The BIGGEST Marketing Challenge Facing Fertility Centers in 2016

By Griffin Jones

"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it." --Peter Drucker

Recently, I've been honing in on the fundamental problem that we face in fertility marketing. People e-mail the practice for information but never schedule a consultation. Referral networks don't always deliver the number of patients that they promised. New patients way too long to schedule their first consult with a fertility specialist. How do we prioritize finding solutions to these challenges and is there a greater problem from which they arise? Usually, our greatest problem is that we don't accurately or thoroughly track how our patients come to us.

If we don't want to waste money on fertility marketing, we need to track and measure.

If we don't want to waste money on fertility marketing, we need to track and measure.

Connecting the dots

I quickly learned that many past, present, and future patients interact with their practice through social media. I also learned that many patients choose their fertility doctor because of the recommendation of someone they know. We can view and measure how patients talk about their fertility clinics online. Yet, missing links remain regarding how we quantify this  "word of mouth" activity into new patient consultations. My goal is to continually reverse engineer how a complete stranger makes the decision to schedule her initial consultation at a fertility office.

We can spend a lot of money on marketing. It's one  of the reasons we're reluctant to spend any money on it at all. When I talk to reproductive endocrinologists (RE) for the first time, they often view any new marketing investment as an additional expense. There's only one reason we view marketing as something where we part with money, instead of make money: we don't know to what extent it's going to work. If we were 100% certain that any marketing effort, would individually yield more revenue than the amount of time, effort, and money, we spent on it, we would pay for it without hesitation. That's part of the problem, isn't it?

Tactics vs Religion

If every fertility clinic in the world knew that a given tactic would bring them more patients, they would all do it. If every fertility center had the exact same marketing strategy, how would patients choose one clinic from another? No one would be able to increase market share. Even though the number of people being treated for infertility is far less than those who need treatment, market share is not infinite. I accept that the reasons that patients decide to schedule their initial consultations are not entirely measurable. The individual attention of walking a patient to her car at the end of a long day, which in turn caused her to be the source of four new patients over the course of her lifetime, is not exactly a measurable marketable tactic. Marketing depends on a combination of religion and tactics. 

I think the use of the word religion is prudent here, because good marketing requires faith, patience, and personal commitment. I spend thousands of dollars, every year, to go to meetings of various infertility societies throughout the United States and Canada. I might spend $1,500 on a conference between the fee, airfare, and lodging, and I can't say that any one conference yields a client who returns my investment in that singular interaction. That's why most people won't do it. I pay the expense of going to the meetings  because being a part of the community benefits me. Multi-millionaire marketer, Gary Vaynerchuk, contends that belonging to a community yields privileges and opportunities that do not come easily to those outside of the community. The value that we bring to the community that we serve may be considered a marketing expense . Still, we can't spend money aimlessly. We have to measure key performance indicators (KPI); numbers that let us know if we are on the right track.

Effort does not equal result

When we don't know how much a marketing effort is returning its investment, we're tempted to measure false metrics. I have been told by fertility centers, more times than I can count, that they have a company that handles their social media. Then I look at their Facebook page to see that no one has liked, commented on, or shared any of their content. We check the box. "Social media: done". We mistake our output for a key performance indicator. We ignore what is really important: the attention of our prospective and current patients, and the decision making process they go through to choose their fertility center.

We measure output like this

  • We aired 100 television commercials
  • We post to Twitter and Facebook everyday.
  • We wrote 20 blog posts.
  • We hired a marketing firm.

What were the results? Did anyone read your blog article? Did anyone see your Facebook post? If they didn't, how are these efforts meant to bring in new patients? If they did, how do we know if anyone took action because of it? Output is relevant only to the result it produces.

Tracking is easier when you have a sales funnel

Fertility centers struggle with measuring their marketing efforts when they don't have a sales funnel. Tech Target defines a sales funnel as the visual representation of how a sale proceeds in a linear fashion from customer awareness to customer action. Let's use a common example for fertility practices. How often do you receive an e-mail or a Facebook message from a prospective patient asking questions about infertility or IVF? You send them a response asking them to call the office to schedule an initial consultation. Maybe they respond saying they will, maybe they don't respond at all. You check after a few months to see how many of those people actually scheduled a consultation. Very few, right?

I used this image from stevepatrizi.com because I liked it the best.

I used this image from stevepatrizi.com because I liked it the best.

Why do so few people actually schedule a consultation relative to the number who are researching us online? We are trying to get them to jump from the very top of the funnel right through the bottom in one drop. That's not how funnels work. Funnels swirl from one ring to the next. I want to do a better job of helping fertility clinics build their sales funnel. Taking exceptional care of your patients matters. People recommending their friends to your clinic results in more patients. I want to be able to better quantify that.

Setting goals and ways to measure them

We need to do a better job of tracking where our patients come from. To start, we need to know our goals so we can align our marketing efforts with out KPIs. Most businesses do a poor job of this. Most medical practices are even worse at it. Fertility centers are no exception. In our case, we can determine our goals with questions like these.

  • How many IVF cycles can each physician perform? IUIs?
  • How many new patient consultations do we average each month?
  • Do we want to hire additional physicians/staff in the future?
  • Do we want to expand our facilities/office locations?
  • How many new patient consults can we see monthly?
  • How many consultations result in IVF? IUI? Other treatment?
  • What are the margins on IVF from a patient who pays out of pocket vs. one who pays from insurance?

Once we have our goals, we can begin to set KPIs. 

  • Are consultations up, month to month? Year to year?
  • What is our average cancellation rate?
  • How many patients do we schedule online? Over the phone?
  • Are cancellations higher or lower for patients scheduling online? By how much?
  • How many patients come to us from MD referrals? The internet? Word of mouth? Other?

Once we've determined what KPIs support our goals, we can implement methods to measure them. There are various ways of doing this, such as purchasing software from Hubspot or Sales Force. Inbound marketing software is extremely helpful for tracking how a prospective patient goes from the awareness stage at the top of the decision funnel all the way through to become an actual patient. The software provides you with data to decide what content to create, to nurture prospective patients to scheduled patients. Even without paying for expensive marketing software, we can do a better job of tracking our goals and indicators. Whether through your patient portal, on a tablet in your office, or a form for patients to complete, we want to ask patients various questions. For our own purposes, we want to be able to answer

  • How did they become aware of us?
  • Why did they decide on our practice?

Frequently, people have a hard time answering these questions when they're phrased like this. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, says that "we must learn what customers really want. Not what they say they want, or what we think they should want". We need to observe patients' online behavior and ask more specific questions about their choices rather than hypothetical options. 

Please list ALL of the ways you heard about us.

  • If referred by an office
  • If referred by a friend
    • Who?
      • Through social media? Or in person? 
  • Your opinion really helps us provide the best experience for our patients. Would you please describe how you made your decision to choose our practice?

Implement, Measure, Adjust, Repeat

We often ignore the tracking process as marketers because it's cumbersome. First, we have to decide upon our practice goals. Then, we have to set key performance indicators (KPI) to measure those goals. After we've aligned our KPIs with our marketing efforts we need to validate them with detailed patient feedback. It would be imprudent to base our marketing strategy entirely on tactics. Marketing involves a combination of tactics and religion--the faith that an outstanding patient experience results in more patients. In order to prove that exceptional patient attention is an engine for practice growth, we need to measure our KPIs and ask patients for their input. It may mean we have to change some of our marketing efforts or practice style. Once we have a measurable marketing system in place, however, we can efficiently invest resources and sustainably grow the practice. With the adjustments that we make from the feedback we've learned, we can repeat the process for predictable success.