One of the biggest challenges facing integrative clinicianswho go the cash-pay route is to turn community interest into actual paying patients.
Though it may seem daunting, the process of tapping into the public’s interest in things holistic and attracting new patients can be a creative and enjoyable aspect of practice, not to mention a necessity, says Miriam Zacharias, a holistic nutrition consultant and practice marketing advisor who will be a featured speaker at Holistic Primary Care’s upcoming Heal Thy Practice 2013 conference.
Ms. Zacharias, who teaches courses in practice developmentat Maryland University of Integrative Health, and to numerous holistic practitioners, has developed a five-step method called the PEACE Process: From Prospect to Patient, that helps clinicians develop thriving practices, “without losing your shirt, your sanity, or your soul!”
The PEACE acronym represents five stages of practice development:
Purpose: The more clear you are about what you do and why you do it, the more you willbe able to attract patients. “This is your “why,” your raison d’etre, the reason people should come to you. It’s the starting point for everything else,”she told Holistic Primary Care.
“Once you connect deeply with your purpose, all youractivities naturally align, from clinical care to marketing strategy. Reflecton the core essence of why you do what you do. This is at the heart of everything else.”
Establish: This step is about getting laser-focused on your optimal niche, and taking ownership of your rightful place in your community. Most successful clinicians offer well-defined signature programs with multiple options, levels and prices, geared toward specific patient subgroups.
“Focus on what you do best, who you want to serve, and how you can help people achieve what THEY want. Then, position yourself as your community’s expert in that arena.” You may be good at many things, and able to help diverse populations, but from a practice development perspective, it’s best to have a clearly defined base from which you can branch out later.
Attract: Once you can articulate the “why,” the “who,” and the “what” of your practice, you need to focus on how to find prospects via strategies to draw people to you, rather than the painful tactic of trying to find and capture them. There are new and effective methods for building your mailing list, establishing a social media presence, and creating your circle of potential patients. Despite all the noise and confusion out there, it’s simpler than you think.”
Connect: No matter what business you’re in, research shows that on average, you have to connect with someone at least five times before they are likely to buy something from you. That’s why marketers put so much emphasis on social media, e-newsletters and other high-frequency outreach strategies. Public talks are also valuable, enabling you to contact many potential patients at a time. “People need time to get to know you, like you, and trust you before they consider becoming a patient.”
A system for making multiple contacts with your mailing listis crucial for building powerful connections that ultimately turn into practice growth.
Engage: This is the process of getting an interested person to take action and commit to becoming a patient. For many practitioners it’s the most challenging step because it involves talking about money. This need not be awkward, nor should it be a “sell.” It simply means that you need to be clear on how your services deliver the outcomes your patients want, and learn to effectively position”value” versus “cost.”
To hold these conversations with confidence, it helps to think through your responses to common objections, such as: “What if it doesn’t work?” “I don’t want to go on a diet.” “I don’t have that kind of time.”
“If you are confident about your services, and you’ve defined your purpose and your niche, you can turn the conversations from “selling what you offer,” to helping people get what they want. This increases engagement,” says Ms. Zacharias.
As with most things in life, timing is everything when it comes to these “engagement” discussions.
“Sometimes, practitioners jump into sales-mode way too fast because they feel nervous and uncomfortable. They shoot too soon. The key is to slow down, to pace the conversation. Talk to prospective patients, ask them lots of questions, find out what they really want. As you both relax & get to know one another, you’ll be able to sense when’s the right time to talk about a service plan.”
At the same time, don’t allow curiosity seekers or attention junkies to suck up your time and energy. If someone repeatedly shows interest in what you do, you need to discuss engagement. If they resist becoming a patient, it’s probably time to disengage. A “no” sometimes means, “not now,” so don’t take it personally. But keep in mind that your time is best spent with people who are saying “Yes!””
The five steps of the PEACE process are interconnected. There’s no clear endpoint to one step and starting point for the next. But it’s a helpful method for structuring your overall marketing strategy.
“In reality, you’re never really done with any one part of the process,” Ms. Zacharias says. “As your practice grows and changes, you’ll periodically redefine your purpose, your niche positioning, and your outreach efforts. It’s all very fluid and organic.”