By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Hospitals want to constantly build rapport with their referring physicians. And, if you are a specialist (medical, physical therapy or dental), chances are you are heavily dependent upon referrals from other doctors. If you are currently looking to win more of those professional referrals, experience shows that one of the most productive and successful marketing strategies you could implement would be to hire a Practice Rep.
While theoretically a doctor would be the best person to represent a medical practice, but many doctors tell us they can’t find the time to network. Others will admit that they simply feel too uncomfortable to promote their practices, and are worried about coming across as “begging.” Hospitals know that physician-directed patients are an important channel into the facility or surgi-center.
Reality check: Your hospital or practice is a business and your business needs clients. Networking is part of every business and the better you are at it, the faster your business will grow.
But if the art of schmoozing is outside your comfort zone, the solution may be to hire a specialist who will represent your business and stimulate referrals. Here’s a primer on how to do just that.
What makes for a successful practice rep?
What you’ll find when hiring is that there are really a couple of different levels of “Practice Rep.”
Level one is Joan. Joan loves to go to physicians’ offices and pass out bagels to their staff. She may already work in your office, maybe she’s your receptionist or office manager, but every once in a while, she makes the time to visit your colleagues. She may have great social skills and do well at engaging a doctor’s staff. But she doesn’t really interact with the doctor and can’t speak his language. Joan, while valuable, is not the focus of this article.
Level two, the gold standard, is Bob. Bob is self-motivated. He’s someone with whom the doctor can relate and consider a colleague. Bob knows how to win the doctor’s confidence, technically and socially. They may play golf together and have lunch once a month. Not only can Bob relate well to the provider, the staff also loves him. And most importantly, Bob knows how to SELL (and if that word offends you, remember he is selling YOUR services).
Depending on your need, this could be a full or part-time position. What matters most are RESULTS. You must set very clear objectives and have monthly reviews with your Practice Rep (more on that below.) Bob, in turn, must also develop a system to keep track of whom he has visited, when and where they have met, what they discussed, and what, if any, next steps they have agreed to take. Every month, you will review the rep’s activities, analyze the results and strategize about the coming month.
While you will need to work closely with your new rep in the early phases, they should lead the process, not you. Great reps will demonstrate their abilities to get meetings (and eventually referrals) quickly.
Beware, if you are constantly hearing excuses about why they haven’t been successful in meeting with doctors and getting tangible results, you’ve probably made a hiring mistake.
How to find the right rep
Ay, there’s the rub. How do you find a person who personifies all of these unique qualities?
- You want to look for a person who has a proven track record of commission-based sales experience. Although you won’t pay him a commission, per se, this person is a self-starter and is used to basing his salary on results.
- He/she should have some medical industry experience. Perhaps a rep for a device manufacturer or a pharmaceutical rep. Just don’t assume, however, that because a person is a former drug rep that he’s a terrific sales person. The questions remain, “has he worked on commission”? “How is he at sales?”
- Your rep could come from your own staff. Maybe you have a partner who fits the model and would like to take on fewer cases. An office manager or practice administrator is an excellent choice if they have the right personality and sales skills.
In an ideal world, you would pay your practice rep on a commission basis, but in most cases that won’t be possible due to legal and ethical issues. Furthermore, even if you could legally pay by commission, it would be impractical to implement and probably distasteful to you to boot.
Therefore, in most cases the better approach is a fixed salary plus bonuses (maybe up to 25% of pay) set up for certain milestones. You can pay a bonus monthly, quarterly or even annually.
Keep in mind that a practice rep is not a low-paying position. Great self-starters who deliver results are always in demand, and thus they can command better compensation than you are probably used to paying. However, after your practice rep delivers a dozen new “A List” referral sources, you will think his or her compensation package is the best bargain in town.
The greatest challenge
Few doctors are experts at identifying, recruiting, training, compensating and managing sales talent. Expect to endure a learning curve.
However, the potential results are well worth the effort. Many of the most successful practices we have seen owe this achievement to one or more well-placed practice reps. A Practice Rep is a sound investment and a great attribute to your overall marketing and growth plan.