While creating Smartcare, we have worked with a handful of practitioners and hearing center owners from across the country. This core group has helped guide us in many aspects of creating our process.
Jared Brader, a practice owner and industry consultant, is one of those mentors. Jared entered the hearing industry four years ago, not with a background in audiology, but with a background in marketing and finance.
He currently works as an industry consultant, coaching hearing centers on implementation of best practices and marketing system creation.
What impressed us most about Jared is that there are virtually no patients slipping through the cracks of his centers. As you’ll see throughout the interview, the type of system he’s implemented along with his attention to detail is a huge win, not only for the patient, but also for the centers he’s consulted.
Without further adieu, here’s our interview with Jared.
Your background is in marketing and finance, how is it you ended up working for a hearing center?
I was first introduced to the hearing industry when I took my Grandma in to see a local hearing healthcare provider. While the clinic was very friendly, and we ultimately purchased devices, I was surprised by the lack of education and follow-up care that I thought an 82-year-old woman would need. Before leaving I asked the clinic owner to contact me if he ever needed someone with a background in marketing and finance. It was July 2010 when he first reached out to me for help.
I’m curious to know what it was they thought you could provide?
Initially they thought their problem was with their finances, so I actually started with part-time bookkeeping. Eventually, I moved into an Office Manager position and ultimately became their Operations Director.
As I delved deeper and deeper into their financial situation I realized that the finances were only a symptom of the underlying problem; and the underlying problem was all at a marketing level. It was after I transferred into that marketing role that we really started to see the fundamental changes within the practice.
What is it that made you successful in your marketing role?
Well, I’m not a provider and therefore my time isn’t taken up seeing patients and worrying about patient care. My time can be focused directly on the customer experience and follow-up. Marketing isn’t an extra thing I have to do at the end of the day like my most owner-operators, it’s a full-time position for me.
How does an owner know how much to spend on marketing?
It really depends on how old your practice is and what position you’re in. If you’re a new practice looking to grow, your budget is going to need to be higher. I’d push 15–25%, especially in this industry where you have the margins to pull it off. If your practice has been in business for 15–20 years, and you’re doing the right things internally, you could have a budget as low as 3–5% and be extremely successful and profitable.
What’s the biggest mistake you see centers making in their marketing efforts?
Everybody wants to default to that “new patient.” They just want another new face walking in their door, even if they’ve been around for 30 years. In any industry, getting that patient or customer for the first time is the most expensive sales opportunity. The hearing industry needs to change their marketing approach and focus on getting customers to do three things.
- Buy more often.
- Buy better technology.
- Refer people internally.
If you can do this, you can spend very little and be extremely successful.
“Everybody wants to default to that “new patient.” They just want another new face walking in their door.”
After four years with Nilsson Hearing Clinics, we’re finally starting to see that return of customers. Those first-time patients from four years ago are already buying their second set of devices and are referring their spouses and friends.
Why do people get so obsessed with attracting new patients?
In our day and age, even across industries, everything’s disposable. People think it’s easier to get a new person in the door, and a lot of times it is, but it’s more expensive.
“People think it’s easier to get a new person in the door, and a lot of times it is, but it’s more expensive.”
How does a center start to move away from the “new patient” obsession?
Upgrade and train your existing patients. It’ll cost you, but you’ll find that the investment is worth it. Once you’ve found those neglected patients, start building better relationships with them. Then, start on day one planting the seed for a second and third purchase from that initial patient.
It’s labor intensive to build these relationships and create a proper system, but by seeing patients every three months the clinics I work with see upgrade and re-sale rates consistently improving. It’s not “give me $3,000-$6,000 and we’ll see you again in three years and try to sell you again.” We’ve worked to build an on-going relationship of trust and if you have that relationship they’re more willing to listen to you at year three or four when you say “technology is new, it’s time to do something.”
“It’s not “give me $3,000-$6,000 and we’ll see you again in three years and try to sell you again.”
Why do you think there’s such a lack of follow-up in this industry?
Well, the profit margins are high, and all the money’s upfront. We’re not motivated as an industry to continue that relationship because we’ve already made money off them. Inherently speaking, there’s no reason to schedule follow-up appointments or to continue communicating. If you see a patient ten times as opposed to three times, it’s actually seen as hurting your ROI (if you’re looking at it purely from a numbers approach and based upon a one-time sale philosophy).
“We’re not motivated as an industry to continue that relationship because we’ve already made money off them.”
Is following up with patients worth it, financially speaking?
You have to look at the lifetime value of a patient.
Say someone walks in your door who’s 60 years old. You know that the average patient upgrades every 4–5 years, and that the average person is living to age 85. You have the potential to sell five sets of devices to that 60 year old. Now, when you look at five sets of devices at an average selling price of $5,500 you see that patient is worth $27,500 to your practice over the next 25 years. So yes, using lifetime value and segmenting patients into classes of quality can have a huge impact to your bottom line.
What’s the ONE change hearing centers should make to start turning more of a profit?
There’s not one direct marketing piece or specific newspaper ad that’s gonna do it.
It’s all about continuing relationships and using multiple mediums to stay in touch, or in some cases regain their trust. If you have that element of trust your patients are willing to do whatever you, as a provider, say they need to do without question.
The one thing I’ve ran into in the industry is that they would rather spend hundreds of dollars in the newspaper to get a new person in the door than invest $24-$100 (per patient, per year) to keep in touch with their current database.
By keeping in touch I mean b-day cards, a sympathy card, etc., those are $1 each and they’re unwilling to send them. However, they will pay $300-$500 in a newspaper to get one person in the door.
“they would rather spend hundreds of dollars in the newspaper to get a new person in the door than invest $24-$100 (per patient, per year) to keep in touch with their current database.”
Whatever you’re willing to spend to get that new person in the door, you should be willing to invest that same amount of money to get a current patient back in the door or to enhance the relationship with an existing patient.
This can be Items like brownies, a Christmas present, birthday present, an update notice, or whatever. By sending any type of literature, update or trust building piece, you’re well ahead of the competition and make an impression that big box stores and corporate stores will never do.
I’m looking at one of your practice’s websites and see you have two very prominent downloadable documents. Which one of those is requested more?
The “free hearing guide” gets more traction than the “free evaluation for hearing health” for sure, and I’ll tell you why. It has a lower risk all around. Somebody can ask for that hearing guide and do some research on their own without being in front of a hearing provider and with no worry of getting “sold.”
Walk me through what happens after they download that document.
Once they’ve signed up for the free download we have their email. That email address enters a drip system where our marketing can follow-up and move that patient along the readiness curve until their ultimately ready for a free evaluation. It’s an automated process that takes prospective patients from point A to point Z in their readiness.
Within three weeks (from the time they download the document from our website), we send them additional information via email. We feel comfortable doing this because we know they’ve raised their hand, we know they’re interested and we want to give them as much information as possible.
Three months after that they get more literature, until you build their trust through useful information. Eventually they get to a point where they feel comfortable coming in.
Something like 80% of patients want to receive information before they come in. This system allows them to access that in exchange for their contact information which we can then use to follow-up and provide them with the documentation they want.
Do you ever contact them by phone? If so, at what point?
Yes. In our particular system we wait until they’ve had three interactions with our marketing. If they download a report that’s one action; then say they read the second or third email, that’s two more actions. After three interactions we rate it as a quality lead source and if we’ve obtained their phone number by then we give them a call.
If they download the report and don’t do anything else with our follow-up marketing they go into a nurture campaign. When they finally start interacting with our marketing they’ll get a phone call from one of our providers or they book an evaluation on our website.
When somebody receives an evaluation, and they don’t purchase, what does your follow-up look like?
Our follow-up, especially if they have an email address is going to focus on email. They’re going to receive about 15 touches within 3–6 months. They’re going to leave the office with a certain marketing piece, they’re going to be both mailed and emailed a piece and they’re also going to receive a follow-up phone call to see how their visit was. They’ll also receive a secondary offer; maybe they didn’t want hearing devices but they want auditory training. Maybe they have a current hearing device but they didn’t want to upgrade so we offer them a discounted warranty to further the relationship.
When you start looking at the complete follow-up series (in that six month period following their visit), it’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 15–18 touches, across multiple mediums.
Now, if they don’t respond to those offers once again they’re moved into a nurture campaign where they’re still getting somewhere between 2–6 touches every six months after that. We throw out different offers and different approaches until we find what they truly want.
How many people have actually come back and purchased because of your efforts?
Of the people that don’t buy at that initial visit we see 15–20% come back and buy within 6–8 months because of our follow-up series. At the same time, our retention rate for current patients is over 85%. Getting that 15–20% back in the door has been extremely profitable vs trying to get another new person through our doors.
“Of the people that don’t buy at that initial visit we see 15–20% come back and buy within 6–8 months because of our follow-up series.”
Do you ever feel like all this follow-up marketing is a bit over the top?
No. You have to remember that these people coming into your practice truly have a need for hearing health, a lot of them just aren’t necessarily ready.
If we operate like most businesses in the industry and let them leave, we’re not doing them or our practices a service. If we follow-up and get them help sooner we’re going to do more for their auditory system and our practices.
“If we operate like most businesses in the industry and let them leave, we’re not doing them or our practices a service.”
If you look at the number of patients that almost any long-term practice sees, you know it takes 5–7 touches to get somebody to understand what you’re saying. If you continue to tell your patient database that they have a hearing loss, by the sixth or seventh time they’re starting to be ready to take action and they’ll understand they have a loss. If you tell them once that they have a loss then don’t follow up, they don’t really believe they have a loss.
After all your experience in the hearing industry, have you replicated the success you’ve have at Nilsson Hearing anywhere else?
For sure, Nilsson Hearing was a one-man show before I started four years ago; now we’re up to five full-time offices in Southern Utah. We’ve seen growth approaching 500% in four years.
I actually left my position with Nilsson Hearing and went into independent consulting about a year and a half ago. I brought on a large client in Northern Utah. We immediately implemented many of my recommendations which managed to increase their revenue by $880,000 year over year within the first six months.
What was the biggest contributing factor to their revenue increase?
Communicating with the current database. This particular organization had been around for years, they had a large database but thought newspaper ads were the way to increase business. It wasn’t. We immediately went to work segmenting their entire database and creating messages for each segmented group.
How did you go about segmenting their database?
We started breaking the data down and really determining different segments. How many of them had not been in for their annual hearing test within the last year? How many were ready for an insurance upgrade? How many were not on a clean and check campaign or a battery program? Which ones needed bluetooth accessories, etc? Once you start segmenting you end up with manageable lists that allow you to be very specific with your marketing.
In six months we probably re-activated close to 2,000 patients who needed an annual hearing test. We reactivated a certain percentage of their patients into upgrades and made sure people were coming in for their annual test. I always want to make sure we’re keeping a high activation level. If our patients are going to refer us they need to know we’re on the ball and have a solid system in place.
“In six months we probably re-activated close to 2,000 patients who needed an annual hearing test.”
When segmenting your database how specific do you need to be?
When you break down your database and know who’s wearing what device and when the last time they were in your office, you can customize your marketing to their specific needs. If you can break your database down into people who said they have no money, they can get specific marketing about financing plans. If you can break it down to people who weren’t there with a third party, you can ask them to come back with a third party. The more detail you have, the more specific, effective and successful your marketing will be.
What’s one last thing you’d tell a clinic owner looking to become more profitable?
Look around. Implement things that work in other industries and don’t close your mind to new ideas. We know that our industry is not growing as fast as it should. We know that with the aging population the demographics are extremely favorable. We know that today’s amplification works better than it ever has. You have the potential to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people and to your practice’s bottom-line.
“don’t close your mind to new ideas”