For Providers CRM Is the Answer, Just Not Right out of the Box!

I have written numerous times about changes in the healthcare market requiring providers to adopt sales engines in order to drive top-line growth and better compete in today’s market. The good news is that we are starting to see this play out. Hospitals are expanding their marketing departments, are creating business development functions, are hiring more liaisons and acquiring Customer Relationship Management (CRM) products and other sales tools in order to support their efforts.

Unfortunately providers often view a CRM tool to be the magic bullet and expect that it will cure much of what ails them (yes, pun intended). They also expect it to be mostly ready to go out of the box, and easy to configure and start using.

In most industries this is somewhat true. You can get a lot of value from a CRM solution such as Salesforce.com right out of the box. We often hear that the healthcare market is different. In this case it is very true, and these differences make it very hard to utilize a CRM system well without some important modifications.

So how is the provider market different?

  • Focus: As the name states, the focus of most CRM systems is the customer. In the provider space this means patients, and while the model is changing, most patients – especially for specialty practices – are not acquired directly, but rather through physician referrals. So while CRM solutions can support patient marketing in healthcare, they are usually called Physician Relationship Management (PRM) systems as this is where the bulk of the focus actually is at this time. While similar, physician relationship management is different than customer relationship management, and aligns more with partner channel management in a traditional sales model.
  • Relationships: Classic CRM likes relationship structures to be straight forward. The account is the top level record. It lets you create parent and child accounts but partner or affiliated accounts are hard to connect. The same goes for contacts. A contact is expected to be associated with one account. You can create parent and child relationships that drive an organization chart, but associating a contact (or, in this case, a physician) with multiple organizations is hard to do. The physician relationship model is often fluid and not concrete. A physician may or may not be employed by a hospital or provider, and at the same time may be affiliated with multiple organizations and locations, with varying degrees of affiliation.
  • Data: In most industries, a CRM system is the main data entry point and serves as the primary data source for customer related sales and marketing activities. But provider relationship management is much more complicated. You may need access to physician, provider, market, claims, scheduling, credentialing and referral data just to name a few. This data will come from a variety of internal and external sources, making integration that much more important.

The required contact data is also quite different. Traditional CRM wants name, title, business unit, contact information etc. Provider business development teams need additional data including NPI, specialty, sub specialty, education information, and license and credential information just to name a few. Integration in this case becomes very important. If not integrated in some fashion, staff will need to manually enter all data which is a time-consuming task. Pre-loading any data that you have allows your staff to spend more time in front of physicians to build new relationships. But since you are provided the data and, therefore, have limited control, data quality then becomes a huge issue.

  • Physician Relationship Process: The traditional sales process is the core foundation of any good CRM system. Aside from contact management and management visibility, the value of a CRM tool is to help you to ensure that sales related activities follow your specific best practices and processes. A standard sales process looks something like the following: lead, nurture, qualified, proposal, negotiations, sale / purchase. In healthcare only the first half is relevant. For providers the relationship with a physician is often not official, and is at times a “gentleman’s agreement” or handshake. You won’t know if you were actually successful until you start getting actual patient referrals from them. This is the true “sale” in a provider business development environment.
  • Related Processes: Healthcare also has multiple supporting processes that accompany business development and marketing in the provider environment. These include referral management, recruiting and onboarding, and performance management. And, of course, CRM doesn’t support these processes out of the box.

Let me be clear, Salesforce.com and other CRM tools are extremely powerful and valuable. Salesforce.com for example is used by over 100,000 companies large and small that depend on it to run their business. Salesforce.com specifically has also opened up their platform to allow custom development that leverages the base components.

This capability allows you to customize the platform to best suit your needs. That is what we have done with our Physician Relationship Management (BluestonePRM) framework that we have built on top of Salesforce.com to deal with the challenges listed above. Whether you use a framework such as ours, or develop your own, the platform can support the provider environment with some modifications.

The point is, unless you know the platform, data, and business rules of the provider environment, you should use the assistance of an experienced third party to help you set up your CRM/PRM solution from the start. It could cost you double to bring someone in after the fact to redo work already done. The further problem is that Salesforce.com often will recommend their top local partner, and not a more suitable partner based on specific vertical or project capabilities.

We firmly believe that all providers will need to adopt a sales focus and related tools, such as PRM, in order to survive, let alone thrive, in the newly defined healthcare market.

CRM or PRM is the answer for most hospitals and providers, just not right out of the box. So get some help to ensure that you start recouping your ROI as quickly as possible.

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