When I first started in the senior care industry, I was located in Florida (just north of Tampa). I quickly found out that referrals are much harder to get at different points throughout the year. I struggled just to get ANY referrals during those hot summer months. Since then, I have learned a few things that I hope to share.
Seasonal patients are a sign that you are missing your core opportunities.
I love seasonal patients as much as the next person, but you have to consider that these patients are well enough to get up and move (or be moved) across the country twice a year. This is generally an indicator that they are only going to be good for a temporary need of your services.
Consider who you can benefit the most? Is it the marginally sick or those who are in desperate need? As a salesperson, you’ll no doubt take either, but as a business owner or manager, this becomes a more substantial question.
Now, I know what you are saying… “Jason, it’s more than just snowbirds! I am up against Medicare Advantage Plans too!”
I know it. I really feel for you and I hope that you are considering strategies to take these insurances as a viable payor source. However, it can be a challenge to drive business when the type of client becomes more specific (and harder to find).
If you pull up January’s Medicare Advantage Penetration by County/State numbers, you will find the average is 36.27% of the state has opted for an Advantage Plan. The maximum number of plans coming from Miami/Dade with just under 67%. However, this number is for Florida Residents. That means that many of your snowbirds simply don’t apply to these numbers. This should only ADD to the overall opportunity you can uncover in the state.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. The challenge you face is not advantage plans. It’s not competitors or some of the less than savory methods they may use to obtain referrals. The challenge is helping your referral sources to see opportunities to unlock the benefits you can provide.
When I first started in this industry, I was severely challenged. I simply didn’t understand what home health was. It’s funny that now I teach home health, but at the time, I struggled to grasp the benefits we provide. A referral source would get close to me and share how much they like me, but get sick of seeing all these reps coming in and out of there office (meaning they could easily be saying that to the other reps as well…)
With so many agencies sending marketers into the field, it can be challenging to even be heard. There is a competitive advantage, however. Your average home health salesperson is using old tactics. Let’s outline some of those here:
Asking for your “worst” or “most-difficult” patient to prove your services
This is going to increase the odds of something going wrong and is just a terrible strategy all around.
Dropping off LOTS of goodies (legally of course)
We like to drop off goodies sometimes, but if you do it every week, you will transition into a professional snack delivery service. Your expertise will be in calories…not senior care.
Highlighting that you have the “Best” nurses or “Great” Staff
Who is going to tell you they have terrible staff? They hear this all the time as if it differentiates you from another company. Everyone has great nurses. Why are they great?
Dropping off your flyer and card, over and over (and over and over…)
Look – Brand recognition is important. A flyer with your logo and a card with your name are branded, but the thing that needs to set you apart is the way you present your company. It’s the way you come off as an expert. Not hoping that the next time they have to send a referral, they will stumble across your card and say “Oh, I’ll use these guys…”
Memorize the info on a brochure. Even share a few touchpoints, but don’t make a point to read and share all the info about your programs all at once. It’s like absorbing the info and then…well…vomiting it out.
Okay, so I shared what isn’t working. Now, let’s talk about what does:
Sharing meaningful information
How many reps came in and talked about “The GAME last night” or “Who got the rose” or “this great book you just finished?” Lots of them do. There is nothing wrong with gaining social points and connecting, but if you are prioritizing this kind of conversation over establishing the “TYPE” of patient who would benefit from your services, patients are going unserved.
Giving them something they can use
I like goodies as much as the next guy, but come on. What about a Nestle Crunch Bar is going to help them take care of their patients. Again, we do encourage some giveaways with an educational lean, but what are you providing that helps them to take care of their patients or do their job more effectively. Simply dropping off info about a disease process or a list of senior resources in your area can make a huge impact and position you as someone who SHOULD be getting referrals.
Help them know which patients to send
I like to call this “Painting the Picture of a Perfect Patient.” The idea here is that you want them to be able to visualize the type of patient that would benefit from your care. Then you want to share the benefits they will experience. Consider this simple example:
Old way: Do you have any patients that confuse their medications? (or that are on new medications?)
Way that works: Which patient have you seen this week that is taking their medications wrong? Did anyone bring in a bag full of pills and really struggle to understand how they should be taking their meds?
While this is a simple example, this illustrates the difference in approach. Are you assuming they know WHY they should send you a patient? Are you assuming that they know what will happen if you do (or don’t) get that patient in your care? Lastly, do they know what to look for?
Actually talk about what makes your different
Great Nurses? – Everyone has them. Instead, talk about what makes them great. I used to work with an RN who was a cancer survivor. She volunteered to do the initial admissions for any cancer patients we received. This was a GREAT nurse, but her commitment to oncology patients and her experience made her great.
Good CHF program? – Who isn’t offering that? Everyone is targeting Heart Failure. Even we do in our programs. The difference is the approach. We don’t just have a solid program, we are sharing the benefits the clients and the referral source will receive from the care. We show that we aren’t just providing “everyday home health” to patients with this diagnosis. We are actually providing specialized care. Perhaps telehealth measures are in place. Maybe we have a cardiac nurse or a solid education program that we can share with the physician. Don’t just HAVE A GOOD CHF program. Show what makes it good and you will quickly rise above, even on something so typical as CHF.
Customer Service is paramount
I work with agencies across the country. I have literally come in contact with thousands of them in the past 8 years. Do you know what amazes me? How many of them don’t answer their phone or have rude gatekeepers answering those phones. For most agencies, how you are perceived is at the end of a phone line. This goes for your marketers and field staff too. Bad attitudes, unkept meetings, and lack of follow up will cripple your relationships and dry up referrals faster than any other part of the process. Make sure that you keep your word. Make sure that your sales and non-sales team alike are committed to customer service and you’ll be able to create new referral opportunities.
As we leave the “Season” of snowbirds, I hope you’ll dig deep and seek out opportunities that are already in front of you. Don’t focus on the negative responses, but back up what we know is true. Patients with senior care cost their insurance less money, make fewer trips to the hospital, and are able to live better, fuller lives at home. That mission will push you past the challenges and into the winner’s circle, one patient at a time.
All of the techniques I described above are part of our Roadmap to Referrals program. This program provides you branded materials to hand out, a monthly training on what you will be saying each week, and quick reference guides to prepare you and your team to drive referrals.
About the Author:
Jason Lewallen is Vice President of Marketing
for Home Care Sales
He can be reached at:
PS: Might want to consider…
If you are a home health, hospice, or private duty agency who struggles with:
- educating your referral sources
- not having professional handouts with the correct clinical/treatment info
- not knowing what to say to drive referrals
- not having time to train your sales team about diagnosis specific info
…then the Roadmap to Referrals program is the answer you have been looking for. Agencies are using this methodology to gain more referrals and position their entire sales team as experts.
It’s a plan for every week of the year and can lead to double and triple the referrals you are currently getting. The investment is a mere $500 per month. That’s less than a fraction of a referral!