With cash sales becoming essential to the success of
HME businesses, providers need to understanding that
marketing is the secret, “miracle growth” ingredient for
driving customers into your store.
But in an industry founded on funded transactions and referrals, many
providers feel lost when it comes to branding and formulating marketing
strategy, including how to mix traditional and on-line advertising.
“As an industry, HME providers are traditionally documentation and
equipment usage experts, not marketing mavens,” says Lisa Wells, vice
president of marketing for incontinence product makter Cure Medical.
“Many of our strongest providers have a clinical background, which makes
them well suited for working with patients but not so strong in the fine art
of communication and promotion.”
Wells says that regardless of how you are selling, people need to find you
at the point where they are searching, and for most that means venturing
online, including via a mobile device. So without a mobile friendly website
and the use of Adwords or Google Map locations, your customers will find
your competitors instead.
Although many experts feel that a mix of both traditional and online
marketing is integral to success, Kamal Haddad, founder and CEO of HME
e-commerce company Health Mobius LLC, says most HME providers should
stick mainly with traditional marketing methods.
“There are many folks that have tried focusing their marketing efforts to
a larger degree on the online marketplace without understanding why,”
Haddard says. “That can lead to unrealistic expectations and undesired results. In my opinion those people have been misguided into thinking
that a magic bullet exists online when, in fact, it does not. To be successful
there should be a larger emphasis on traditional forms of marketing,
with about 25 percent that use online marketing to support traditional
Haddard’s concern with placing too much emphasis away from the
marketplace has to do with not defining the brand and forgetting
that HME providers are in a high-touch, high customer service business.
“Most providers cannot answer these basic questions: How would you
describe your brand? How would your customers describe your brand?
Are you excited about your brand?” Haddard explains. “Bottom line, if
your customers are not excited about how you present your products
and services, i.e. your brand, then you leave an open door for them to
go elsewhere – and yes that includes shopping online elsewhere instead
of from you. Your brand must be clearly defined and it must include
marketing your retail cash sales strategy as an integral part of your plan
Maria Markusen, director of development for VGM Retail, says that her
organization recommends that providers that are opening a new store use
a 50-50 mix of traditional and retail.
“You need a traditional method to get people in the door and that
traditional method includes things like big signs and grand opening events
where you invite referral sources,” she says.
She also says that your customer base will help dictate advertising ratios.
For example, if your product mix includes organic pain relief and is focused on a younger customer who uses sports-related products, you’re probably
more 70 percent to 30 percent in regard to online vs. traditional.
Traditional Marketing Tips
Micah Swick, director of sales for Pride Mobility
Products, which makes a number of retail items for
HME providers, says that retail HME consumers are
exactly that – retail consumers – and we all need to
see them that way.
“It’s still somewhat common to think the person
walking in the door will have a prescription for a
particular product,” he says “Retail providers need
to look at every person as a retail sales opportunity.
This means using mainstream techniques, from point-of-purchase
displays to interpersonal sales skill. Display products and create real
discussions around how they can immediately benefit the consumer.”
Swick suggested that providers:
- Providers need on-hand, ready-to-buy inventory
that invite customers to try the products.
- Present the product to customers with a sales approach that doesn’t
rely solely on medical need but on quality-of-life benefits.
- Display products at targeted community events where demographic
foot traffic draws product interest.
- Understand that the competitive landscape is changing. Long established
retail companies are now recognizing the HME space as profit center.
Haddard says to be successful at traditional marketing, you need dedicated
retail employees. Typical insurance intake employees do not always
make great sales people. So Haddard recommended
that if you are committing to retail, hire a great sales
person and offer incentives like commissions. Let
them be the go-to member of the team who will work
with customers and educate them on accessories and
products that will improve the lives of the caregiver
as well as the patient. Haddard also suggested:
Proper signage and street exposure if you are
in a retail location, as well as well-lit and properly
grouped products by category in store. When laying out the planogram,
you should properly display accessories as if in use. Wheelchairs should be
presented with items like cushions, cup holders or pouches, for example.
Referral sources who work with you on a regular basis can be one of your
biggest assets when increasing your retail/cash sales business. Reach out to
pharmacy chains, home health care, physician offices, assisted living facilities,
and hospices in your service area.
Markusen says to create a loyalty programs, as the baby boomer and
millennial populations are very loyal to brands. One way, she says, to drive
customers to your programs is via direct mail.
Online Marketing Tips
Markusen says that many of the clients she works with
need updated websites.
“We find providers that don’t have websites or
have mistakes in them, or they are unprofessional
and missing important items,” she says. “You need a
place where people can find you when they begin to
search for you.”
With that says, search engine optimization management
is key to getting online customers to find you.
“We conduct business assessments in markets all over the country with
the purpose of helping our members identify if a cash business or an expansion
of retail makes sense, and, if so, should they stay where they are physically
or should we find them a new location,” she says. “One of the ways that
we determine what the consumer knows about the market is a competitive
online search analysis. We often find that people aren’t even in the top five
when we search for lift chairs or research their name or whatever the case
may be. If I’m a consumer and I look up lift chairs, I’m not going to know that
you exist. I’m going to go by what is on Google.”
According to Wells, Integrated marketing is the
major sticking point that she sees most providers are
missing out on when they launch digital efforts in
correlation with their traditional marketing programs.
Often, she says, this is because the provider opts to
have a college student or an employee’s child running
their social media.
“If your social media is offering up all kinds of
wheelchair information instead of targeted content to
your core audience, you are diluting your efforts online and reducing your
return on investment in terms of audience value for your business,” she says.
Wells adds that for brick and mortar stores, it’s nearly mandatory to be
focusing on local search results with your Google Adwords campaigns.
Google and other search engines are refining search results to offer
up destinations based on the person’s location. Target your local
search ads to appear on Google Maps. Google Maps ads help businesses
be more visible when consumers are searching online for somewhere