Business Solutions

Casting a Wider Net

As providers diversify revenue and funding sources, they must broaden their marketing reach if they want to catch a bigger haul. Fortunately, help is available.

diversify revenue and funding sourcesAs any fisherman will say: you can’t catch all fish with the same bait. One might respond to a lure while another might be drawn to a tasty worm. HME businesses are learning this lesson in short order as they try to diversify their revenue sources beyond Medicare.

New product and service avenues such as retail sales, private payor insurance, residential care, home access, and institutional care are presenting providers with a challenge they likely hadn’t initially considered: How do they reach all these different markets and ensure that their messages resonate with those disparate sets of customers and partners?

HME providers must not only cast a wide marketing net that lets them reach a much broader range of potential clients. Moreover, that marketing effort must incorporate targeted enticements that appeal to different types of patients. It’s not exactly an easy task to tackle.

“This is a new horizon for the HME provider,” says Ty Bello, RCC, president and founder of Team@Work Coaching, a consulting firm that helps HME providers with their sales and marketing. “It’s something that we haven’t had to do for a very long time, because we were so entrenched in Medicare and Medicaid.

“Now, marketing is taking on a whole new side in our business,” he continues. “So you have to decide, ‘Where do I want to spend my dollars in marketing, how do I spend my dollars in marketing, who am I trying to reach, and what is my message going to be?’”

The best way to get started? Start with sizing up which groups the provider wants to reach, advises Patty DelMonico, marketing project manager at DME manufacturing giant Invacare Corp.

“When putting together a marketing program, it is important to identify your target audiences and consider the best ways to speak to those audiences and to meet the needs of each group,” she says.

Marketing Approaches

In addition to audiences, providers need to consider what marketing approaches makes the most sense for those new clients. That’s not necessarily an easy answer because different markets want different things, and vary in terms means with which they want to purchase those items (e.g., funding versus retail). This too will impact a providers’ marketing.

For starters, there are far more ways to reach those customers, and some methods are going to be more effective than others. The explosion of different marketing vehicles via the Internet and social media, when added to the existing pool of marketing venue, such as newspapers, television, radio, direct mail and the yellow pages means that providers need to think about how they want to reach customers in the most effective way.

“Baby boomers are the fastest growing age range online,” DelMonico notes. “Setting up a good ecommerce website, with high-quality, relevant content, search engine optimization, social media and accompanying email campaigns can no longer be ignored. A large percentage of Internet users start with search engines when researching health and medical advice online. Providers should consider shifting marketing dollars to online outlets.”

Disparate technology adoption means providers need to use different approaches, Bello adds.

“We’re probably at a crossing point right now where the generation we are serving is fairly familiar with or very familiar with online purchasing,” he explains. “So for some items they might go online and order— not a problem. But for some of them, they are alone, they’re not really tech savvy and they’ll want to go to a physical location and buy something or order their products or supplies there.”

Both sets of seniors will require different venues if providers want to ensure their marketing reach them. The former will be reached through online advertising, email and social media, while the latter will be reached via more traditional marketing methods.

Besides venues, when new marketing audiences such as retail customers and private payor is what are the marketing messages that are going to resonate with them. A good place to start is with age breakdown of these audiences, and even the products that might appeal to those ages, according to Bello. Take retail for example:

“You would think the majority of them would be senior, non-Medicare, or Medicare but with enough expendable cash that they want to buy a certain item,” Bello begins. “This is a perfect opportunity to advertise in some of our senior news outlets.”

But throw in a specific product and things could change in a big way. For example, perhaps the provider is seeing an uptick in senior respiratory patients who want to travel and have the financial wherewithal to purchase a portable oxygen concentrator. This gives the provider an excellent opportunity to position itself as a unique and expert supplier of the solutions these buyers seek.

“This poses a phenomenal opportunity for us to advertise and target that market specifically,” he explains. “So the attributes are that they might be mobile, of a medium to older age, and I think the biggest thing is that they have a need for the products we are trying to sell, they don’t know here to go for them, or they have an existing supplier that with which they’re not satisfied.

Getting Help

For the HME provider trying to answer Bello’s questions, one of the things they need to consider is resource allocation. A key resource for providers is the manufacturers with whom they have been working for years.

“They also need to ask ‘What assistance can I get from my key manufacturing partners?’” he says. “And I’ll emphasize the word ‘partners.’ Manufacturers have long been our partners in the HME industry; they absolutely have in supporting us with literature, documentation, advertising when appropriate (for our web site and things like that).

“But now that partner can help us in other ways,” he continues. “That is, in advertising and marketing to the end user and other payor sources, which we’ve not had to do before. The manufacturer partner can really come alongside us and assist us.”

And manufacturers are ready to help. In the same way that they helped providers reach referral partners via marketing support, manufacturers are helping providers reach out to retail customers, private payor clients, and the like.

Invacare, for example, offers its providers an online Marketing Resource Center. The Marketing Resource Center is a portal available to Invacare providers. Within this portal, providers can customize traditional media such as print ads and product trifolds. They can also order a pre-made customizable video spot to run on local television or cable stations. Invacare also offers product images to providers who may want to create their own print ads and trifolds, as well as for use on their company websites.

In addition to its Marketing Resource Center, Invacare helps its providers to do this by providing support through marketing programs, including education and training, DelMonico says. For example Invacare’s Innovation and Outcomes Conferences (www.invacare.com/IOC) offer seminars to support both providers and medical specialists, with a focus on respiratory care and wound care.

The conferences offer two tracks, one targeting providers and the other medical specialists. The provider track offers product training and associated therapeutic, patient-based outcomes; hands-on sales training workshop to differentiate and grow market share and increase revenue; and sales strategies to approach hospitals and sell to new accounts. The medical specialist track offers CEU accredited programs; information on how and why product selection can lead to better outcomes; an understanding impact of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, and the impact of healthcare system changes and industry trends.

Another manufacturer that offers marketing support services is power wheelchair and scooter maker Pride Mobility Corp., which provides a range of marketing services for its providers. In Pride’s case, one of the marketing needs it has highlighted has been retail sales, so it has focused on customized literature, point of purchase materials and other in-store marketing resources for providers, says Bernie Allen, director of marketing for Pride Mobility Products Corp.

Getting product to sell on the floor requires a specific set of right-here, right-now marketing supports, and one example Allen points to is Prides retail kiosk, a rolling display case that can be tailored to convey key details on Pride products. The kiosk can almost act like a “silent sales person,” he says.

“For instance, a consumer could go into a provider’s location, and if all the providers’ staff are engaged with other consumers, the kiosk is something the provider can direct the customer’s attention to in order to help them get educated on the products,” Allen explains.

Moreover the creative, support materials and other aspects of Pride’s kiosk can be changed to fit whatever products the provider is trying to sell. It also ensures that the message points are refreshed in order to maintain customer interest and attraction.

“We try to make the kiosk as ‘modular’ as possible, so that we can update the message on a seasonal or at least quarterly basis as we want to launch new products or focus attention on certain products or a holiday promotion that we want to help our dealers message,” Allen adds.

In addition to the retail support, Pride also highlights a range of online services. The company’s IT department can provide web development services to help the provider integrate online marketing elements from Pride on their web sites. It also provides various collateral material that providers can use to populate their ecommerce offering or their social media marketing efforts.

Social Media & Value Marketing

In fact, Pride and vendors like it are helping its providers employ a marketing technique known as value marketing. The idea is to provide constituents with useful information that they will appreciate. That information might not necessarily result in a sale right there and then, but what it will do is help providers keep client and partner relationships fresh by keeping the provider’s profile out in the public. Moreover, it helps establish the provider as an expert on whom patients, clients and partners can rely.

In Pride’s case, the manufacturer constantly updates its Facebook and Twitter feeds with information that providers can repurpose and share with their clients. On staff the company has copywriters and media writers that are publishing the content on a daily basis. Moreover, when providers are looking for content that’s been successful, Pride can walk them through what’s worked.

“It’s a large initiative here at Pride and Quantum Rehab to provide industry-related information on a daily basis,” Allen says. “Our providers certainly tie into that. They’re fans of ours and they help us republish our content. So it can really be a community effort in that regard.

“We test various levels of content to see what resonates with our fans,” he continues. “As providers retweet and share our messaging via social media, you can really track the visibility of post to see the traction it’s getting.”

If anything, the simultaneously broad and specified world of the Internet and especially social media is a perfect example of how provider marketing is evolving. Many products, many customers, many marketing methods — this is the challenge that providers face in reaching new clients, but in many ways, that challenge is also the opportunity providers have been looking for.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of HME Business.

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