Observation Deck

An HME Client Journey

A family emergency demonstrates how HME providers can play a vital and ongoing role in patients' lives.

I have been involved in the HME/DME business from the manufacturer’s perspective going on three years as vice president of marketing for Harmar. I have worked with a variety of our distributors, retailers and strategic partners that are each trying to position themselves in the market to grow their home access sales and enter this lucrative, cash sales market. We frequently discuss pricing incentives, promotional strategies, networking and lead generation challenges. In my role, I use my education and experience to offer up strategies to assist and guide our customers. And while (hopefully) some of that has been beneficial to our customers, it wasn’t until recently that I got my real life lesson.

You see, my 80-year-old father was hit by a car while walking across a parking lot. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, we thought he was just bruised and banged up. But after his follow-up appointment the next day, we learned he has a hairline ankle fracture, injured hip and potentially strained rotator cuff. He had gone from being 100 percent self-sufficient to significantly, but hopefully temporarily, immobile. Dad just became a customer in my industry. (Gulp.)

I live 3,000 miles away from Dad which is painful and I have to rely on my sister and our extended family to help out. (Thanks, sis!) The next step was to find the right resources to take care of his needs. So, off they went to a local HME/DME dealer that was recommended by a relative who had a very positive experience. (It was nice to know this dealer carried Harmar products, too.)

Creating a Relationship

First off, we needed to get him the right equipment. Dad needs a device that enables him to keep the weight off of his leg. Lots of expensive options here, right? Powered chairs, scooters, etc. Nope. The dealer went for the best, least expensive option, a knee-scooter. Did he sell it to him? Nope, he rented it to Dad for a month. More importantly, he took the time to ask my family questions and assess their other needs. He worked with Dad to ensure he was comfortable and capable with the knee-scooter and was able to transfer in and out of the car with my sister’s help to minimize a chance of falling. He spent over an hour and a half with them and through additional Q&A, they also purchased some aids for the bathroom.

What the sales consultant did was build trust. Now, due to the relationship he has built with Dad, they are now considering a lift chair. Dad saw some floor models at the dealership and was educated about them by the sales consultant. Dad’s doctor, in a follow up visit, says he is a candidate for a power chair for getting throughout the house and while out and about. That, of course, leads to a potential vehicle lift — now we are really close to home. This dealer has the right variety of products on display, both new and used. This dealer now has a potentially loyal customer who is willing to consider a broader range of products.

Back to Basics

So, we put away our fancy marketing tools, marketing practices on how to enchant the customer, and the old trusted brochures, and we get back to basics. How did this dealer win the business and create a significant future revenue stream?

  • Endorsement from a trusted friend, based on a positive previous experience.
  • Having a focused expertise as evidenced by associations with trusted vendor partners.
  • Providing the right customized solution; they didn’t over-prescribe or overwhelm the client.

The power of endorsements. The quality of service you provide makes a lasting impression. More valuable than any postcard campaign or billboard. Positive word-of-mouth is the ultimate state of good marketing to which any business should aspire. So how can you capitalize on this? Implement a “tell a friend program” for your current customers. Reward them for sharing their experiences. Stay in touch.

Carry a strategic variety of products and have samples on hand. The company who gets in the home first will likely win future business. They are the incumbent. Oftentimes, it starts with a mobility device and products for the bathroom and extends to house entry, living room, stairs and vehicle. Demo products and/or a showroom are critical components for many customers. Customers (like my Dad) may do some internet research, but ultimately want to touch and feel a product before they buy it. The trusted HME/DME dealer builds the relationship with each product. How to capitalize on that? Create a frequent buyer program or volume rewards type incentive.

Prescribe the “just right” solution. Asking your clients about their needs before “selling” a product is critical in gaining their trust. No matter what product or service they are there to buy – ask about their needs in the home. And not just their needs, but others living with them too. In this case, rental was a great call. Rental isb a cash business for you and helps people stretch their limited funds. It gives them the comfort that they can change their mind if the product does not meet their needs. It is very hard to know exactly what product they need when they have to make instant decisions and aren’t sure what level of insurance or funding will provide. They are dipping into their own pocket. In my Dad’s case, this $45 rental will likely lead up to $5,000 in additional business within a month and potentially double that later. And, Dad will go back to the dealer that took care of him.

So, what does it take to add big ticket, cash sales home access equipment to your portfolio? Stairlifts, dumbwaiters, vertical platform lifts, ramps and personnel lifts? The most important aspect of this is people. Your people. Having an installer, whether on the payroll or contracted is key. The manufacturers will provide training on the technical aspects of the product. Your company already knows the “bedside manner” aspect of the job. As an HME/DME business, your built-in advantage of getting the customers along with having personnel for prescribing the right in-home solutions and completing installations and training in a way that builds trust with clients, caregivers and family is a strong recipe for success.

Hats off to Randy and the team at Ray Fisher Pharmacy for taking care of Dad. It makes a son happy to know that he found a trustworthy provider.

Next up: Dad’s journey with in-home care. Agencies and caretakers have the potential to be a trusted influence for home access purchases. Is this the next untapped industry synergy opportunity? To be continued.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Baxter is vice president of marketing at Harmar Mobility. Leading the company's new product development, channel strategies and communications, David's marketing experience stems from more than 17 years in the construction equipment business with mechanical lifting products such as aerial work platforms and telescopic material handlers. In his tenure at Harmar, he has focused on priorities such as customer consolidation, multichannel dynamics, and dealer-centric marketing strategies.

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