Too many imaging centers are focused on recouping lost revenues instead of nurturing relationships. But there is no quick fix when it comes to building business volume. Smart marketing begins by taking a good look at your internal operations and listening to your customers.

I was watching television the other night and a commercial came on for a diet pill that promised to magically remove fat from the problem areas of our bodies. If you’re like me, I tend to have an immediate “yeah, right” reaction to these types of ads, but this one was actually convincing. It went through the various types of fats, how certain types tend to gather in certain areas of our bodies, and how this pill knew just where to attack these fat depositories. Very scientific.

Well, I sat there for a moment, and I couldn’t help but think of the variety of imaging centers that I’ve worked with over the past 16 years. I thought, “That’s what everyone is looking for these days in imaging, a magic marketing pill that will work after just a few days of taking it.” But unfortunately, there is no “magic marketing pill” we can take. There is no easy way to immediately increase our scan volumes. Whether we want to admit it or not, the glory days of making easy money in imaging are over.

The number one focus point I find myself repeating to all of the centers I work with is this—”build relationships and volume will follow.” So many centers are getting caught up in focusing on the economic situation we all find ourselves in post-DRA. The focus of many centers is not on “building relationships” but on recouping lost revenues. Where can cuts be made? Should we do that upgrade? We don’t really need those pens, do we? Many are scrambling to find savings or focusing on purchases and services that they hope will drive volume instead of evaluating the strength of their relationships with referring offices.

Know Your Referring Offices

The one question I first ask the imaging centers we work with is “Who are your top 10 referring offices?” For the most part, people don’t have too much of a problem rattling off the referring offices. But the second, and more meaningful, question I ask, “Who are the top 10 referring offices that you’re trying to build a relationship with?” seems to be met frequently with some ramblings and stutters. Many imaging centers rely on existing business and fail to educate themselves on the opportunities for further relationship development with other referring offices. It is a condition that ultimately leads to shrinking market share. If you are not growing your relationships, then you will slowly lose whatever relationships you have gained over the years. There are a variety of reasons why an existing referring office would stop or slow down with their referrals, ranging from the referring office closing to another imaging center winning that office over. The point, which I tell every client, is to intimately know all of the referring offices within a 10-mile radius of their imaging center. The marketing staff should be able to name all of the referring office staff, their spouses, children’s and pets’ names, who likes or dislikes whom in the office, why they prefer sending to one office over another, and, most importantly, what are the needs of that referring office. To be successful in diagnostic imaging, you must know the needs of the people you are trying to serve.

It’s a bit too common to develop marketing programs and strategies with what we’re impressed with in mind. We develop literature and marketing language around what we consider our strengths. We highlight our PACS systems, our equipment upgrades, and why we consider ourselves better than the competition. But do the referring offices in your market really care about these things? I equate this behavior to going out on a date and only talking about yourself the entire time—will you get a second date? Chances are you won’t. Listen … listen … listen to your referring offices. What do they care about, what do they need, what are they telling you? Listen, and then develop your services and marketing programs around those things. You’ll get that second date.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Too many imaging centers are focusing too much of their attention on scan volume and profit and not enough attention on the small details that make up the appearance of the imaging center to the referring office and patient population. I’ve walked into some centers that are in dire need of equipment upgrades, office remodeling, or updated marketing materials. To them, those things seem like “small stuff”—things to focus on after they build up their volume and profitability levels. And these centers typically get caught in a cycle of nominal growth and setbacks. They go after referrals to build volume while managing to destroy referral relationships at the same time. They may be successful in getting one patient into their center, only to have that patient go back and complain about the dingy setting—stopping any future referrals from occurring. If you think that handing out a cheap pen with no logo won’t have an impact on your reputation with the referring office, think again. Would you go into a big meeting with a huge stain on your shirt? Right or wrong, the referring offices will judge the appearance of your center, your staff, and your materials.

If your imaging center is serious about growing your volume, then take a look around you. Look at the appearance of your office, look at your marketing materials, and look at the way your front desk interacts with patients and referral offices. Then ask yourself, “If I didn’t know us, would I want to come here?” In life, we often miss the small details that actually impact relationships … the annoying or bad habits that discourage interaction with us. The same holds true with our perception of our imaging centers. Evaluate each instance where the referring offices and/or patients have an experience with your facility. Ask yourself if it was the best experience possible. And if you’ve said in the past few months that you’ll get better pens, sticky notes, or waiting room furniture once you reach a certain scan level, then you’re guilty of the sin of not sweating the small stuff.

Lead … Inspire … Develop

I recently read an e-mail that was written by a COO to the entire staff of a particular imaging center that started with this sentence: “You missed your goal for February by 38 scans, and your collections were down as well.” Guess what impact that e-mail had on the staff? I can tell you that it did not inspire anyone; in fact, it had some employees searching that day. Those of us who are in leadership positions must be more aware of the impact we have on the people who work for us. Even when goals are missed, and we’re anxiously looking at the bottom line, the tone we take with the employees will have a dramatic impact on referring relationships, scan volumes, and the overall productivity of the employees.

As leaders, we have to evaluate the goals we are setting for our employees. We have to ask ourselves:

  1. Are we setting realistic goals?
  2. Are we giving the employees the tools to achieve the goals?
  3. Have we properly trained our marketing and operational staff?
  4. Are we micromanaging them instead of holding them accountable?
  5. Are we exciting and encouraging them and providing incentives for success?

When you give your employees goals that are unattainable, fail to properly train them, and then micromanage their every task, then you are setting your center up for failure. I once asked a client how they arrived at a particular scan level goal for their facility and they answered, “That was the number of scans we did last year.” So I asked them, “Well, did you take into account that your top referring physician a year ago now owns his own imaging equipment, you lost a respected radiologist since then, and three insurance companies have dropped you from their network in the past 9 months?” You have to base your goals on reality—not on your hopes.

Let’s take that same e-mail and rephrase it to say, “What a month! Even though we missed our goal, we still grew over the previous month’s numbers. I know we’re all a little disappointed, but I still wanted to thank you for all your hard work. So for this month we’re going to double the bonus and give everyone a $200 bonus if we hit our goal this month. Let me know what I can do to help us achieve the goal.” That’s communication that emphasizes teamwork, acknowledges the staff’s efforts, and inspires them to continue to strive toward accomplishing the goal.

As a leader, you must be aware of where your volume is and should be coming from. Then you must develop and train your staff to hit the goals you know are achievable. And then you must cheer them on to the finish line.

In the End

Any personal trainer will tell you that the first step in putting together a successful workout program is preparing yourself mentally for it … changing your perception, developing realistic goals, and preparing yourself to be persistent. This is true for developing a successful marketing and sales program for your business. It starts with understanding what you need to be successful, evaluating your strengths, and developing a realistic expectation of results. Before you go out and put a short-lived burst of energy into the first few workout sessions, stop and prepare yourself mentally for an endurance run. Put the box of pills back in the cabinet. Pace yourself. Give yourself time. Go the distance.

Martin J. Farrell is CEO and COO of Epic Management Group LLC, Ronkonkoma, NY. For more information, contact .