Building HME Referral Networks

Straight talk on effective approaches to increasing revenue

You want more referrals? Of course you do! Every owner and sales manager is thinking the same thing: “How do I drive more revenue? How do I generate more referrals? How are we going to survive on lower margins? Even if we win competitive bidding, how do we sell enough to make it worthwhile?”

One thing that we learned from Round 1 of competitive bidding is that small companies that won the bid with little or no market share in an MSA got absolutely no increase in referrals or revenue because they didn’t market. They didn’t have a sales strategy. The midsize to larger companies that won the bid kept their market share but didn’t grow, and actually saw margin erosion on their existing business. So they’re making less on the same patients that they’re serving. Again, they won the bid, but they lost money. This mentality of “if you win a contract, the patients will come” is just plain dumb.

Today you must make sales your number-one priority and your sales team’s skills your primary focus. Industry experts predict that 40 percent of you reading this article will not be around in two to three years. For you to make it, you need to be a lot more aggressive. You need to take market share away from your competition, and it all starts with this simple formula: more appointments equals more referrals equals more revenue.

The Future is Calling

“The future is calling” was actually the name of a program I launched years ago at Triad Medical, where I implemented a telephone prospecting program against the wishes of a kicking-and-screaming management team. Triad was pulling in about $5 million a year at that time. Within six years of this new program revenues skyrocketed to about $65 million, and we’d cut sales and marketing overhead by about 11 percent. What advertising alchemy or marketing magic accomplished this magnificent feat? There were no tricks, dear reader. We just took a journey along the original information superhighway.

Behold the Telephone

Many things have changed in the world, particularly in communications and business. However, the fact remains that in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the most influential and powerful sales tool the world has ever known. Yes, computer technology is wonderful, and all the sleek advances make it easier than ever to share ideas, crunch numbers and swap crucial data, but without the telephone your bells and whistles fall silent.

I’m amazed at how smart HME folks don’t understand this. To me it’s like they’re from another planet. Cold calling is the end-all, be-all of successful sales. Always has been and always will be. Your computer can leap onto a conference table, juggle eggs and belt out a spot-on Steven Tyler impression, but if you can’t identify a potential customer, get on the horn and get an appointment, nobody will ever know it. They’ll never know about you and how you can help their patients.

It’s 2013, and the HME industry still has sales representatives driving around unannounced, running up gas bills, paying parking fees, dropping off literature and calling it a sales call. Salespeople, I find this disgraceful! Look at 90 percent of HME salespeople today and you’ll find that they’ve never been trained on cold calling, they don’t like it and they simply don’t do it, just like when I first arrived at Triad. You do no cold calling… zilch!

Oh, I can hear the naysayers now—“Cold-calling doesn’t work!” And they’re absolutely right. Cold calling doesn’t work unless your sales force is trained to make it work. Cold calling is hard, it’s a skill. The reason it’s ineffective is either because the people doing it are ineffective, or they aren’t doing it at all. The simple fact is that if your sales people don’t like cold calling or are not good at it, you’re wasting your money. These people are not salespeople, they are overpaid customer service representatives.

Cold calling is still king. The successful business is going to train its sales staff to rock this critical task, or it’s going to outsource the duty to trained professionals. You are either cold calling and growing, or you’re dying.

Put this in your online registration and smoke it: If you can’t get on the phone, deliver the critical information that positions your company for a referral and get into a room with someone who makes the decisions, you’re not selling anything.

The one-on-one marketing relationship, that’s the promise and the beauty of the telephone. Proactively cold calling and engaging someone in a dialogue, that’s how you survive an economy like this where profit margins are declining and companies are folding left and right, especially small ones. Going out and finding business, that’s the ballgame. That’s how you win.

The Secret to Appointment Setting

Now, for those of you who want to start being real salespeople, here is a proven system that will help get you the appointments that you’re looking for. This system will get you the appointments with referral sources who set aside time to meet you, actually have an interest in seeing you and have a need you can fill.

You start by thinking from the end. What are you trying to do? You want them to refer patients to you, right? So think about this: How do you generate a patient referral?

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