Your In-House Marketing Person: A Terrific Investment or a Disastrous Mistake?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Blue 'Hiring" text with a small animated 3D stick figure leaning on the wordHow to know what you want to achieve, so you know how to hire right for success.

How you define the job of an in-house marketing person sets the road to success (or failure). Marketing and Physician Referrals go hand-in-hand, but there are different skill sets for each, and they don't all fit into a single position.

There's a classic problem...and it often puts us smack in the middle of two frustrated voices.

An in-house marketing person complains to us that: "The doctors don't understand what I do." Or we hear from an administrator: "Our marketing person isn't doing what we need." Separate phone calls (thank goodness), but it's opposite sides of the same problem, most commonly in referral-dependent practices and hospitals.

As the economic pressures rise in healthcare, hospitals and practices often hire (or plan to hire) an in-house "marketing person." Done right, that's an excellent strategy. But first define your objectives and expectations carefully, and then hire the right person (skills) for the position.

The hard truth is that many practices hire the wrong person for the wrong reasons. The classic pitfall—ranging from high frustration to total disaster—is to hire a "marketing" person and then expect her to be an expert at everything thrown at her: building doctor referrals, creating a new website, designing a new brochure, writing ad copy, search engine optimization, generating free press...the works.

Related activities, yes—but they require completely different skill sets. Like medicine, marketing is a world made up of specialists, and one person simply cannot do it all.

For example, even within "Internet marketing," there are administrators, writers, designers, programmers, healthcare SEO consultants, pay-per-click experts, search engine optimization experts and more.

Take heart: you absolutely do not need to go out and hire a bunch of new people. Rather, you should hire solely for critical ongoing tasks, and outsource everything else.

To simplify things, recognize there are two main categories of "marketing people."

First are people involved with Marketing Communications—those responsible for creating brochures, advertising, news releases, websites, branding and more. Fortunately, these services almost always can be outsourced.

The second category is business development, which means generating referrals from other practices. If professional referrals are the lifeblood of your practice or hospital, then this is the person you should hire. Building relationships requires devoted time and "feet on the ground,"

Please note: While it would be great to have one or more doctors handle the business development role, we find that rarely works in the real world. Physicians and surgeons do not want to look or feel like "salesmen."

Optimize Marketing with a Physician Liaison (specialist)

Regardless of the title—Physician Liaison, Physician Relations, Practice Representative—the responsibility of this position is to grow and protect your most vital asset, referring doctors. This position can generate millions (yes, millions) of dollars in revenue.

Here are some of the key success factors in shaping this important position.

  • ESTABLISH MEASURABLE GOALS. This could be percentage increase over a baseline, or by number/type of procedure, but the numbers should be available in near-term (monthly or quarterly) and long term.
  • HIRE THE RIGHT SKILLS. We aren't talking about quietly dropping off bagels at the front desk. You need someone with proven sales talent who can establish relationships with doctors and convince them to refer. Clinical backgrounds (nurse, drug rep, etc.) are nice bonuses, but sales experience is essential.
  • PROVIDE TRAINING. An individual with a strong business development competency will be hungry to absorb information about your clinical practice, PLUS be dedicated to furthering their sales skills. There's an art to generating referrals tastefully, so protect your reputation and get your rep real-world training.
  • COMPENSATE APPROPRIATELY. This is not a low-level position, and a classic "sales commission" arrangement doesn't apply for many reasons. Consider an ethical compensation plan that includes a base salary and bonuses for achieving monthly or quarterly milestones.
  • MANAGE THE POSITION AND THE PERSON. Communicate your expectations and review progress and activities regularly. In addition to "the numbers," there may be cultural considerations and personality considerations in the medical environment.
  • TRACK RESULTS. The right person in this job will produce meaningful results against clear objectives. Install and use a tracking system that accurately reflects the new business that the individual is actually producing. Beyond an initial learning curve, you should expect early results.
  • AVOID CLASSIC MISTAKES. (1) Don't try to turn a graphic designer into a salesperson; (2) don't try to turn a Physician Liaison into a marketing guru; and (3) don't expect a Physician Liaison to stay in the office all day.

One last bit of advice. Because medicine and sales are so different, most doctors and administrators have a very difficult time finding, evaluating, recruiting, compensating, motivating, coaching and managing sales talent. We have a lot of experience with this subject; it may make sense to get expert help to build (or rebuild) your doctor referral-building program.

Note: This article is adapted from one we wrote for the August 2010 issue of Cardiovascular Business.

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