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How to Attract and Keep Patients for Life

September 11, 2017 • Practice Leadership • Paul Potter


There are a lot of people who want your money

There are a lot of marketers on the Internet who want to take your money. They promise how to effortlessly get a steady stream of patients-in exchange for your hard earned cash. Their pitch goes something like this…

How Bob Got 22 New Patients In One Hour

By Doing Just “One Thing” Really Well

It sounds too good to be true (probably is) but the headline still grabs you. You’re vulnerable, you’ve tried marketing but have nagging doubts you’re doing it right. You’re passionate and good at what you do but why isn’t this working.

You say to yourself, “It can’t be that hard, I’m intelligent, after all, I made it through graduate school, didn’t I?” Somehow if people knew you and understood how you could help them, your schedule would be packed.

None-the-less, new referrals trickle in and you still have open slots in your schedule. Growing your practice sure seems a lot harder than it should be and it takes forever to see any results.

In a weak moment, when patient visits are down you buy the guru’s book or sign up for a training program. You might even fly to a conference in another city. You jump head first into the hottest marketing program, put in the work and see some initial progress.

Then you hit a wall.

You find things not adding up like you had hoped. The marketing tactics don’t feel right. They feel way too pushy and unprofessional. They take way too much time away from patient care and your personal life. Trust me I’ve been down that road a couple of times.

Those of us who have lived most of our careers in the healthcare ecosystem have a limited perspective on attracting people who need our services. We have lived so long under the physician referral system it’s hard to see getting patients any other way.

What we need is a fresh perspective on attracting and keeping new patients. Let’s examine how to attract, connect and delight new patients through a process called lifecycle marketing.


What is lifecycle marketing?

Lifecycle marketing refers to a communication program that is firmly anchored to your clients’ needs, wants and dreams. It’s about sending the right message to the right person at the right time. Communicating to specific people based on where they are in a normal patient lifespan will transform your client communications into meaningful and engaging conversations.

Lifecycle marketing is an approach to client communication that recognizes the different stages in the journey to becoming an engaged, and lifelong client.

There are a lot of different approaches to marketing and selling in books and on the Internet. Many therapy-marketing gurus have borrowed sales tactics from the likes of Dan Kennedy, Michael Hyatt, and Tim Ferris, who claims you can even, get it done in a 4-Hour Work Week. Most of it is good and useful and can be applied to physical therapy.

Unfortunately, a lot of it is too complicated and time-consuming to do it well. There are charismatic therapists that gravitate towards selling and there are therapists who absolutely hate selling. Most therapists are the latter. Fortunately, by nature and training therapists are good listeners. More than likely you are a great listener. Lifecycle marketing takes full advantage of your ability to have in depth conversations with your clients.

Lifecycle marketing through meaningful conversations

I’d like think of marketing your practice as having purposeful conversations with people. Instead of broadcasting how great we are, let’s try two-way conversations where we get to know and trust each other. Genuine conversations is where we find out if we are a good fit for each other and if we want to do business together.

The challenge is that people aren’t all the same so the conversations are different depending on where they are at the client lifecycle. People come to us with different needs, wants and expectations.Some people are ready to make an appointment. Others really don’t know what they want and are looking around.

There are different types of patients as well, and I don’t mean diagnoses. We all have active patients and passive patients, previous patients, and brand new ones. Lifecycle marketing is your best opportunity to understand your clients’ perspective and send the most effective communication. Whereas with traditional referrals you’ve probably never have gotten to know the person until they walk into your clinic.

Lifecycle Marketing is the conversation with your clients – from their first point of contact all the way through their lifespan as a paying customer.


Tradition referral worldview

Here’s a diagram of the traditional referral worldview that therapists have depended on for decades. Typically conversations or patient relationships don’t begin until there is a referral. If the patient acts on the referral, finds you, trusts you enough to make an appointment, the relationship begins at the initial evaluation.

Then patient relationship often starts with an intensive, often-sensitive, interchange between strangers. Wouldn’t it be better if we got to know each other before hand?

Once we’ve built trust and communication to a high level more than not the relationship abruptly stops at discharge. Patients never hear from us again and we’re off to the next referral. Usually, there is minimal contact and conversations before and after treatment.

The lifecycle marketing framework acknowledges that this is not how people normally relate with one another. It emphasizes strengthening the client relationship as people move through a predictable client lifespan.


Lifecycle referral worldview

This diagram presents a new perspective. The lifecycle referral worldview fosters a two-way conversation between clients and your practice. Relationships begin long before the first visit and long after the last treatment. The client communication system is personable, consistent and professional.

A lifecycle worldview looks at referrals through a different set of lenses. It begins with attracting and facilitating conversations with potential patients who are a good fit for your practice. You intentionally engage with clients from the first point of contact all the way through their plan of care. Then you maintain healthy relationships through follow-up communications, mostly through follow-up emails.

The beauty of lifecycle marketing is, regardless of practice size, you can improve your communication without getting too complicated or taking time away from patient care. A client may begin their journey as a website browser but by addressing their questions and concerns they become patient prospects. Prospects may eventually become patients when the time is right. Your outstanding onboarding process creates positive first impressions that are reinforced through remarkable patient experiences. Some patients will be so transformed by the experience they will return for more and become enthusiastic promoters of your practice.


3 Stages of lifecycle marketing- Attract- Connect- Delight

There are three main stages to lifecycle marketing. You can categorize the majority of your clients into one of these stages. Doing so enables you to help clients take the next step in the journey to becoming lifelong clients.


Attract is the first phase of the lifecycle. Here you focus on attracting interest and building trust with potential patients. People are constantly bombarded with commercial messages. We have learned to tune out most of them. Clearly communicating your value to people who are a good fit is the key to being seen and heard. Being able to describe your ideal patient is very important to learn where they hang out and what messages will hold their attention.


Connect is the second phase in lifecycle marketing. Here you begin to have two-way conversations with people to learn about them and educate them on your services. There are key touch points for positive first impressions and to offer your services.

Call to actions and offering something of value, like patient guides or a free phone call in exchange for their contact information is one way of turning browsers into prospects. Deeper connections will lead to fewer no-shows and higher patient satisfaction.


Delight is the third phase in the lifecycle marketing framework. This phase is when you create remarkable patient experiences that your patients will come back for and talk about. You try to ensure that your patients are enjoying your services through surveys, emails, phone calls etc. If a patient isn’t delighted with their care you reach out to make the experience better.


How to get started with lifecycle marketing

No amount of wishful thinking or information can take you beyond the current reality of your practice. Start where you are at, not where you hope to be. Be honest with yourself. Identify the next step you can reasonably take while seeing patients and managing your practice.

Some of you are in a start-up phase where your practice or new service is mostly an idea or dream. You might be working at another therapy job while you’re trying to get ready to launch your own practice. Most people don’t know you exist or have a clue that you’re starting something new.

The lifecycle marketing framework can help you identify the people who might be a good fit for your new practice or service. You are in the attraction stage. Think of this phase as a dating relationship. By “dating” people, you begin to figure out who you are and learn more about what they want. You’ll learn where they like to hang out, what they are like and what type of communication works best. After dating around a bit, you’ll know a lot more about who wants to do business with you and vice versa.

In the early stage of practice growth, you need to be clear on the following questions:

Who are my ideal patients?

How will I make their lives better?

Where do they hang out?

How will I get their contact information?

If you are trying to get a new practice or service off the ground you’ll want to make a good impression from day one. The best way to do this is to create a flowchart of a remarkable client journey. Start from the very first step someone comes to your website to the first and last treatment to when they are receiving follow-up emails from you. A remarkable patient experience involves much more than excellent therapy. It takes into account effortless scheduling, minimal paperwork, consistent communication and frictionless payment processing.

In this phase of practice growth, you’ll want to optimize your resources by automating as much of the patient intake process as you can. It reduces overhead and allows you to spend your limited time with clients that will become your ideal patients and promoters. Using a client relationship management (CRM) system will help categorize clients based upon their actions and responses.

Keeping track of where clients are located in the patient lifespan will help ensure you’re sending the right message to the right person. Plus you’ll be able to identify which people are most likely to use your services again or refer friends and family.

Here are a couple of key questions in the growth stage you should have answers for:

What are prospects concerns and questions before they commit to becoming a patient?

How and where might I address those concerns and questions? (FAQ page, email series, patient guides, videos)

What does my patient’s journey look like?


Don’t be one of “those guys”

Every therapist is a marketer. But most of us don’t like to admit it.

Daily we try to influence or “sell” to our patients. To buy into their plan of care, do their home program or pay for treatment. Somehow that’s different and it should be. It comes from a heart to serve.

Selfish marketers are pretty sleazy. They employ mind tricks to grab our attention, they use fear and greed to get us to buy something we don’t want or really need. No wonder we don’t want to be like them.

That’s not you, of course.

You’re trying to grow your practice so you can help more people and make a decent living. You want to make a difference in your community.It’s tempting to put your nose to the grindstone and hope for the best.Sometimes it’s easier just to sit back and let someone else do it.

But that’s not you either.

Today’s marketer must have empathy, humility, and generosity. Most therapists I know have an abundance of each. The lifecycle marketing framework can show you how to attract, connect and delight with people who are a good fit for your practice. It’s definitely a marketing framework worth exploring. To get started download Infusionsoft’s Lifecycle Marketing Planner to help you grow your practice and feel good about it.

Paul Potter

For over 30 years Paul Potter has owned and managed a private physical therapy practice specializing in manual orthopedic rehabilitation and medical fitness programs for special populations. He hosts the Functional Freedom Podcast where he interviews current thought leaders on practice issues and strategies to facilitate the professional effectiveness of therapists. A few factoids about...

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