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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Afraid to fail? Get over it! A 'good' failure can make you a smarter, more effective marketer

We’re all going to fail in life at some point – probably at many points in fact. Sometimes these failures will be painful, costly or publicly embarrassing. Your failure might even be all three of those things at once. However, a failure will also be instructive. Positive growth through failure has happened to me more than once in my career, and here is one story that proves the point that there is value in that type of experience.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn

When I was still relatively new to the healthcare marketing profession, I was asked to meet with a physician to discuss promoting a new clinic that my organization had just opened up in a suburb about 20 minutes south of Portland, Oregon. After a quick meeting I had everything sorted out and was already building the plan in my head on the drive back to the office. Promoting a primary care clinic with adequate access for new patients is pretty much the easiest and most straightforward assignment you can get in this industry. Everyone who is not already a patient is a potential prospect.

A few weeks after that meeting, we launched advertising in the local publications and sent out direct mail to nearly all adults in the communities surrounding the clinic. I also made a special point to hit the large retirement communities that were prominent in the area. It all seemed like an easy slam dunk to me.

A few weeks later, I checked in with the clinic manager to see how things were going. We had some positive response to the marketing, but not as strong as we hoped. During our discussion about why, two reasons quickly came up as major red flags.

1. The family practice doctor did not want to take geriatric patients.

2. The doctor insisted on holding screening appointments prior to actual holding the first full appointment visit. This approach was not popular with her prospective patients.

These were two huge barriers that I should have known about prior to agreeing to market the clinic. They were operational issues that would make even the best marketing plan fail. Ultimately, they were corrected by the medical group’s leadership and the doctor gave in on both of the points above. However, the damage had been done. Growth at the clinic location was slow for years.

My biggest regret was that I had failed the people who wanted to use that clinic and have an easy, positive experience. The old adage that "you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” is so true.

How to reduce the chances of failure? Ask the right questions

To ensure a better experience for potential consumers in the future, I stared asking some key operational questions whenever I was approached with marketing requests. This is my standard set of questions:

1. Do you have access for new patients?

2. Can people self-refer?

3. Are there any special criteria patients need to meet?

4. What is the patient experience like? Note: Negative or declining patient satisfaction scores are a HUGE red flag for marketing. Never drive more volume to a bad experience.

Believe it or not, asking those four questions has helped me stop dozens of ill-considered requests for marketing support over the years. Building a simple process like this for yourself can save you a lot of headaches - and offer a better experience for everyone.

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