Physician Marketing in 5 Minutes or Less
If you have only five minutes today to spend on learning how to improve your physician marketing efforts, spend it reading the straight talk on this page. Experience from years of successful, cost-effective, scalable marketing to physicians is encapsulated in this quick guide.
Marketing to physicians, sometimes called "physician relations" within a health system, requires a certain set of skills and a very specific set of tools. Whether you are developing an Accountable Care Organization, a physician network, or generating leads for EHR or medical billing system sales, a few assets are fundamental to a manageable and successful physician marketing effort.
Here in the American Southwest, as in most of the United States, getting a marketing message directly in front of a doctor is something of an art form, and very much a science. The challenge is made a lot easier these days, with physician marketing tools and technologies based on automated physician database development. Still, some familiar tools to any marketer, including direct mail and telemarketing, are vital to the medical marketing mission.
Put Your Plans for Physician Marketing Under The Microscope
Ask these crucial questions:
- What does the profile of our preferred physician target look like right now? Has our typical doctor customer's profile changed? If so, how?
- Are we using the best tools and other assets to reach our physician target?
- Is our physician marketing budget performing for us? Is it cost effective?
- Are we using all the available methods (physician mailings announcing product releases and upgrades, telemarketing to doctors' practices as beta test sites, physician-oriented landing pages on the web site, personal calls, newsletter mailings to doctors' mailing address and practice address, etc.)?
- Are we carefully testing and measuring a variety of approaches?
- Are we regionalizing our messages by geographic area and relative wealth/poverty/urban/rural profiles of physicians' patient bases?
- Are we treating our potential physician partners and customers too impersonally?
Knowing the kinds of physicians you can best serve with your product, service or partnership is much bigger than knowing their addresses and specialties. Depending on your medical marketing approach, you may want to know such details as the doctor's gender and her medical practice's service area econometrics.
Physician Marketing Tools
Targeting physicians with your marketing effort always requires data. From the simplest, such as doctor mailing lists, to the most sophisticated, such as medical target marketing software, these can be acquired easily, and learned quickly. If you are in the early stages of a physician marketing effort, you can start with an inexpensive list of the doctors practicing a particular specialty. This will give you a window into your market, and let you do things like count your doctor prospects within particular geographies, specialties, economic profiles, urban and rural areas. This is a planning-stage step, and one that should be revisited (with fresh physician data) frequently.
When it comes time to begin building physician awareness of your message, nothing delivers like mail sent directly to the doctor's practice and mailing addresses (they are frequently different addresses). Use high quality graphic design, and don't waste the doctor's valuable time with too much description. Include only the gripping verbiage that drives your physician prospects to a carefully crafted landing page that contains more very well organized description, and critically, motivates a phone call or webform response requesting a follow up from you. Even if your campaign is taking the highest of high roads, these are fundamental components you cannot skip.
Do you incorporate some form of sales force in your physician relations? A "sales force" may be something as low-key (and scalable) as an inbound marketing service to field physician phone calls, or as cost-committing as "outside sales," those "boots on the ground" that give your doctor leads a human face to associate with what you're promoting.
Physician telemarketing works. Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Yes, it is difficult to make contact with the doctor. Multiple calls, alloyed with some "tricks of the trade" ultimately lead to contact and a hearing. "Tricks" include offers to the medical practice office manager of brought-in lunches for office staff, or deliveries of hand-made confections from a local chocolatier. Upscale, or downscale, depending on the practice environment and the promotion. (Keep a careful accounting of these gifts, as you may be required to report them to the state's Sunshine Law program.)
Physician Marketing Budget
Do you know what you are spending to generate a physician lead? A sale? A contract renewal? Tracking every component of the campaign is easier than it seems. A spreadsheet with rows of doctors (or targeted lists of doctors) and columns of expenditures is straightforward and the absolute minimum. In other columns, track whether a lead was generated, and the outcome (a sale, contract, affiliation agreement, etc.).
When your campaign has gathered some of this information, create a profile of the physicians who responded (became leads), those who converted (became customers/partners), those who were very extremely expensing to convert, and those who were more cost-effective. Now you can see the overlap between the leads/conversions groups and the cost-effectiveness groups. Make this your new "center focus" physician prospect or medical practice prospect profile, and place the other profiles into a "peripheral doctor prospects" profile pool. After you've done this, are you spending at least 75% of dollars and time fully exploiting your best physician prospects?
Use All Available Methods
To contain costs while getting the best results for your physician marketing budget, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Use the five methods below, each in support of the other, each amplifying the other, to reach physicians, develop leads, and make sales.
Web-based marketing—whether you're relying on organic search or paid internet exposure—seems cheap and easy. But as any internet marketing expert can tell you, if it is successful, it is anything but cheap and easy. And organic search is never free; getting it right requires knowledge and experience, not to mention a significant time investment. Internet is becoming an ever more esoteric marketing channel that requires constant monitoring and analysis. That said, you must do it. Just don't do it exclusively.
Use freelance search engine optimization (SEO) experts to analyze your website in terms of key phrases that will bring Google searchers to your site. You may think you know what attracts eyeballs, but you probably don't know what attracts Googlebot as well as someone who specializes in SEO.
Use paid search advertising to "push" your links under the cursors of potential visitors, but realize that physicians have many other resources besides the Internet to learn about some of the specialized products and services they buy. However, Google AdWords and LinkedIn Ads can provide some exposure, especially if the decision maker you seek isn't just the doctor, but may include the office manager, physician's assistant, or billing office, and if you have a fairly substantial budget for paid search and other Internet advertising. Remember that you can reach physicians when they're searching for things besides those that are strictly medical. Doctors also search for kayaks, cars, restaurants and vacations, and may be more likely to notice a medical ad that stands out in non-medical contexts. In fact, some studies indicate that physicians spend more time online at home and in other places besides the office, and doing non-work-related things, than they spend online at the office or performing work.
Short of camping out on the doorstep of the doctor's private entrance, direct mail is a strong contender for the most effective way to reach physicians. Yes, it has costs. You can best contain these costs by selecting a technologically advanced physician mailing list provider that can provide basic, no frills, accurate mailing lists of the doctors you want to reach. Look for doctor lists that let you choose particular specialties (within your central focus profile). You may save significantly by buying from automated, immediate download marketing list suppliers; companies that want you to "contact sales for a quote" may offer additional information out on the fringes of marketing data, but you can get lists of physicians' names, addresses, phones and faxes, plus some additional data like specialty, whether they bill Medicare, etc., for $399. You read that right. You can get a complete list of the approximately 1 million U.S. physicians, all the specialties and subspecialties included, for $399.
If you bought the right physician list, it gave you both practice and administrative telephone numbers (sometimes called the "mailing address phone"). Doctors do NOT like to take phone calls, and people will tell you quite flatly that they don't... mostly. If a call follows some mailings that have brought a physician's attention to a product or service he wants, he may not have followed through to call you or visit your web site, but he may agree to talk to you if you make the effort for him. One successful tactic is to include these words prominently on the mail pieces: "Leave this card with your telephone receptionist." These magic words give the doctor an easy way to feel he has taken a step, but without commitment. A surprising number of direct mail addressees will do exactly what a non-threatening line like this instructs them to. Then when you call, the receptionist must decide what to do with your contact based on the fact that the doctor has indicated interest.
Physician fax numbers offer another avenue to get your message behind the surgery door. Physician offices live by their fax machines, using them for many forms of interpractice communication. Don't use your own fax number and fax machine for cold-call marketing, as your number will likely end up being blocked by a savvy office manager. Instead, reserve fax contacts to physicians who have already become a lead by taking your call, calling you, or responding on a webform. After such a connection is established, send a fax that looks like a menu, the sort of thing someone might tack to a wall for future reference. It might contain a list of your staff's phone numbers and email addresses, and (short!) web addresses to reach a product description, documentation, and customer support. If this piece looks right, no one will want to throw it away until it can be determined that it is definitely not something needed by somebody in the office. If you're lucky, it will be noticed a few times while being passed around.
Of course, in any conversation with the prospect you can say that you'll send along a fax and an email with your contact information.
The use of email to reach physicians has been shown to be effective in some specific circumstances. However, using email to make cold calls before you have built awareness of your company or promotion is usually a waste of that free bandwidth. And here's the catch: Email can be the most expensive form of direct marketing to physicians. No, email doesn't require the purchase of printing, envelopes and postage, but it requires the purchase of email lists or email sending services. These lists and services are prohibitively expensive for early stage marketing efforts, and even for some well-established companies, and results are frequently below direct mail and telemarketing. A recent study found that email as part of the marketing mix could boost physician conversions by up to 27%, as long as direct mail, telemarketing and other forms of paid advertising were included in the mix.
The bottom line is that direct mail and telemarketing still rule the physician marketing domain. This has even been made more so recently, as automated physician database collection and distribution technologies have cut doctor data prices dramatically. Just a decade ago, a more-or-less complete marketing database of U.S. physicians with addresses and phone numbers typically cost upwards of $35,000 (and some still do), while new database companies in the market offer similar lists at far better pricing. And these days you don't even have to "speak with a representative" to purchase a list; just click, pay with a credit card, and download your list. All in just a couple of minutes, and at pricing that gives you real flexibility... pricing that lets you send more mail, make more calls, and develop more leads.
Personalize and Regionalize Your Physician Marketing
When you invest in marketing tools, at the very least you should purchase marketing lists that give you these basic pieces of information, because you will need them to personalize your contacts, and to analyze effectiveness and build profiles of your best markets:
- A proper salutation. You don't want the first line in your letters to doctors to read "Dear Doctor". A personalized salutation is critical, if you want your letter even noticed, much less read and responded to. Get a physician database or doctor mailing list that gives includes a filed for the proper salutation, such as "Dr. Williams". It's not enough to have a separate last name field to that you can tack "Dr." onto for a salutation; this isn't a dependable solution. The best doctor lists include a salutation field, and will handle ethnic and other special names correctly, making your communications appear as intelligent and professional as your prospect.
- Properly-cased names and addresses. DR WILLARD R MCDONALD MD is never as effective as Dr. Willard R. McDonald, M.D.
- Nine-digit Zip Codes. Unless you are sending a large volume of mail, you should consider using First Class postage when you mail formal letters addressed to physicians. The postage is more expensive, but you can avoid specialized mail handling and CASS certification and address verification, which would drive up the cost of your physician list, and sorting costs every time you use it. Nine-digit zips will go a long ways in improving delivery rates, even without costly CASS certification, and better physician mailing lists will have them for most of the records.
- Wealth/poverty data for the service area. Knowing the relative economic levels of physicians' service areas is a very useful component of the market profile you will build. Differences in available grant programs based on patient populations, and, of course, ability of patients to pay for high end care, will affect how different products are purchased and used.
- Urban, suburban, or rural location. Rural physicians frequently have different needs and technology adoption patterns than urban docs. If yours is a telemedicine-oriented campaign, you may want to focus on rural practices, so you need that information in your physician marketing data.
- New doctors. Your physician marketing database should tell you which doctors are new ones, especially if your product or service is of special interest to the physician building a new practice. If you also sell best to practices that have just relocated, you'll want to know the date that the contact information was last updated. And you may be interested to know if the practice is suburban or urban, as these physicians tend to relocate more frequently in some geographic markets.
- A practice address and a mailing address. You don't need to two addresses just so you can send more mail. You need them because you may find one better than the other to reach physician partners. Also, you want the phone and fax numbers for both the practice and the mailing address (frequently the administrative address), for the same reasons.
- NPI number. The National Provider Identifier (NPI) number is a system that was mandated as part of the HIPAA law. Every physician must get an NPI number (if they are covered by HIPAA, and that's almost all physicians). That's great news for marketers, since the NPI number is a unique code we can use to follow a prospect throughout our system, and throughout the prospect's life. If you have the NPI numbers for all of your physician records, duplication simply disappears. That said, the MEDICAlistings physician lists give you up to two records for some physicians, namely, those who have an NPI number for themselves, the human practitioner (a Type 1 NPI record), and a second NPI number for their practice entity (a Type 2 NPI record), and we give you the Entity Type (1 or 2). This offers some additional addressing options, while not contributing to duplication. All doctors have a Type 1 number, and it follows them through their lives. The information in a Type 2 record offers additional information on the doctor's business.
- Specialty or subspecialty. It goes without saying that this information is critical to knowing who your physician market is. If you sell tongue depressors, you certainly won't be focusing your marketing dollar on pathologists working in a research lab.
- State license number. Armed with a physician's license number you can access online resources that may offer you very deep and useful market information, including how long the doctor has been in practice, where she studied, and which board certifications the physician possesses. (States vary as to the physician information that can be freely accessed.)
If you've got all of that information on your physician prospects and converts, plus good addresses, phones and fax numbers, you can create detailed target profiles, and build cost-effective physician marketing campaigns.
Build Your Brand to Match Physicians' Own Values
Both doctors and patients want to associate themselves with success and professionalism. Creating a context of positive identification and differentiation is important in most marketing efforts, but indispensable when marketing to physicians. To the physician-patient relationship, measures will include quality of care, successful outcomes, quality and personalization of service, as well as innovation. The physician-vendor relationship should mirror these values
Ask: How does my brand support the physician's desire to give caring service? How does my product "look and feel" in the mind of a physician who sees it in the context of her relationship with her patient? Are my communications consistent with the level of professionalism and quality that the doctor expects of himself?
There is no better way to gather this very specific kind of brand-building information than to bring the physicians themselves into your process. Consider having an Advisory Panel or Board of Advisors comprised of physicians to consult with you, studying your marketing communications and helping you shape them to physicians' interests and mindset. Just because the CEO of your company is a doctor doesn't mean you're off the hook for talking to other doctors. They can give you the objective, in-the-trenches feedback you need to penetrate the elaborate defenses erected around physicians.