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Marketing a services business – niche down as early as possible

I am not a healthcare lifer – I came from the background of running an IT consultancy and started leading a medical practice late in my life. 

Recently, I had an all staff meeting where some of our physician liaisons proceeded to tell me.. “Oh, healthcare marketing is so much harder than marketing an IT consultancy business. There’s so much competition..   Etc etc..”

It got me thinking about the parallels (pros and cons) in marketing and business development for medical practices and IT practices.

Total addressable market

In a medical practice, you get to market B2B (physician referral marketing) and B2C (direct to patient marketing). 

In an IT practice you market B2B (business to business) only.

In a medical practice, your territory is narrow because your patients only come to you if you are either near their work or near their home or a near specific locations (e.g. a mall).

In an IT practice, you can market to anyone across the world.

Competition

In a medical practice, your competition is really just the doctors in your immediate neighborhood that are in the same specialty as you are.

In an IT practice, your competition is just about anyone in the world. Even a kid sitting in a dorm room with a computer.

Service offering

In a medical practice, unless you are a PCP (primary care provider), you only provide one kind of care that pertains to your specialty (e.g. eye care or even more – retina care)

In an IT practice, the vast majority of vendors do not concentrate on a specialty (e.g Salesforce or Microsoft dynamics CRM or iOS ONLY app development or Android only app development etc). In some senses, most IT consultancies are like PCPs… generic services.

Marketing channels

For a medical practice, you can market to patients directly via Facebook, Google, Bing etc.. If you are marketing to a potential referring physician, you can go to all the providers near your offices and market to them. If you are using paid ads to market, you can (and should) limit your ads to neighborhoods around your offices (geofencing). If you are using SEO to drive traffic via Google, you could (and should) write about the questions that your patients ask, get listed on all the medical provider listings (directory listings) etc. 

For an IT practice, you typically cannot and do not market directly on Facebook. You could market on Google and Bing via paid ads but it does get REALLY expensive, very soon. You can of course, depend on SEO to drive traffic (which you really should) but you really do need to spend a lot of time and efforts into writing about your expertise. You could (and should) market via cold calls and cold emails (pretty expensive channels) as well. 

Overall, from my life’s experience, I have found healthcare marketing to be a LOT easier than IT services marketing. 

But, that’s a really short-sighted way of looking at things.. I firmly believe that there are no super unique business challenges in any vertical. If you really break things down to the basic levels, it all comes down to the same thing.. 

Showing your expertise in something… not at everything, but 1-2 things that are valuable to your potential client / prospect.

I remember the last time we got an incoming lead that looked like this

“We are researching to find most capable and most efficient web development company specializing in working with startup tech in the area of healthcare technology.  We are looking to create a Web based Secured Software Platform to help both patients and doctors connect with each other both online via virtual visits as well as offline via online booking platform to make appointments for in person office visits for specific procedures.  This platform will be similar to Zocdoc.com and NextHealth.com – However, our platform will have far more features allowing doctors and patients to share historical clinical data and much more. Patients will be in full control of what will be shared with whom and platform will also help automate insurance pre-authorization for procedures based on recommended treatment.  We are also looking to partner up and develop and use artificial intelligence in both clinical and service areas. We need a robust software since we also have many other revolutionary features to incorporate which cannot be discussed at this point without proper NDA and confidentiality agreements. Please email top 5 to 10 areas of expertise which sets you apart from competition.  Thank you

The sales department was of course rejoicing the new lead.

However, my heart sank… 

Note the last line in bold “Please email top 5 to 10 areas of expertise which sets you apart from competition.”

This simply told me that our website had done a great job at focusing on the right market (healthcare) and the right lead.. 

But, we had failed to show our expertise.. We had failed to convince the prospect that we had enough expertise to handle their business requirement. If we had, they would not be asking us about 5-10 areas of expertise that sets us apart.

We had failed to show how we are different from our competitors.

We had failed to garner enough confidence in the prospect where they were asking us about our availability rather than having us prove to them what our expertise is.

That’s what services firms need to do if they want to survive.

They need to pick 1-2 areas and dig their heels in..

They need to really research the problem area(s) and show how much they understand the problems. 

They need to create or propose various solutions to show that they not only understand the business domain, the specific problems.. But they also understand enough to propose a few solutions.. 

They need to be researching the latest ways to solve those problems – better, cheaper, faster.

They need to contribute their thoughts, learnings etc (to the web) to show the world that they truly are thought leaders in solving that specific problem. 

That’s where services firms fail .. and instead of raising their rates, they tend to get involved in a race to the bottom.. 

Are you doing the right thing for your services firm?

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