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Dynamic Chiropractic Canada – November 1, 2009, Vol. 02, Issue 06
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Chiropractors Are in the Wrong Business -- The Business of Marketing

By Tom Necela, DC

Like it or not, most health professionals are in the wrong business - chiropractors included. It makes little difference whether you have DC or MD after your name; the rules are the same. The business into which health professionals have stumbled is marketing.

What is perhaps more disturbing is that if you believe you are a healer, health coach, spinal rehabilitation trainer, nervous system facilitator or enabler of the body's innate health potential, then it is likely you are a lousy marketer. Here's why: A central point of our existence as chiropractors is to reach buyers who can purchase our services. Without buyers, we don't have a business. Unfortunately, there are a lot of excellent health professionals of all disciplines who are starving because they cannot grasp that fact. A lot of mediocre health professionals are also succeeding because they can.

How Can I Grow My Business?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: "How can I grow my business?" Sadly, that question is virtually unanswerable in a broad, sweeping statement. Perhaps a better question is: "How can I determine which patients to pursue?" With only 10 percent of the public utilizing chiropractic services and 85 percent (or more) of chiropractors all clamoring for the same segment of low back pain patients, there is a gaping hole of patients in need of your help. Savvy chiropractors can fill that hole if they target the right population that could use their services.

Another good question might be: "How can I better express and promote my value?" It appears to me that some chiropractors start their relationships with patients by spewing chiropractic philosophy and science all over them. As disturbing as that sounds, many first or second visits in your office are just that.

Patients are concerned with the fact that you can help them. Questions should be oriented around their needs, paying close attention to the "What's in it for me?" factor. In other words, they don't really care about you trying to establish credibility by bragging about your past successes, and they aren't concerned with the volumes of research that exist on chiropractic's efficacy. Where's the value in that for them? In effect, patients routinely send us the message of, "Show me the value or I'll show you the door."

This is where many "canned" reports of findings or stock chiropractic protocols fail. We attempt to jam our perspective down the throats of our patients, insisting that they be interested in obtaining corrective care, that they need to restore their cervical curve or that their life will just not be the same without our miraculous supplements. While our assertions may in fact be accurate (for example, poor posture certainly has been proven to produce a myriad of health problems), they are still our assertions.

What Are We Truly "Selling"?

In order to truly engage your patients (also known as the prospective purchasers of your services and those who put food on your table), they have to be intensely interested in what you are selling. I know that some of you reading this will be deeply offended by my use of the term selling, but that is the reality of the business we are in. We "sell" patients on the need for our chiropractic services delivered in our (hopefully) unique style.

After all, the patient could simply sit at home with their same problem, popping pills and ignoring our approach. However, as chiropractors, we believe we have a better way to help them; one that addresses their desire for pain relief but also promotes improvement of function, education on lifestyle changes and prevention.

Therefore, what you are truly "selling" is an alternative solution (and I think it's a superior solution) to their health challenges. In order to sell anything to anyone, there has to be some form of interest or perceived value on their part. If there's no interest or perceived value, there's no reason for the patient to act on your recommendations.

Not Interested or Not Interesting?

Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm not interested?" Well, what they're really saying is, "You have not presented me with your solution in an interesting manner" or "You have not sufficiently engaged me in the need for your solution." For example, take those lovely individuals who halfheartedly thrust a flyer at you, advertising some event or sale. If you observe most people, they will simply refuse the flyer, primarily because that is not an interesting way to communicate something of value. In fact, it's annoying. By the look on their face, the person handing out the flyer isn't even really interested in doing it - so why should you be interested?

Please don't gloss over this reality. In order to engage your patients, you truly have to deliver your solution with interest or passion. This is why millions of people could watch repeated episodes of the late Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) talking about animals while PBS specials with the same basic content would go virtually unwatched. With Steve Irwin, you had a passionate delivery and presentation of material that stimulated your interest, whereas the soft-voiced PBS professor put you to sleep.

By engaging a person's interest, you have the chance to tell them that your solution is right for them. The flyer pushed in your face does not engage you at all in their solution. For all you know, the flyer is announcing the availability of a free million dollars for all who show up to collect it, but because of the presentation, 99 percent of people will ignore it.

How Do I Get Patients to Approach Me?

The other problem with the flyer is its shotgun approach. It neglects your personal needs in favor of a numbers game. Hand out enough flyers and eventually, someone will read one and be interested. Many chiropractors approach the marketing of their services in a similar manner. Unfortunately, we don't possess the budgets to advertise to everyone, even in our small communities. Therefore, the shotgun approaches rarely produce the returns we seek.

So, perhaps another question to ask is, "How can I get potential patients to approach me?" This question goes back to our ability to communicate what we as chiropractors deliver. In sales talk, this is communicating "customer-based values." In a perfect world, communicating value to a patient would be as simple as this: They need your services, you have the solution and no one else has it. Unfortunately, in most places, those days are gone. You are likely not the only health care provider in town. In many cases, you are not even the only chiropractor in town.

The Myth of Added Value

In the hopes of besting the competition, many companies have created the term added value to describe why their services are superior. In chiropractic terms, most patients could care less whether you have the latest digital X-ray machine, your technique is peer-reviewed or if you have been certified in some postgraduate specialty. Those are features of your particular practice, but they do not describe the benefits a patient will receive under your care. The value to a patient is the desired benefit you can deliver for them. This pre-supposes that you are delivering the benefits they want. If you don't, there's no value for them in the first place and therefore "added" value is nonsense.

While it's quite true that you need to deliver quality services that help patients, it is by meeting their needs that you create happy, satisfied patients. If the features of your office allow you to accomplish that, so be it. But the patient is interested in what you can do for them (the benefit), not particularly in how you do it (the features).

Truly Efficient Marketing

Furthermore, if you can meet or exceed the patient's goals, you will also get referral business because they are confident that you have the ability to listen the needs of their friends and family as well. This is truly efficient marketing, as your satisfied patients are now "selling" for you. Notice that this method does not include spending gobs of money on telemarketing, direct mail or paying some guru for the "1,000 Guaranteed Techniques to Make Money in Chiropractic." It does mean that you should consistently pursue techniques that allow you to communicate the value of chiropractic to your patients. It does require that you develop the ability to truly listen to your patients so you can adequately meet their needs. And it does mean that you broadcast your message in an interesting manner that appeals to your patients.

While many chiropractors would love a magical, one-size-fits-all solution, both patients and the problem are more complex than that. Your ability to communicate how you can deliver chiropractic care to help patients needs to be carefully and frequently applied. Canned solutions often do not meet this requirement.

Even in today's economy, there are chiropractors thriving because they have refined their ability to communicate benefits to their patients. They realize that they truly are in the marketing business. They have accepted that part of their "job" as chiropractors is to listen and understand what the patients are asking for and present them with solutions to their needs/problems. This type of marketing is not manipulative, as it considers the patient's desires first and crafts a message to suit it. In fact, it can be considered a form of teaching in that you must instruct the patient on how their problem is affecting their health and how your chiropractic solution may benefit them. While many of us may not typically think of ourselves as teachers in the traditional sense, I would remind you of the origin of the Latin root word for that term. It is docere, which is exactly what we aim to be for our patients.


Dr. Tom Necela maintains a private practice in Washington state. He is also the founder of The Strategic Chiropractor, a consulting firm for chiropractors. Dr. Necela can be contacted with questions or comments via his Web site, www.strategicdc.com.

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