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Stop Calling My Patients Targets

July 12, 2019 • Business • Paul Potter

One of my all-time favorite comic strips was Gary Larson’s Far Side. Larson’s morbid sense of humor often caught me off guard and caused an eruption of a belly laugh (much to my wife’s embarrassment).

Larson often used surreal characters to illustrate life’s ironies and absurdities. One of my favorites is Hal, a crossbreed of a deer, elk, or moose – no one is quite sure.

In one scene, two, let’s call them elk, are standing in the forest. Hal has a large red and white target clearly displayed across his chest. The other elk says to Hal, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”(click here to check out the cartoon)

Every time a person is referred to as a target market this image of Hal pops into my mind.

Patients Are People Not Targets

How would you feel if you were Hal?

I feel like I’m being shot at whenever I get robocalls on my cell phone. It’s more than an annoyance it’s personal.

Whoever is behind the calls doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t respect me. People don’t like random interruptions to their daily flow.

If you manage a small clinic or participate in hospital marketing programs, you’ve probably heard of identifying your target market.

Simply put, marketers put a similar group of people into a target market in order to sell them a specific service or product.

Pretty harmless, right?

Regardless if you’re using a shotgun or a rifle you’re still shooting at people if you use this marketing approach.

Who’s Driving The Bus?

As competition for referrals heats up, more and more healthcare organizations are becoming marketing-driven.

Marketing-driven organizations are data-driven. They’re slick and shiny. Their primary focus is on the bottom line. They’re focused on the maximizing productivity and reimbursements. They’re about the numbers.

There’s nothing wrong with getting the word out and communicating a clear message. It makes sense not to sell to ‘everyone’. But marketing or making a profit shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat.

Conversation-Driven Marketing

The alternative is to be conversation-driven.

Marketing that is conversation-driven is focused on developing services that arise out of real conversations with real people.

It’s marketing with people instead of at people.

When we are conversation-driven we:

  • listen to people,
  • hear the needs and desires of a group of people,
  • employ our services to make their lives better,
  • are willing to adapt to the needs of people,
  • we continually make it better.

When you’re marketing-driven, you’re focused upon the next referral, the next dollar, and the next quarter’s reports.

On the other hand, when you are conversation-driven, you concentrate on the person in front of you-right now.

  • You make the time for dialogue because it’s the most important thing
  • You consider the dreams and hopes of your patients and their families/friends.
  • You don’t talk about your credentials and what you can do for them.
  • You listen to their aloneness and frustrations.
  • You see ways of giving them hope and making their lives better.

So how about instead of seeing people as targets we see them with heart birthmarks on their chests. “Pretty cool birthmark, Hal.”

Let’s focus on seeing and hearing people’s stories with empathy before we share our own stories. And especially before we try to sell them on their need for therapy.

If we do we’ll begin to see everyone, including yourself, as unique human beings with sacred stories to share.

I realize this approach is not a quick fix. It takes time and commitment to build long-term relationships.

I believe if we let this drive our outreach efforts we’ll be more satisfied with the results and the numbers will take care of themselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the practicality of conversation-driven marketing. Please comment below or email me at .

Or if you want to chat about your efforts to grow your practice click this link and we can chat about it for free.

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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