July 2015

Managing to Succeed: Where Do You Really Stand? — Market Assessment Sharpens Business Planning in Competitive Times
By Bruce Elder
Radiology Today
Vol. 16 No. 7 P. 8

As hospitals, physician practices, and imaging centers face greater price competition and shrinking reimbursement for imaging, performing an in-depth assessment of your market and your sales and marketing activities offers a cost-effective opportunity to achieve a more profitable and better-positioned imaging operation. A periodic analysis of your market environment can dovetail with a data-driven assessment of sales and marketing functions to identify gaps and opportunities. It also often serves to reinvigorate your organization's outreach efforts.

Market Assessment
Gathering market data is integral to developing and executing effective sales and marketing strategies. A market assessment identifies opportunities and challenges that are unique to your marketplace. Identifying geographic and demographic demand for imaging services not only reveals current strengths and weaknesses within the marketplace but can also indicate the potential viability of new locations and/or acquisition opportunities.

An effective market assessment includes an in-depth examination of the competitive environment. In addition to assessing competitors on a range of key criteria, this may include meeting with a broad group of referring physicians to determine what influences referral patterns, receptivity to your organization's offerings, perceptions about your customer service, and how your competitors' facilities are viewed.
Assessments also offer an opportune time to examine pricing structures and identify demand for potential new clinical applications that could increase revenue. Combining information on health care consumer trends and new clinical opportunities with already-identified market gaps can result in new approaches that spur growth and profitability.

Referral Trends
A detailed review of physician referral patterns and scan volume potential is another essential component of an effective assessment. It's important to update and review the total potential physician referral base by determining the total number of referring physicians, which referrers are most active, and how scan counts compare to planning forecasts. This process also identifies which referrers are ordering fewer exams, allowing your staff to resolve issues that may help reestablish a positive relationship.

Using this market intelligence, it's possible to create a results-oriented sales and marketing plan that identifies and targets areas of potential volume growth, establishes core messages based on provider needs, and sets expectations based on measurable goals.

The extensive amount of information gathered during an assessment presents an ideal time to institute a customer relationship management (CRM) system if your practice doesn't already have one in place. Not only can the system be used to track and measure sales and marketing against goals, it can also help in determining return on investment (ROI) from activities. This CRM system should integrate with other IT systems and offer capabilities like dynamic call routing and real-time goal tracking and measurement.

Data-Driven Sales and Marketing
Applying results metrics to sales and marketing activities transforms what is often viewed as "soft" information into a measurable contribution to the bottom line. Data driven sales and marketing assessments are not only more effective but also yield valuable insight into trends and forecasts while identifying areas of weakness in your sales and marketing programs.

Assessing marketing and sales this way requires that measurable metrics be both identified and instituted. Gathering information on current activities and results allows a benchmarking process to be put into place and supports the development of ongoing team and individual goals. As an adjunct to this process, it's also critical to have key performance metrics, such as scan volume by modality and cancellation rate, in place.

One of the most helpful components of a sales and marketing assessment is performing comparisons of your organization against industry standards. Using national standards, you can compare referral volumes, examine modality utilization, and project individual physician potential for revenue. This allows development of a measurement system that establishes accountability and provides forecasting based on real-time referral trend data by modality and provider. While comparison to national norms is helpful, tracking your practice performance against itself can be more important. National norms may or may not apply to your situation, but you can always track your practice's ongoing performance against itself.

While an assessment is not intended to be punitive, it can quickly reveal problems, ranging from a lack of tools for accurate forecasting and measurement to the need for resource improvement. Difficulty with marshaling resources to conduct the assessment may be the initial signal that there are problems within the organization.

Employee Review and Training
In order for imaging operations to benefit from a focused sales and marketing initiative, it's important to have the right people with the appropriate training using the best tools. The assessment process offers an opportunity to evaluate staffing levels and refine the focus of the sales team.

A typical busy hospital physician "liaison" covering multiple services lines will only be able to devote a small portion of his or her time to building relationships for imaging services with referring physicians. The addition of a full-time, imaging-only sales and marketing specialist should dramatically increase business volumes and top-line revenues. Instituting a system with measurable activities and results enhances the effectiveness of sales and marketing personnel and allows the organization to determine the ROI in personnel marketing and sales initiatives.

The ultimate goal is to identify market opportunities and threats and clarify what is needed to improve imaging sales and marketing (as well as confirm what is working). While the process of conducting an assessment is labor-intensive, the information that is gathered, the insights revealed, and the ability to identify and expand revenue sources make the effort worth the investment.

— Bruce Elder is the Chief Development and Strategy Officer of MedQuest Radiology Management Associates, www.mqradiology.com