reaching out when you are ready to provide your medical service, to one of being in the right place at the exact time your patient will be looking for their next procedure.

The cornerstone of the patient cycle principle is the premise that you are committing to a long-term relationship with your patients. Everything that you do and suggest to these patients is for THEIR benefit.

In turn and in time, trust begins to build; your patients will initiate and volunteer the circumstances in their unique situations and changing colors of their lives.

3) Develop your patient relationships/selling cycle. Before a practice can engage in a structured patient buying cycle marketing game plan, every practice must first create a lead generation system.

A lead generation system is the practice of soliciting inquiries from potential patients with the primary goal of ensuring that the practice’s pipeline of present and future patients continually remains full. Lead generation is always the first step of the sales process, and by default business success, both quality and quantity are important factors.

Once your lead generation system is in place, you (again as the practice owner) can now begin tracking and recognizing that each patient enters your lead generation system at varying times and with different levels of need.

Therefore, you need to qualify and quantify each patient to immediately categorize their level of need and your level of intervention.

4) Quantify your patients. The patient selling cycle allows the practice owner to quantify their patients according to their levels of the immediacy of need. Said again, a patient who has an immediate need and ability to take action quickly should be given much more attention, sooner, than someone who is just looking.

Create a patient profile inventory, based on relevant topics covering such topics as their personal situations, potential timelines, and need. Then list their information into categories and subcategories. After that, assign the highest values to those patients with immediate needs, and then work down from there.

However, it is important to note that your ultimate goal is to have your prospect rate as high as possible in each of the categories listed below that would demonstrate an immediate buying need.

Set up a contact program for each group that breaks down all your prospects into the following categories: immediate need, 1-2 months, 3-5 months, 6 months on. Again, it is important to identify your prospect as quickly as possible.

As we cover additional points, it is important to keep in mind that what we are discussing are business growth and prosperity. Some doctors shy away from the idea of selling, prospecting, and psychographics; I get it; you are medical providers, not salespeople. You are healers, not solicitors.  However, every business school in the world teaches that for a business to be successful, there must be a steady stream of new patients.

Using the selling cycle principles gives you a disciplined way to evaluate each patient’s need, rank them accordingly, provide services for those with an immediate need, and graduate the others up the ladder of need so you could eventually provide additional services.

5) Qualify your patients. Not all patients are created equal. Now that you understand about quantifying your patients, you will need to go one step further.

Your best future patients are your past and current patients. These patients represent a rich pool of people (those who signify a 60% to 70% probability of buying from you again and again) who know you, like you, and trust you.

The sooner you understand their buying cycles, the quicker you will benefit by increased receivables (aka, your medical practice’s profits).  However, the cornerstone of this entire system of practice development is cemented in the philosophy and power of comprehending the lifetime value of your patient.

Categorize patients into an easily formattable matrix, such as an A, B, and C, for example.

An “A” prospect has both an immediate need and ability to take action. This would be your best prospect. A “B” prospect will need your services within 3 to 6 months, so put them on a regular contact list with e-mails, newsletters, etc, so that you will stay in front of them. A “C” prospect is interested in contracting your services, but has no immediate timeline for doing business in mind. You’ll want to keep in contact with them on a quarterly basis.

Notice that we don’t discard the patients that cannot do anything right away. By cultivating the remaining patients until they are ready, you develop a rich pool of future patients.

In other words, keep regular contact with these patients who already believe in your abilities and professionalism. Please take this to heart: Just because someone sought you to heal them from a sports injury or auto accident sustained in the past, doesn’t mean that they will only seek you out again if they have another car accident or sports injury.

In fact, if you do not stay in touch with these patients, another health care provider will gladly take that patient away and develop a relationship with them. Patients, especially those that have used your type of service in the past, represent the gold standard of ideal prospects. It is reasonable to project that the patients will have additional medical needs. Thus, this presents excellent opportunities for the other services.

A large part of maintaining a successful clinic involves keeping the wolves away. What does that mean? Every day when you open for business, your competitors are actively and aggressively hunting to your patients.

How are your competitors going after my patients, you ask? They do it through their advertising and marketing campaigns. In fact, your competitors may not even realize the chain of events started with a single ad.

Every promotional piece that goes out has been programmed with a selected target. Although this is a horrible analogy, it’s accurate: It’s like a heat-seeking missile. It only has one job, which is to grab the attention of and to compel the reader to pick up the phone and call its maker.

Thus, if you live in an average city (where people will only drive so far to do business with you), whom do you think your competitor is targeting with their ad?

Hence, if you haven’t developed a system of continual contact, those opportunities for additional services will be given to some other doctor in the area—and so, too, will any referrals that were meant for you. In short, never drop a patient from your contact list!

6) Build a program of consistency and relevance. Contact your best patients a minimum of eight times per year, preferably 12 times, with strong, pertinent information that speaks to their specific interests (based on the data they have provided you).

The points of contact may include a birthday invitation for a dermal filler treatment, a quarterly free frown line treatment (ideal for patients with high-stress careers), sports treatments for those athletes in your practice, or nonsurgical procedures for seniors to improve their appearance and confidence.

Like many other professions, health care providers are sharing their fishing hole with a lot of other medical fishermen and women. In fact, most people have more than one doctor they go to when they need health services.

By consistently contacting your patients with personalized and relevant information, you are developing deeper-quality relationships, and you maximize your opportunity to be the first doctor that comes to mind when your patient is ready for their next treatment. Consistent contact builds a powerful bond of familiarity, trust, and expertise. Remember, your competition is always doing everything they can to get your patient!

Ideally, create a situation where your patient would rather do business with you—someone who has consistently provided them valuable information and education.

7) Provide real value to your patients. Consistency of the contact must go hand-in-hand with the value of the information to the patient. The more frequently you give your current and prospective patients something of real value, the more likely they are to do business with you when they’re ready.

Educating your existing and future patients with strong third-party industry case studies, beneficial industry inside information, or even published news sources is an exceptional way of staying in front of them. As part of your monthly touch point campaign, this is a noninvasive way to establish yourself as both an expert and someone who genuinely cares about their patients’ needs and interests.

8) Implement your patient purchase cycle as a diagnostic tool. To achieve maximum success with your purchase cycle, monitor your patient’s status on a regular basis. Be willing to move and re-categorize your patients as their needs are met and change. As stated earlier, it is vital to the lifeblood of your practice that you know exactly the quality of each one of your patients (specifically, their level of intention and interest).

Caution, caution, caution: Never discriminate against a patient who has moved from an “A” patient to a “C” patient. With proper and timely follow-up, that status can, and often does, change rapidly.

However, if your patients are not returning your calls, e-mails, or texts in a somewhat timely manner—say, within 1 to 2 weeks (not counting vacations or family emergencies)—they may have moved on and seen another medical professional who is meeting their needs. At this point, you may have to downgrade their status, or even take them off of your purchase cycle system altogether. To achieve real success, concentrate your time and effort primarily on “A” and “B” prospects—in that order.

The long-term tracking of patients will streamline your practice. Implementing and consistently using a purchase cycle system will yield a clear and unbiased road map for you to follow in cultivating new patients that will enable you to track each patient’s life up or down the buying cycle list. In this way, you assure yourself that when they are ready to receive your type of services, they will make an appointment with you.

Claudio Gormaz, along with business partner Steve Cox, are medical marketing strategists. They have worked with the medical community for over 2 decades. Many prominent practices in the country have benefited from their promotional strategies, developed fruitful and predictable advertising messages, as well as creating solid branding platforms while elevating their resident expert status. They are also highly accomplished business storytellers converting the complex into memorable narratives. They can be contacted via 530-492-9971, StevenVonLoren Marketing Strategists, or their personal emails: gormazca@gmail.com and stevenvonloren@gmail.com.