A marketing plan is as crucial to your business as, well, a business plan.
The foundation of any marketing plan relies on an analysis of the current marketplace — both customer feedback and competitor research. You can’t solve a marketing glitch or capitalize on an opportunity if you don’t know it exists, and you can’t gain an edge if you don’t know what other providers in your specialty and community are offering.
In this article, we’ll focus on some of the simplest, most effective methods for collecting market validation and customer feedback… and actually putting it to work.
1. Utilize Surveys
Without asking your customers or potential customers what they like and dislike about your practice, you’ll be developing your marketing plan in the dark. Even if you believe that your plan is general enough to appeal to all your patients, or “customers” as we like to say, it will never be as targeted — or useful — as it would be when direct customer feedback is incorporated.
With the incredible resources available online these days, it is not difficult to get started constructing your survey. First, make a list of the topics you’d like your survey to cover. Some basic ones may include: wait times (physicals, sick visits, waiting room), ease of interactions (making appointments, speaking to nurses, communicating with one’s own physician), office environment (friendliness, respect, decor, reading material) and follow-up (thoroughness, as promised, additional questions).
There are so many attributes that go into customer satisfaction, that you will undoubtedly have to try to zero in on the most important ones to make your survey a reasonable length — no more than ten questions or five minutes to maximize respondent participation, according to popular survey administration company Constant Contact.
If you’re a PatientPop customer, you can perform analysis of the patient feedback you’ve received. Or you can use a site like surveymonkey.com, which provides everything from survey design help, to instructive blogs on a wide range of topics, to entire survey templates — including a specific one for healthcare providers.
2. Competitive Research
Conducting competitor research is part of your basic “due diligence” in laying the groundwork for your marketing plan. You cannot know how to market yourself without getting at least a glimpse of what other providers in your community are doing and online sleuthing today is very easy. Your goal is to get answers to questions like these: Who are your closest competitors? What are they doing? How are they positioning themselves? What do their websites look like? What services do they offer? How are they different from you, and are those differences likely to be significant to patients?
Systematically analyze each competitor’s website to aggregate data for review. A good way to do this is to list attributes visible on your own website, such as “evening and weekend hours” or “online appointment setting” and continue through each site to notate the benefits of other practices. You may find that some widely touted attributes are ones you offer too but do not publicly promote — a clue that your website may need to be updated as part of your marketing plan.
Another part of this assessment is to review your competitors’ evaluations on rating sites like healthgrades.com to see how your own ratings measure up. If you find that you are lacking in number of reviews or “meaty” content, there are ways to encourage patient reviews, such as sending reminders following every appointment, that you can include in your marketing plan.
3. Focus Groups
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned focus group to provide the type of honest, in-depth dialog that is simply not attainable through online or even telephone surveys. Your best bet in arranging a focus group is to hire an outside facilitator; although they do cost money, the benefit in having someone unbiased and unfamiliar to the group (ie, won’t take offense to negative feedback) leading the session may be cost-effective for large practices. The person you hire as facilitator should, preferably, have some background in conducting research for healthcare clients and the major issues you face as a healthcare provider. They should also spend some good quality time with you both before the focus group and in delivering analysis of the session, if that is part of your contract.
According to John Mitchell, President and Managing Principal of Applied Marketing Science, a Boston-based market research firm that has worked often with healthcare clients, there is also a low-cost alternative that may better suit small- and mid-size practices. “Between the cost of the meeting room, the moderator, and compensation of 6-10 participants, a formal focus group can run well into the thousands of dollars,” he says. “Small firms may wish to investigate online focus group options, which are effective but, obviously, far less costly.” Hubspot, one of the leading inbound marketing software firms, has a great piece online about using online focus groups.
Regardless of which approach you choose, rest assured that some research is better than no research at all, so figure out what makes sense for your practice and make it happen! Your research is key to setting your plan in place and really believing in it too.