In today’s volatile behavioral health landscape, many treatment providers are simply trying to keep their heads above water. Marketing dollars have to be stretched, and probably the best way to do that is to build your reputation as a quality organization and top-notch brand. This means that relationships are more valuable than ads, in the long run. Many providers know this, and have various types of marketing team members with titles like business development, community relations, clinical outreach, VP of Marketing, CMO, and others. These are vital roles for longevity and growth.
However, if you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ll often see that there appears to be a lot of turnover in these roles, as people bounce from one program to another for various reasons. What seems consistent, though, is that there isn’t a lot of other consistency. Sometimes it’s not the right fit for the person or for the company, but when it isn’t working out there are several common reasons that we have found. You might not agree with all of this, or have an argument against some of it, and that’s okay, this is from our own observations of working with many programs throughout the country.
This shows when someone is just going through the motions and attempting to bring their “book of business” or referral accounts to whomever will pay them the most. The problem is, this really backfires in most cases because they haven’t fully bought into the mission and processes of their organization, and instead of explaining the benefits ad results of their services with sincerity and clarity, they appear very surface-level in their explanations of care and instantly become forgettable, or at best lumped into a category with other programs who appear to do the same thing. These representatives should intimately know the successes of clients, the processes of the programs and the details of the facilities to be able to impart them to others with conviction.
BD reps in many parts of the country have developed their own cliques, and some can be observed running in packs together to the same events, where they spend more time chatting about their last vacation or pop culture than they do developing meaningful connections with others. While it is wonderful that many of these groups have strong bonds, their are only so many times where it is acceptable for them to just hang out, eat lunch or play golf together. There has to be a purpose behind most of their events and meetings other than just checking off that they were in attendance and hanging out with their friends. As a side note, this also goes for misdirected spending for conferences and sponsorships as well, as many wind up going just because another program is there, though that could be another whole post in itself.
Although it is fully acknowledged that the whole point for the BD rep is to get the word out and get more clients/patients in the door, too many are very one-sided. They go around promoting, handing out cute items, brochures and business cards and expect people to magically refer to their program because of how awesome they are. The problem is, most people don’t like to be sold things, especially clinicians, doctors, therapists, facility operators, etc. Instead, we have found that taking the opposite approach is more successful. First, start by asking them all about their service, practice or organization, and be genuinely interested. Ask them insightful questions and really get to know what they provide so that you understand it. Set the meeting with the intention to see if they are a good fit for your facility to refer to. If this is done with sincerity the you will instantly create a stronger connection. Then you will naturally get asked more about what your program does and get that opportunity, but go with a desire to learn about them and a genuine interest. The second part of this is to then actually refer clients to them, which leads into the next item.
This may sound counterintuitive to some people, but actually making as many referrals directly to contacts at other programs is one of the absolute best ways to develop a solid relationship and steady referral base from other sources. Take the time to find out which providers match up well for your clients, depending on what level(s) of care you offer, whether that is a similar philosophy or geography, take the same insurance, etc. Also know which ones don’t take the same insurances or have different approaches for people who need something other than what you provide. We have seen some of the larger providers really do a disservice to themselves by not referring out enough, usually because they’re tying to only refer to one of their own programs instead, which is initially understandable, but they should also really try to give them additional options (this goes for their call centers as well). Someone who receives client referrals from you is much more likely to refer back to you than if you don’t. It’s pretty simple.
People on the ground or out in the field need to have at least one or more strong connections within the call center part of the admissions team. This is another topic worth a whole post. When call center reps and BD reps are completely separate and only work independently, there are many missed opportunities. From inbound referrals to outbound referrals, to working together on a potential admission, these two aspects of the admissions and marketing departments should routinely be in contact, yet a lot of places have these activities siloed. Many call center reps don’t want to take the time to do warm hand-offs for outbound referrals, and so the BD reps should be all over those and want to make sure those people find programs that can help them, as it is serving the clients and also building rapport with other providers. This one is really huge, and we consistently see a breakdown of communication between these two essential components of marketing/outreach and admissions.
If your facility is operating as it should be, with a sound clinical team and solid programming for your clients, don’t get stuck in the rut of trying to constantly hire the next rock star BD rep or call center rep, make sure you have your roles, activities and systems in place to effectively communicate what you do to potential clients and referral sources. There are a lot of other things that can go into this, such as creating those systems and having a unified team working together, carrying the same message and purpose as a team.