We live in an instant gratification world, don’t we? I suppose we could harken back to BF Skinner’s hungry rats, then combine that with the expectation of instant answers we get from the Internet to understand why we, as human beings, want and expect everything to happen the MOMENT we want it to happen!
Think it… will it… snap your fingers – there it is.
This concept came to mind after a conversation with my husband. He recently retired from his field engineering career. He loves to golf and fish and this time of the year, doesn’t lack for anything to do or play. But we also knew that if he didn’t have something to keep him busy the rest of the year he would drive me nuts with his nothing-to-do. (I know some of you can relate!) So together we have launched a new business for him, all internet based, advertising funded, and great fun.
This week we were discussing the progress (or lack thereof) of acquiring advertisers for the site. I am thrilled at our progress. After all, we have been online for only a few months, we average about 50 visitors a day which, for a new site, is actually quite good. But we need lots more content and lots more visitors before we hit our stride with advertising.
But he is frustrated because he doesn’t think enough paid advertising is coming our way. Why is it taking so long? Why don’t all these potential advertisers think we are the best thing internet advertising since sliced bread? Why aren’t they sending us all their advertising money yet?
At that point I realized – that’s exactly what I hear from new advocates. Not enough clients, not fast enough – resulting in frustration, and then, too many that just give up their practices because they didn’t anticipate they would have to wait so long.
Patience! Please! Patience!
For budding advocates, there are two main reasons the acquisition of a new client takes so long. Let’s take a look at them.
First: Many budding advocates look at the pool of potential clients (which for some advocates, could be anyone on the entire planet who gets a difficult diagnosis or is hurt in a bad accident) and figure that because so many people need help, the phone will begin ringing the minute they hang out their “I’m in business now” shingle.
Nope. Doesn’t – and won’t – happen.
Like any new business, it takes time to acquire new customers or clients. But unlike most new businesses, we advocates have the additional hurdle of having to explain what we do, how we can benefit our clients, and the fact that we are a new, and growing, profession.
It cannot, and will not, happen overnight. Yes – clients will come to you! But it takes time.
Here is a typical client-acquisition cycle in patient advocacy:
- Potential client becomes semi-aware that such a service exists (may take a month, or 5 years) This may be the result of seeing an article online, or meeting someone in the checkout lane at the store, or hearing a speaker, just in a conversation with a friend or co-worker, or ? It actually requires all of the above. (Within the world of marketing, we accept that it takes from 7 to 9 exposures to a concept before it is understood and embraced by the person we are trying to influence.)
- Potential client is faced with a major medical hurdle – a diagnosis, or a loved one who gets sick, or a parent who lives too far away, or medical bills that are astronomical and possibly wrong…
- Maybe potential client remembers that patient advocacy exists – or maybe not.
- Potential client is somehow reminded that there are professionals available to help them, and begins to get his/her arms around the fact that it’s an out-of-pocket paid service and not easy to find.
- The “pain” (which may not be physically painful, but may be mentally or emotionally painful) becomes unbearable enough that the potential client begins to get more serious about learning more about advocacy.
- Potential client begins to research possibility of finding an advocate to help – perhaps does a search in the AdvoConnection Directory, or maybe just does a general internet search, may ask friends what they know about private advocates, etc. Wonders why it’s something that must be paid for. Gets caught in the erroneous idea that her insurer can help, then realizes she isn’t getting help from the insurer at all. She formulates questions, gets up the nerve to make contact…
- Potential client reaches out – makes a phone call or sends an email. (Finally! MONTHS or YEARS after you’ve begun marketing your availability….)
- And that’s when YOU, as the advocate the person has reached out to, finally hear from them… but still – she is not yet your client.
Here is the second reason early client acquisition takes so long:
- From here, you need to know exactly how to communicate with her to be sure she decides to engage with you. Most new advocates do it all wrong and as a result, lose a possible client. (The best explanation of this is the APHA call-in we did last year, 3 Steps to Managing Potential Client Phone Conversations So They’ll Sign a Contract with You )
- And then – and only then! – will you have a new client.
There is nothing QUICK about this process! There is no instant gratification.
Now perhaps you have a better sense of why acquiring a new client takes so long.
Do you still expect that once you determine you are officially in business that the phone will ring right away? Not gonna happen.
There are a few ways to improve and maybe shorten the acquisition process:
- Realize that the more marketing you do, using the right messages for the right target audiences, the shorter the cycle will be. There are no short cuts, but there are definitely ways to be more efficient than others. More about this in the The Health Advocate’s Basic Marketing Handbook.
- Make use of testimonials and evangelists as much as possible. (More about this, too, in the The Health Advocate’s Basic Marketing Handbook.)
- Understand the client acquisition cycle as outlined above. Embrace it. Manage your own expectations to accommodate for it so that you don’t get frustrated or disappointed when new clients aren’t beating down your door right away. It’s not about how many people need help. It’s about how many people reach that turning point of needing it badly enough at the point they learn, and remember, that you exist.
- Be prepared to answer questions in the way that people will decide to work with you, and not in the way that will simply cause them to hang up the phone. And note – the “right way” is probably not what you expect.
Sorry to offer such a frustrating reality check, but I’d rather you be thrilled that you have one new client in the first six months of business than to go out of business in three months because you don’t have any and you think you’ve done something wrong.
Now it’s your turn…. for those of you who have experienced the client acquisition cycle – in the same or different ways – please weigh in below!
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