The Fabulous Funnel

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

Good referral development starts with a conversation and the building of a relationship and trust.  Relationships can have the right elements and exist forever, but never move into new referral business.  For example, although a family medicine physician is employed by your organization, more than a third of his cardiology referrals could end up receiving care by the private practice group across the street rather than your employed group. Your relationship is solid: When you visit, he’s very nice, asks you about the family, talks about his role on the practice management board and lets you know how the process is going in imaging.  As good as it is, the relationship is not advancing toward a referral.  The sacred ground is not brought up. Actually, it is not discussed. Likely there are other examples of good relationships not moving forward. Sometimes, the rep feels comfortable with the doctor, physicians are happy to get involved in a project if the rep needs them, they trust each other with information at some level and yet it is not a referral development relationship.  Relationships that grow business have a clear expectation, and while many of these elements are in place, the difference is in the progression.

Relationships with intent require a different set of skills, and preparation is one key.  This is about advancing the relationship.  You are equipped to progress to the next step in your sales funnel that demonstrates progress.  Reps and their leaders can measure their ability to advance through the funnel.

[quote style=”boxed”]“Almost 75% of sellers believe that their sales approach differentiates them from their competitors. Yet only 3% of their customers say they do this extremely effectively.” CSO Insights, USA[/quote]

The progression starts with planning the visits and defining the tools you have available to advance the relationship toward a referral.  Each step in this sales funnel is designed to further advance the relationship.  Set the minimum goal for the visit, and then detail the 2nd and 3rd steps.  Each step ensures the prospective physician gets more invested in the process, as well as minimizes their risk.

For example, the sales funnel for that employed primary care doctor might include a rep visit, a meeting with one of our employed cardiologists, shared data on our door to balloon times and cath lab outcomes data. I might have a CME invitation to a session done by our interventional cardiologist that I could offer to the primary care physician.

Each visit has a plan for a next logical staff that advances my intention of getting the doctor to refer and getting him/her more and more aligned with our process, approach, outcomes and people. It goes without saying: If the family doctor is ready to refer after two visits, then the rep will look for the sign and close to the final stage in the funnel.  That is always the ultimate next step in the plan.

Advanced sales teams work with their Service Line leaders to craft the funnel. They consider what is in place, including those tangible tools that can help tell the story of why refer to our specialists and program. They work to make it feel logical (and not risky) to change referral patterns, and they offer techniques that can transfer into talking points for the prospective physician in the event they need to convince a patient.

Warning: Don’t think that the funnel is filled with brochures. These steps require more than leave-behinds and general marketing materials. The steps in the funnel are customized by the specific area and service we wish to grow. They are surfaced through dialogue.  They offer specific detail with the expectation of an immediate physician action that meets the doctor’s interest.

This funnel is a simple visual symbol of relationship progression.  Pick a growth area and start fitting in your steps today.