You need periodic care and cleaning of your new patient processes to optimize your patient funnel
A patient funnel is a term that describes the journey your patients take from first learning about you and your services/products to actually making a purchase. A sales “funnel” is universal in that it can be applied to any business in any industry and dates to 1898, when E. St. Elmo Lewis first described the stages of a customer purchase in such a way.1
Your marketing and sales funnels for attracting new patients and converting them to paying patients may be highly effective — or a source of great frustration for you — depending upon the time and resources you are investing and the results you are experiencing. Coincidentally, a highly effective patient funnel doesn’t have to be costly.
Starting at the top
At the very top and widest portion of your patient funnel are potential patients who may or may not even know they could benefit from what you have to offer. In the middle of your patient funnel are potential patients who are curious about what you have to offer but are early in their exploration or may have inquired in the past but became silent for one reason or another. Finally, the bottom of your funnel has patients who are intentionally seeking what you have to offer and are ready to make a purchasing decision.
This is important to understand because your strategic actions for optimizing results at each level are different. Yet, actions for each level should synergistically work together to create an excellent customer experience.
Internal and external patient funnel
While sometimes overlooked, there are actually two primary kinds of funnels at play for any robust practice. These two kinds are external and internal.
Your external funnels are for new patients and your internal funnels are for those who are established patients. As opposed to external funnels that add to your patient base, internal funnels help you build patient loyalty and maximize the customer lifetime value of each patient (value of current and future purchases of your services/products).
When it comes to optimizing your external patient funnels, let’s look at what the most common problems are with each segment and identify effective optimizing actions to improve your results and ROI.
Top of funnel (you want more patients)
If you are having issues with the top of your funnel, you may be the best-kept secret in town. You are open and ready for new patients and perhaps advertising like crazy, but you aren’t seeing results.
- Spending too much time and money on advertising without having the infrastructure to nurture interested leads and move them through your funnel to a sale.
- Your message isn’t resonating with the ideal patients you want to work with (or worse, attracting the wrong type of patient). Typically, this involves messaging about how wonderful you are instead of focusing on the patient, what their primary pain points are and how you are uniquely equipped to solve their problem.
- You are marketing on a platform that isn’t where your ideal patients are hanging out.
- You are relying too much on direct marketing creating a lot of leads, but they are not the ideal leads searching for what you have to offer.
- You are using paid or organic marketing methods but have no way to capture potential patient contact information so you can more directly communicate with them, provide value to them and track their progress through your patient funnel.
- Clearly identify your ideal patient and research what their primary pain points are, where they hang out and what services/products they are seeking.
- Create your messaging, ads and content marketing around their primary concerns. Provide value and answer their most common questions. Share your expertise through various methods such as blogs, videos, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, local events and the media. Be sure you are consistently present on the social media platform on which they hang out most often.
- Always have a call-to-action (CTA). Too often people are interested but aren’t clear about the next step to move forward working with you. Be sure your CTA provides you with a way to capture their contact information (name, phone, email) so you can continue the conversation and support and track them as they continue to move through your patient funnel.
- Have a system for attracting potential ideal patients, nurturing them and converting them to paying patients. It takes all three areas to have a highly functioning patient funnel. Once this is done, it is important to have a system in place for your internal funnels for your current and past established patients.
Middle of funnel (you have leads but not enough engagement)
Issues at the mid-level of your funnels are particularly frustrating because you have leads and yet, when you communicate with them, all you hear is crickets or experience a lack of follow-through, such as a no-show for consults or opt-out from your emails and other communication methods.
- You have what they are interested in, but your messaging didn’t resonate with them or you came on too strong or sales-y.
- You have poor or non-existent online patient reviews or testimonials.
- You don’t actually follow up with potential patients; or you communicate with them in an inconsistent manner. You lack a system to effectively communicate with them consistently.
- Your potential patients aren’t crystal clear about how you can help them solve their primary pain or are overwhelmed because your messaging is either too generic or overly clinical/complex.
- You don’t know what strategies are resonating with your prospective ideal patients.
- When creating your content, ads and any communication, focus on your ideal patient and how you can best serve them. Get into their heads (so to speak) and ask yourself, “What is their primary problem and how can my team and I help?” When you come from this place, you can be direct, impactful, engaging and create the desire for them to choose you over anyone else without feeling “sold” to. Best yet, it feels great to sell without being sales-y and know you are doing good.
- Ask for patient reviews and testimonials when your patients are happiest. Provide a simple system to capture them on the spot. For testimonials, be sure to obtain their permission.
- Create a database of interested patients and segregate them with various “tags” if possible depending upon the various services you provide and patient preferences. This allows you to be more intentional and relevant with your communication. This can easily be done with various CRM systems.
- Assign responsibility for your social media posts, content marketing efforts and email communication to a creative and reliable team member. Use interesting subject lines and titles that will connect with your ideal prospective patients and entice them to always want to hear your message and learn more about what you have to offer. You stay top-of-mind and they can easily convert to a paying patient as soon as the time is right. Be consistent with whatever content marketing method(s) you choose. Leverage your content as much as possible with links to your videos, blogs and anything else you create from your social media platforms as well as emails/e-newsletters.
- Keep it simple, concise, fun and engaging. The shorter your videos and emails, the more likely they will be viewed/read. Speak their language and discuss the benefits of what you offer instead of the technical jargon about the specific treatment.
- Track your results. What resonated most? What fell flat? You can do this by tracking key performance indicators such as open rates, comments on posts, shares, cost per lead, click-through rates, ROI and other important metrics.
Bottom of funnel (you have leads but struggle with conversion)
Difficulty at the bottom of the funnel is the discouraging feeling when you have hot prospects who need what you have to offer and yet, for some reason, they don’t move forward or go elsewhere for the solution to their problem.
- You don’t ask for the sale; or you make it too complicated.
- Your pricing is perceived as too high or too low.
- You weren’t top-of-mind or there was a lack of adequate trust when the purchasing decision was made.
- Your patients perceive poor customer service.
- Simplify your sales process by making it easy for patients to schedule their appointments as well as have their questions answered (online, email, on the phone or via video chat or text messaging) in a friendly and convenient manner. Balancing high-touch with high-tech is imperative.
- Have a new team member or someone you know go through your process from initial contact through onboarding as a new patient. Sometimes you are just too close to the process to see the obvious. Fresh perspectives are extremely helpful and keep you focused on continual improvement for your practice, your team and most important, your patients.
- Do a comparison price with your primary competitors but don’t try to duplicate what they are doing. If your price is higher, then focus on the added value that makes you and your products/services stand out as a “no-brainer.” In addition, don’t try to be the cheapest game in town. This can backfire into lack of respect or value for you and what you have to offer. Don’t be afraid to stand out and be different. Offer what your patients need that others may not include.
- Create easy-to-understand sales sheets for cash pay services/products.
- Communicate regularly so you are top-of-mind and include your clear call-to-action.
I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly address internal patient funnels. These provide you with a way to further improve patient outcomes and enhance your relationships. Such internal funnels include nurturing emails that also highlight new products or services; promotion of an effective referral program; and potentially a rewards program to thank patients for their loyalty.
Bottom line: Effective patient funnels can actually save you time as well as increase your patient base and overall revenue/profit. This occurs with optimized patient funnels that are evaluated for effectiveness on a regular basis and tweaked along the way.
KAROL CLARK, MSN, RN is the best-selling author of “How to Add Medical Weight Loss to Your Practice: 7 Steps to an Enjoyable Business, Healthier Patients and Increased Profitability,” and owner of Weight Loss Practice Builder and the exclusive membership program for weight-loss practitioners at BariatricBusinessBoss.com. She has more than 20 years of experience working with surgical and nonsurgical weight-loss patients and assisting physicians to build an enjoyable weight-loss practice. She partners with Nutritional Resources (d/b/a HealthWise — healthwisenri.com) for creation of educational programs/articles for weight-loss practitioners.