To Generate Volume at Your Imaging Center, Stop Marketing

February 22, 2011

If your imaging center or department has referring providers sending patients to it, you have a market. The question is what is the strategy for selling into that already existing market?

Too often when I help clients, I observe much of the same, no matter what part of the country I’m in: marketing directors with the best of intentions performing what I call “Random Acts of Marketing.”

Random Acts of Marketing looks like marketing directors scrambling to gather enough pens, pads, and clipboards to make their rounds for the day to the referring physicians’ offices. It looks like a frazzled marketing director running around organizing bagel, donut, or veggie plate drop-offs for the morning or lunchtime meetings held with the purpose of buying a referring provider’s staff a meal for the day. It’s meetings with local newspapers, publications, TV, and radio salespeople. It’s a marketing director tweeting or updating the center or department’s Facebook wall with random posts.

If represented on a graph of referring physician volumes by modality, it looks much the same as a flatline on an EKG, no matter what the Random Act of Marketing was for the previous week for that particular provider.

It’s not a mistake that marketing and sales are two different words, with two different meanings and two different purposes. Marketing is absolutely necessary if and when no market exists, or if the market that does exist is too small.

When an imaging center or hospital outpatient imaging department/center is starting up, it is imperative that they have a marketing strategy to first assess the market, their potential market capitalization, and their plan of action to garner as much volume as possible in their locale – actually, this is usually done as part of due diligence prior to building and opening the operation, but that’s a whole different article. But the mistake that most imaging center operators or hospital departments make is they continue trying to execute the marketing strategy long after it is necessary, and they fail to develop and competently execute a sales strategy.

If your imaging center or department has referring providers sending patients to it, you have a market. The question is what is the strategy for selling into that already existing market?

Most of the time, what I observe is that the marketing directors’ Random Acts of Marketing are actually robbing them of the opportunity to build effective relationships with the real decision makers in their loyal referring offices. Most people in the referring physicians’ offices are polite and cordial to the marketing directors. They accept the pens and other collateral, and it’s no mistake because that staff member’s intention is to ensure that the conversation is as short as possible so he/she can get back to his/her daily responsibilities. But most of the time when that person leaves, there is no assessment in the staff member that the marketing director has any real intention of helping him/her, and the opportunity to build a relationship has been lost.

To build effective relationships in the referring physicians’ offices, the marketing director - or as we call them, the referring physician relationship manager - has to have the space and ability to build a relationship with each office that is currently referring patients to the center or department. They have to know how much imaging volume to expect for each particular referring physician’s specialty if they were getting 100 percent of their imaging business.

They have to know that Sue at Dr. Smith’s office prefers to be communicated to by fax and she likes to place orders the same way. They have to know that April at Dr. Jones’ office does everything electronically and anything that the imaging center or department can do to make that scheduling, ordering, reporting, and image acquisition process work electronically, the more volume they can expect from Dr. Jones.

Until the referring physician relationship manager understands each market or office to this level of detail, he or she cannot successfully sell into it. Until they are willing to make commitments of help to the staff members of the referring offices, the referring offices won’t make commitments to them.

So, to generate volume, stop marketing and start selling!

Zach Bauer is responsible for all management and operations within Medical Imaging Specialists. Zach also leads the MIS Client Delivery Strategy Team, which focuses on delivering the Volume Generation, RCM, Imaging Center, and Hospital Radiology Department Operations Management and Finance offerings for MIS. He has proven experience in developing strategies with clients that help them increase their imaging center, hospital radiology department, and/or practice volumes on average by about 20 percent.