In-House Marketing Specialist: Terrific Investment or Disastrous Mistake?

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Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Due to increasing economic pressures, many cardiology practices are following the lead of hospitals and hiring (or plan to hire) an in-house marketing specialist. Done right, this can be an excellent strategy. But be sure to first define your objectives and expectations carefully, and then hire the right person with the right skills for the position.

The hard truth is that most practices hire the wrong person for the wrong reasons. The classic pitfall is to hire a marketing specialist and then expect the person to be an expert in all aspects related to medical practices, including: Building doctor referrals, creating a new website, designing a new brochure, writing ad copy, search engine optimization, generating free press—the works.

While these are related activities, a marketing specialist requires completely different skill sets. Like medicine, marketing is comprised of specialties and one person simply cannot do it all. For example, even within “internet marketing,” there are administrators, writers, designers, programmers, pay-per-click experts, search engine optimization experts and more.

To simplify things, recognize there are two main categories of marketing people. The first are people involved with marketing communications, who are responsible for creating brochures, advertising, news releases, websites and branding. Many of these services can be outsourced. The second category is business development, which means generating referrals from other practices. Because referrals are the lifeblood of cardiovascular practices, and because building relationships requires time and “feet on the ground,” this is typically the person you should hire in-house.

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

Optimize marketing with a physician liaison

 

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 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, in addition 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.

  • Track results—The right person in this job will produce meaningful results against clear objectives. Employ a tracking system that reflects new business that the individual is actually producing. Beyond an initial learning curve, you should expect early results.

  • Avoid classic mistakes—Don’t try to turn a graphic designer into a salesperson; don’t try to turn a physician liaison into a marketing guru; and don’t expect a physician liaison to stay in the office all day.

Mr. Hirsch and Mr. Gandolf are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies and can be reached at www.healthcaresuccess.com.