A New Vision and Different Strategy for IVF Centers to Thrive Beyond 2018

By Griffin Jones

Part 2 of a four part series on the main business challenges facing fertility centers because of the shift from "small clinic" to "entrepreneurial endeavor"

We might criticize REI fellows for not wanting to take over existing IVF practices, but they are making the same decision that current practice owners have made for decades. They are deciding to be doctors and not CEOs. At the time, starting an independent practice didn’t mean launching a commercial enterprise. The difference is that new doctors know they can’t get away with that today.

 Organizational leadership is an issue at many fertility practices

Organizational leadership is an issue at many fertility practices

In Part 1 of our series on the contemporary fertility practice’s shift from “small, independent healthcare practice”, to “entrepreneurial venture”, we discussed the traditional model’s outdated business structure. Now, in Part 2, let’s talk about how the leadership atop that structure dramatically affects a fertility center’s ability to do business today, leave alone tomorrow. We’ll discuss eight critical elements of vision and strategy, and we’ll deeply explore those with which IVF centers tend to have the most trouble.

A new vision and different strategy needed for fertility centers

We mentioned that the Practice Director is in charge of an IVF clinic, where the CEO is tasked with the overall responsibility of creating, planning, implementing and integrating the strategic direction of an organization. But what happens when infertility clinics don’t have a clear vision in place? Here are some real life examples:

  • One partner wants to sell his share of the practice to a private equity firm but his partner wants to remain independent.
  • The practice principal wants to increase fertility preservation, bur the rest of her team knows very little about this initiative.
  • Practices jump from one marketing venture to the next, wasting time and money because they aren’t making their advertising work toward their vision.
  • Business development projects are started and abandoned because practices have few benchmarks in place and consequently don’t accurately measure if they’re moving toward their goal.

“Hope is not a strategy,”—Rick Page

Do any of these problems resonate with your practice? We’ve accepted that the head of our company, Principal, Founder, CEO, President, or whatever we choose to call it, has responsibilities that extend far beyond the role of physician and even that of Medical Director and Practice Director. Now visionaries can lead their practices in ways that allow us to super-serve their patients and grow. The leader of a company identifies, articulates, and plans its

  • Core Values
  • Core Focus
  • 10-year target
  • High Level marketing strategy
  • 3-year picture
  • 1-year plan
  • Quarterly Priorities
  • Issues

All of these tenets are essential, with the priority starting at the top of the list. Some we will link to external sources for further reading, because we need to spend more time with the most common principals with which fertility clinics struggle.

1). Core Values

I’ll wager that your values are far more compelling than those of the average business. After all, you’ve devoted a career to helping loving parents create life. But how do you articulate your values to your team, to patients, and to the public? We work in a field that is both being changed by society, and changing society…rapidly. How do we stay true to who we are and what we believe while being able to adapt? When core values are true and defined, leaders make hiring decisions that allow them to unload responsibilities and feel comfortable that their practice is in good hands.

2). Core Focus

Your Why and Your What. Purpose, passion, and cause combined with your niche. The more closely aligned employees are with Core Focus and Core Values, the more prepared they are to make decisions in the best interest of the practice, and the less practice owners need to micromanage.

3). 10 Year Target

Where one wants to be in ten years is the destination from which the rest of the roadmap is drawn. This is where fertility centers frequently fall off track. Do you want to open more offices or labs? Do you want to attract patients from overseas? Do you want to pilot a technological solution? You may notice that we can’t move to the next core tenet of Vision and Planning, the High Level Marketing Strategy, until we have solid long term goals.

 Original fertility marketing consultant, Yogi Berra, on strategic growth

Original fertility marketing consultant, Yogi Berra, on strategic growth

In the same week, I received two calls from two different fertility doctors who had the same question, “how much money should I spend on marketing?”

A million dollars. A couple thousand dollars. My answers to each of them were starkly different.

The first doctor was in his early sixties. He works for a larger practice group and does a little bit of marketing for himself. He’d like to perform seven or eight more egg retrievals per month. He plans to retire in the next two years.

The second physician just completed his REI board certification in the United States. He’s in his early thirties. He wants to move back to Latin America to start a large IVF center that draws patients from the United States, Canada, and Europe.

These are two vastly different long-term targets that dramatically impact who they will hire, how they will build from patient feedback, and how they will market. The 10 Year Target could be the most measurable differentiator between visionary entrepreneurs and independent physicians. Fertility practice groups without a defined long-term target are finding themselves directed by the demands of the day instead of concentrating their resources on becoming who they want to be. Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) founder, Gino Wickman, says that the 10 Year Target is not the time to be conservative. Dream big for the best version of yourself and your practice.

4). High Level Marketing Strategy

Do we know who we want to serve and what we mean to them? Is our 10 Year Target defined? Great. Our High Level Marketing Strategy involves doing whatever it takes to get there, within our core values and core focus. It details our

  • Goals (obtained from 10 Year Target, 3 Year Picture, and 1 Year Plan)
  • Benchmarks
  • Unique Marketing Position (obtained from Core Values and Core Focus)
  • Practice Brand
  • Content Strategy
  • Distribution Strategy (advertising)

Benchmarks

Many practices want to jump right into marketing without having reliable benchmarks or key performance indicators (KPI) to plan their strategy. Without them, money and effort may be wasted.  If you’ve ever spent money on advertising and aren’t sure of the results, revisit your KPIs. Do you have access to all or any of these Indispensable Indicators?

  • New Patient to IVF Conversion
  • Phone Call to New Patient Conversion
  • Online Contact Forms to New Patient
  •  Cost Per New Patient
  •  Patient Life Time Value
  • Cost Per Lead

We are data-driven marketers. Results must be measured as accurately as they can be. If you need help calculating your Indispensable Indicators, read Chapter 2 of The Ultimate Guide to Fertility Marketing.

Brand

If you feel like you can’t trust your employees or marketing partners with your message, you may need to document your practice's brand. At the Midwest Reproductive Symposium international (MRSi) in June 2018, I will be giving a branding workshop for fertility centers with branding expert, Mara Lucato. Here’s a glimpse of my thesis.

Brand is being known to the people we serve: how and why we help them with their problems. Logos, color schemes, and slogans, are relevant, or not, in so far as they help us achieve that end.

In our case, we have a community of people that desperately needs our help. In many cases, they don’t know who we are or how we can help them. Our brand and our high level marketing strategy involve providing them with as much value as we can, and then making it as easy as possible for them to do business with us. It includes

  • Connecting them with peer and professional support
  • Educating them
  • Encouraging them
  • Standing up for them

We are charged with making sure that everyone in our region knows that infertility is a common medical issue. That people struggling with infertility are human and their problem is human.
They need to know that we are the ones who will help them. That is a fertility center’s brand.

Content and Advertising Strategy

A fertility practice’s High Level Marketing Strategy activates its brand by delivering its message across the platforms on which patients spend their time and attention. The platforms, and consequently the methods, change. 15 years ago, creating an infertility support blog was a game-changer. 10 years ago, having a Facebook page was a tremendous way to reach new people. Three years ago, Instagram stories and Facebook Live didn’t exist. Today, they are among the best ways to connect with prospective patients. Four years from now, there will be new tactics, and some of our current marketing efforts will be less relevant. A High Level Marketing Strategy allows us to adapt our marketing efforts to the tactics that are relevant to the attention of the people we serve.

5). 3 Year Picture

The 3 year picture and the 1 Year Plan zoom in on the 10 year target. Where are we going to be in three years? What is our revenue? How many IVF cycles are we doing? How many physicians are on staff? In the same way that practices often lack a 10 year target, the three year picture serves the same importance, just getting closer to bridging Vision and Traction.

6). 1 Year Plan

Long term planning for fertility centers

Often fertility centers have annual volume goals, but are they committed before the start of the year? Are they realistic?

7). Quarterly Priorities

Again, fertility practices frequently fall off track here. Do we have three to seven quarterly priorities that must be accomplished this quarter? Are we accomplishing priorities that move our business toward its one year plan, its three year picture, and its ten year target? Or are we drowning in the issues of the day-to-day?

8). Issues

 Just another REI practice manager

Just another REI practice manager

The image of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill for all of eternity resonates with many practice managers. Fertility centers’ staffs frequently burn out because they are working on the same issues with no resolution. Care teams spend so much time working on issues that are urgent, they may have precious little time to focus on important, big picture issues. Take a look at the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. 

 The Eisenhower Decision Matrix applied to fertility clinics

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix applied to fertility clinics

As a fertility specialist, or a practice manager, you never have to deal with matters in Quadrant 1, do you? Yeah right. Fertility centers live in Quadrant 1. Employers that make their employees and managers work in quadrant 4 ought to go to jail, (joking…or am I?). Work of little importance and urgency robs human beings of their energy and happiness. Most of the responsibilities in Quadrant 4, by definition, can be eliminated. Let software do the rest.

Now we’re left with Quadrants 2 and 3. As the owner or manager of your practice, with your very limited time remaining from Quadrant 1, which do you prioritize between “urgent and non-important” and “important and not urgent”? It’s Quadrant 3, isn’t it? We often worry about issues that are not important but they have to be attended to right away. This isn’t to say that issues in Quadrant 3 don’t need to be addressed, but that’s exactly what we do, address them. By prioritizing issues in Quadrant 2, we solve them. Visionaries that focus their companies in Quadrant 2 make Quadrant 3 less relevant, and Quadrant 1 less overwhelming.

Paint the picture, chart the course

With a clear vision and strategy, fertility centers know exactly what their goals are and how to achieve them. Without them, practices frustrate their team members, exhaust resources, and find themselves losing market share to competitive IVF centers. Whether one wants to be the largest fertility preservation company in the world, or happily perform 150 egg retrievals per year and super-serve their patients, there’s no right or wrong answer. Their Core Values, Core Focus, and 10 year target inform their High Level Marketing Strategy, 3 Year Picture, 1 Year Plan, Quarterly Priorities, and resolution of Issues. When practices follow a strategy to a committed vision, they are prepared for the powerful competitors and challenges that pursue them. And just in the nick of time, because there are plenty. We’ll talk more about them in Part 3 of our series on the tectonic shift from medical clinic to entrepreneurial enterprise.

If you would like help building your practice’s High level Marketing Strategy, learn more about the Fertility Marketing Blueprint below.