It wasn’t that long ago that marketing automation was something that only hospitals and large PT practices could afford, leaving small and mid-sized practices to do things the old-fashioned way. Luckily, that’s no longer the case, yet many practices are still doing most or all of their marketing manually – by hand.
The whole concept of automation is built on processes and systems. In marketing, this can take a number of forms, depending on the type of marketing you’re doing and the tools you’re using to manage these systems.
Let’s look at what these tools and processes look like in action and how they impact the level of care you provide (and ultimately, your practice’s overall profitability):
Before we dive into specifics, there’s a big misconception about marketing automation that needs to be cleared up: automation is, in fact, NOT synonymous with hands-off.
You’ve probably heard phrases like “turn-key marketing” or maybe someone told you that automation saves time because you can set it up once and simply ride the escalator to the top with zero extra effort involved.
These ideas are first and foremost inaccurate, but they also force practice owners to set unrealistic expectations about what automation can and should be doing for you.
In reality it is a tool that removes much of the manual labor so you can focus on higher-level tasks in your business and clinic, but there is still some level of involvement from you.
Here’s an example of what marketing automation really looks like in a physical therapy practice:
We recently did a rotator cuff workshop with 110 people in attendance: 55 people came from online marketing automation, and 55 came from offline advertising. When I mention this workshop to the average practice owner, they’re under the belief that those 110 people raised their hand saying they have rotator cuff issues, walked into the workshop, and signed up for an appointment.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
We had to call every one of those patients once they registered—we had about 98 conversations with people who signed up. These weren’t just conversations about the event, either. We spoke with them about their shoulders and asked what they were experiencing as well as what they were hoping to get from the workshop.
Of those in attendance, 47 people scheduled a full plan of care. Automation helped bring the leads in, but we had to pick up where the automation left off to ignite the conversation and get them to move forward with treatment.
Automation is by no means a hands-off approach to getting new clients, but it can serve as an extra set of hands for lead generation and keeping your sales funnel full of qualified patients who are likely to need what you can provide.
Now, let’s look at some of the ways PT practice owners are using marketing automation to maximize their resources and increase their leads:
Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing. Some sources pinpoint the average ROI at around $39 for every dollar spent, while others say it’s closer to $44 per dollar spent. In either case, PT practices of any size can leverage it for less than pennies per email.
To start, you’ll need to build your email list. We’ll talk about some other automation techniques for lead generation, which will help you build up your list. But you can also add your current patients to the mix. They already know you and may end up buying products, starting a new care plan, or even recommending you to their friends or family if you can stay top-of-mind.
You don’t want to be too promotional with your email marketing—instead, you should focus on delivering value to your audience, especially those who have not come into the office for care. You can use email marketing to share helpful information or blog posts, build your image, and invite people to join a webinar or other event that will get them through the door.
I’ve also seen a lot of PT practices use email as a communication tool for new patients. On-boarding emails, at-home exercises, setting patient expectations, appointment reminders—anything that creates conversation and engagement to integrate your patient into your practice culture.
Live chat used to be “just nice to have,” but today, it’s becoming more of a necessity if you’re getting a lot of inquiries or visitors to your website.
Live chat is like instant messaging for your website. PT practices can use it to communicate with leads in real-time. Your front office staff will receive a notification when someone starts a conversation. Then, they can reply with information, answers, or even an invitation to an appointment.
Research shows that nearly a third of website users expect this feature, and this number is even higher for mobile device users. People want a quick, easy way to reach out to you without having to call your office.
You might be wondering, “Where’s the automation in live chat?”
There are a couple of things you can do here. First, some patients need a little nudge to get the conversation going. Automation can initiate the conversation based on user behaviors on your website, bring your user’s attention to the live chat feature, and even send a transcript of the conversation to the patient via email.
Plus, it’s an easy way to add credibility to your website and practice.
Web forms and landing pages are digital gold for generating leads, and they don’t cost much to create or implement.
Here’s the breakdown:
You create a web form or landing page that offers free content in exchange for contact details. This could be a blog post, checklist, e-book, webinar—anything of value that people will want.
Once the visitor signs up, their email address and contact information are automatically added to your email list so you can nurture your leads until they’re ready to move forward.
Think about it: when someone visits your website, you know absolutely nothing about them. You don’t know why they came, what they’re looking for, who they are, or how you can help them. You also have no way of reaching back out to them (unless you’re using remarketing or retargeting, which we’ll talk about next).
Opt-in forms are priceless in this regard. They help you capitalize on website visitors to give you a chance to continue the conversation without any extra effort on your part.
If you’ve ever visited a website and looked at a product without purchasing, then later saw advertisements for that website and product while browsing other sites, you’ve experienced remarketing.
Remarketing (or retargeting) is an easy way to remain top-of-mind with website visitors. Maybe they landed on your web page and didn’t reach out. Or maybe they started to schedule an appointment online but didn’t complete the process. Whatever the reason they bounced, retargeting helps you remain connected to them.
This not only creates top-of-mind awareness but also encourages repeat visits to your website.
*Remarketing is a paid advertising service done through one of the major ad delivering networks such as Google AdWords, Facebook or a private ad network.
If you’re doing any form of content marketing (e.g., blog posts, webinars, e-books), then social media is a natural part of the ecosystem. It’s a place for you to publish, post, and advertise to build brand awareness, connect with prospects, grow your following, and attract new patients to your practice.
While you’ll need to be the eyes and hands behind the content itself, you can use automation tools to schedule posts ahead of time. Here’s what this might look like:
You write ten blog posts and publish them to your website. You use automation tools to front load all ten blog posts and share them one by one on designated days at the time of your choice.
Content marketing is one of the easiest things to quit. You’re creating all this helpful content to share with your audience, but then something happens, and it gets knocked down on your priority list until it’s not even on the list anymore. But content marketing is arguably the single most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, and you can’t afford for it to fall through the cracks.
Automation steps in to ensure that even when you take an “off” day on your content strategy, you still have content working for you on social media.
Marketing automation is a growing practice, and it’s not just for big-budget hospitals anymore. It’s not uncommon to find freemium products that can help you get your feet wet until you get a feel for automation and how you want to use it in your practice.
One more thing you need to walk away with today is that automation is never a replacement for human connections. Rather, your digital automation should support the person-to-person interactions you have with your patients and prospects. No matter the type of automation you choose, when you prioritize value, the benefits will easily outweigh the costs.