Physician Relations: When... and When NOT to Blitz
By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA
Time and again, physician relations representatives are told to “go market a product or service.” Generally the request is sent because patient volumes have declined. (Yes, I know the move is to value, but volume is still the real cry). Internally a blanket message to the marketplace is the top-of-mind solution.
There are times when a blitz strategy-in which a message is spread to the masses-is a great approach, but it needs to be used gingerly. And the results are not guaranteed. Liaisons everywhere know this… selling doesn’t ensure instant referrals.
I’d like to share my perspectives on this strategy. When is it the best solution? How is it performed? And finally, when is it not the optimal sales approach?
A blitz strategy works well to announce the following:
- A new service or technology. The message should position you as first on the block with something new, different, or innovative-for example, a new MRI in your ambulatory center or an endovascular lab.
- A significant change to a service or technology. If specialists and primary care physicians have been talking about the need for a bigger cath lab or evening appointments at your mammography center, a blitz will bring relevant news to those who could refer patients to your facility.
- A change that will affect physicians’ ability to refer patients to you. A blitz can be particularly effective in addition to other correspondence, when communicating a change of phone number or a scheduling process. It can ensure that physicians and practice staffs are aware of and comfortable with the change.
By their nature, blitz messages tell physicians and their staffs something concrete. They contain factual detail and are best suited to those who are familiar with the organization or service and will notice a change. It is helpful, although not mandatory, to provide a one-page fact sheet that can summarize the access and criteria for the new service or system. This leave-behind is often part of the discussion with office staff members after the representative has informed the physician of changes.
A blitz is most effective when it is the exception rather than the routine for the representative. Consider using this visit method no more than two or three times per year. Think of this approach as blanketing the market with time-sensitive, easy-to-implement messages of interest. The meeting and content are informational and important. The information is telling, but won’t really create a relationship.
The rep and the leadership will need to assist the internal stakeholders in understanding when this approach works and when it does not. The relationship sales process is not well understood and some leaders will want to blitz every message. For example, if a blitz works for a new radiology service, it should also work for the facility’s oncology services. But, beware of turning your representatives into human billboards. Don’t assume that representatives should be telling physicians everything about your organization in hopes that it is something physicians need and care about at that given moment. Most acute care service relationship sales are much more complex. Why? That business is already going elsewhere. Simply telling physicians you have it will rarely induce them to change their existing process.
So how can you move the bar? First and foremost, relationship sales start with learning about physicians’ needs. The approach and message should not be “we have” but, rather, “you need.” Although a physician will occasionally come right out and say what he or she needs, more often than not, the trained representative must create a solid dialogue, asking good questions and exploring the physician’s preferences to hear a clearly identified need. This is the approach that will garner long-term relationships.
The complex world of earning credibility for physician relations representatives means that the relationship side is front and center and it is augmented with the blitz, not the other way around.