Using strategic marketing approaches in lab outreach

March 21, 2017

According to more than one survey, hospital labs have dedicated more resources to outreach in recent years than they did in the past. The same surveys, however, indicate that many labs do not have sales representation.

There may be valid reasons why a hospital claiming to have a lab outreach program prefers not to employ staff to compete for additional business. However, it stands to reason that if a business enterprise wants to grow, it must have a well-qualified field person. The situation compounds itself because commercial laboratories (and, perhaps, competing hospital outreach programs) employ field personnel to “bang on doors” in an attempt to steal lab work from anyone in this preordained zero-sum game.

Defining lab outreach

In taking a step back, hospitals may define “lab outreach” as receiving lab specimens from sources other than in-patients. There exist a number of factors triggering healthcare providers, skilled nursing facilities, industry and patients to use the services of a hospital lab (excluding direct sales tactics). Some of them relate to:

  • Hospital-owned (i.e., support your employer expectation)
  • Hospital requisition form integrated into the electronic medical records (EMRs) (i.e., convenience factor)
  • Loyalty/philosophy
  • Convenient patient service center (PSC) location
  • Phlebotomist available in high-volume doctor offices/clinics
  • Mobile phlebotomy.

These types of elements provide a “slam-dunk” to earn lab business. A hospital provider-relations rep (or even a marketing flyer) can briefly explain to potential clients the available options. Without a lab-trained field rep, however, there is no competitive selling or value description of what a hospital lab offers. Laboratory testing remains a complex business, and explaining it requires a person who has been specifically trained to understand its minutia (billing, transport requirements and supplies, test names, methodologies, logistics, connectivity, etc.). In turn, this knowledge establishes credibility and trust with the
customer—the foundation of sales and service.

Marketing motives

Consider how much a lab outreach program can evolve beyond the bullet-points mentioned above. A portion of this transformation requires someone with proficient marketing skills to visit prospects, build rapport, ask focused questions, discuss positive attributes, overcome objections, and eventually show them why it is in their interest to support the organization he or she represents. The potential client may be inclined to use the lab in a limited fashion (e.g., referring only STAT testing). Given some service equivalence, however, it’s possible for an effective field rep to transform the hospital lab into the primary reference source.

Commercial competitors work diligently to pinch routine lab work that could just as easily go to a local hospital. Using the hospital’s services helps to support its well-being, help the local economy, and contribute toward the employment base. Yes, there are some financial investments that must be made in order to compete; however, the return on investment can be worth the expense as long as there is focused management oversight, someone to make sales and service calls, and C-suite advocacy.

Outreach strategies

Medical centers should investigate the following approaches. Some of them may seem obvious, but there are hospital labs across the U.S. that have not implemented even some of the most conventional ideas:

  • Provide in-office phlebotomy services in high-volume offices/clinics (state law dependent).
  • Create a professional-looking four-color capabilities brochure with the help of your internal Marketing Department—or seek outside consultative help.
  • Ensure the hospital’s website has easy-to-find, dedicated lab links (e.g., patient draw center locations, phone numbers for client services and billing, test menu, specimen requirements, and professional staff listing/contact information).
  • If the hospital owns a medical building and a competitor rents space for a draw center, either cancel the lease or do not renew it. Install a hospital phlebotomy center in its place.
    Hire a dedicated representative to service existing accounts and market potential accounts. Pay him/her a competitive salary, with incentives for maintaining and adding new business.
  • Properly train the field rep with regard to:
    • In-house test menu
    • IT connectivity (EMR, lab portal, fax)
    • Your lab’s reference lab and high volume send-outs
    • Upselling strategies
    • Billing intricacies
    • Sales compliance
    • Unique competitive differences
    • Sales strategies
    • Tactical sales methodologies
    • Required weekly/monthly sales reports
    • Clinical decision support tools to aid physicians.
  • Implement a client relationship management (CRM) computer tool for management’s and field rep’s use.
  • Create a net revenue outreach profitability report.
  • Create a monthly net dollar amount for new sales expectation.
  • Have a dedicated lab IT team to create internal/external reports and provide LIS-to-EMR connectivity support.
  • Provide coaching for the field representative (in-house or an outside consultant).

Customer service is marketing

A wise person once said, “If you’re not serving the client, you’d better be serving someone who is.” For labs that want to build test volume, this motto should become their mantra. Customer service can be the difference between gaining and losing business. Obviously, front-line employees such as couriers, phlebotomists, and those receiving incoming calls (including billing) become critical to imparting a high degree of customer service. These staff members are the points of contact for “moments of truth” that occur any time the client/patient comes in contact with the lab. In turn, the client or the patient uses that opportunity to judge service quality.

Unless the culture of the hospital lab supports—and rewards—attention to patient and client needs, service will get no more than lip service over the long run. Every lab employee must understand that his or her job exists because of and for the patient and the customer. If the lab’s culture does not demonstrate that service and quality are the most important things the lab offers, then they aren’t.

Hospital lab outreach can provide welcome profits to the bottom line that not only support the lab with state-of-the-art instrumentation and additional employees, but also help other areas of the hospital. Providing basic services such as phlebotomy for outpatients translates to what one might consider a “first tier” approach. Employing and properly training field reps stands as a fundamental component of successful lab outreach. Having lab-dedicated information technology specialists becomes equally important. Easy access to the professional staff (including their visits to clients) will support a “we’re here for you, support your local hospital, we’re-all-in-this-together” philosophy. Most people
welcome this kind of appeal to community solidarity.

Commercial laboratories have always been fearful of the potency and control of local hospitals. Why should commercial enterprises embezzle routine lab business away from hospitals? Part of the reason lies in the fact they are assertive and strategic. But there currently exist a number of successful hospital lab outreach programs that compete very well with—and win the perception battle against—national and local commercial labs. Their culture aligns itself with high quality testing and attention to service details. Can you count your hospital lab as one of them? If not, would you like to?

Peter Francis is president of Clinical Laboratory Sales Training, LLC, a training and development company dedicated to helping laboratories increase their revenues and reputation through prepared, professional, and productive representatives. He has published more than 45 articles and regularly speaks at national industry conferences.

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