Marketing + Operations: Why Total Alignment is Vital to Growth

Because healthcare organizations are selling a provider relationship rather than just a simple product, alignment between marketing and operations is essential. Strong marketing alignment is not just critical for marketing success, but for the success of the business as well. Here are four main types of marketing alignment and how to achieve them.

Marketing + Operations: Why Total Alignment is Vital to Growth

There was once a time when marketing departments were called “marketing wizards.” This made sense because they worked in towers isolated from their organization’s daily routine, and what they did was a sort of magic that nobody needed to analyze as long as it worked to bring in customers.

Times have changed. We’re not in the middle ages anymore, and marketing has gone from magic to science—the type of science that’s based on a lot of data and research.  Healthcare marketers generally recognize that good patient data and information are often the cornerstone of a successful campaign. But when it comes to having conversations to share information within the organization and get internal data, some marketing departments still feel more like they’re working in a distant tower. And these days, that’s just not good enough.

“The days of working in silos, with intake over here, marketing here, sales here, operations here, is over. 2024, for me, is all about integration. How does the marketing team support each of these entities in a way that drives our goals? That’s what I’m looking at, and the tools will follow.”  —Christine Perkins, CMO at Amen Clinics, Inc. 

Collaboration and alignment between marketing and operations departments are crucial for ensuring that marketing is achieving the correct goals. It’s no longer enough to wave your hands and say, “I’m bringing in customers, so everything’s great.” Because everything’s not great if you’re bringing in the wrong customers. Or bringing in customers in a way that makes things more difficult for the practice. Marketing may be essential, but it exists to serve the business, which means it should always be done with the business needs in mind.

And yes, patients are obviously a key business need for most healthcare organizations, but it’s far from the only need. Healthcare marketing will be much more successful if it is aligned with operations in four key respects:

  • Capacity Alignment
  • Service Line Alignment
  • Messaging Alignment
  • Technology Alignment

If you can get your marketing and operations to have conversations and align on all of these areas, it will not only improve your marketing, but be a great help to your daily operations as well.


Practice Capacity Alignment

One of the most basic—and thus sometimes overlooked—questions for multi-site healthcare providers is: “Which locations need more patients right now, and which already have a waitlist?”

This is barely even a question for the operations team, who tend to be well aware of any location that is starved for patients or any location with waitlists so long that patients are getting restless. But that information isn’t always conveyed to marketing, and if the capacity data isn’t being shared, marketing will go ahead and follow their primary function of bringing in more patients… to a location that already has too many patients.

What Happens Without Capacity Alignment

Ad Budget Gets Wasted

Marketing isn’t free, so any time you run ads for an overbooked location, you’re throwing away money. Good communication between marketing and operations can help you reclaim that money so you can either market that location six months later during a lull or market a different location now that may be struggling to find patients. But without that alignment, you’re wasting your ad budget to point patients to a sign that says, “Sorry, try again next month.”

Patients Will Leave For Competitors

Let’s not fool ourselves—they may be called “patients,” but they’re not infinitely patient. If you manage to drive patients to your practice to book an appointment, they probably want an appointment sometime in the near future. If they have to wait multiple weeks, they may start looking for another provider. If they have to wait months for an appointment, you can guarantee that they’ll be Googling your competitors to try to find something sooner. Now, you’ve spent your marketing budget to drive customers to your competitors.

Patients Who Wait Become Disgruntled

The good news is not every patient will leave for a competitor when faced with a long wait. Some will stick with your practice even if it’s another two months before they can have an appointment. The bad news is those patients will not likely be happy about it. And the result is unhappy patients who now associate your brand with an unsatisfying experience. Again, not a great way to spend your marketing budget.

You Have The Capacity For Alignment

All of these problems can be avoided by aligning your advertising budget with the capacity of practices across your system. And that alignment is not a one-and-done sort of deal. Marketing needs a strong alignment with operations that is built on consistent communication about which locations have the capacity for more patients in the near future—and which locations don’t. Good communication means that capacity information is fed back to marketing with regular updates, which in turn allows marketing to adjust advertising budgets accordingly.

“If we were to go big and launch a big campaign to drive more of the awareness than we’ve done… We need to work together. [We] provided operations with many tools to say you think that you want to grow, but your providers are not actually accepting new patients, they’re not bringing in those new patients.

…Once we gave that transparency, our operational leaders really partnered with us to say, ‘Okay, we’ll open up [appointment] access if you’ll do the marketing.’ So, we set thresholds of when we would see patients and when we would need to have new patient availability in key service lines as well as primary care. Before we would go live in a community and we scaled it, we had that alignment” —Kristina Dover, CMO at Mercy. 

It’s a bit of a shift for many organizations that aren’t used to looping in marketing on individual location capacity. But the benefits are clear: Capacity alignment lets you meet capacity goals across your system while avoiding the pitfalls of mismanaged ad budgets. It’s the kind of efficiency that no healthcare marketer can afford to ignore. But of course, it’s not the only one. There’s also…


Service Line Alignment

Just as every location may have different needs based on capacity and other factors, different service lines have different needs as well. And yes, some of those will be based on capacity in terms of which service lines need more patients currently.

But there are also a lot of other important questions to ask about your various service lines, including:

  • Which services are most profitable overall?
  • Which services have the highest patient lifetime value?
  • Which services are most likely to lead to upsells? 

Note that while all of these questions sound like they’re asking similar things (“Where’s the money?”), the answers to all of them might be quite different. Your most profitable service may be based on high volume and have a low patient LTV. Your service line with the highest patient LTV may be based on a standard high-ticket service with limited potential for upsells. Your service with the greatest potential for upsells may be one that offers a permanent (or quasi-permanent) solution that eliminates the likelihood of continuing revenue.

Why You Need Deep Understanding of Business Goals

In order to understand how best to market a business, you have to understand that business. This means that it’s not enough for healthcare marketers to know what services they’re marketing. An effective marketing strategy will also rely on a deeper understanding of the needs and numbers behind the services, everything from service line revenue goals to average patient LTV. Roadmaps for marketing campaigns should then be drawn up accordingly to align with revenue and business goals.

For example, an MSO expanding into a new market likely has a revenue goal much higher than their $0 revenue in that market in the previous year, so a lot of effort needs to be put into developing campaigns to raise brand awareness and drive demand. Conversely, you don’t want to spend most of your ad budget prioritizing a patient acquisition campaign for your service line with the lowest LTV.

This is not to say that you should ignore everything that isn’t your newest expansion or your biggest moneymaker. Healthcare marketers are generally asked to do an infinite number of things with a finite amount of money. So when it comes time to figure out where your priorities should be (after you get past “everything is our top priority!”), alignment with operations is crucial for making those decisions. When marketing is aligned with operations and the C-suite and has a deep understanding of each service line, you can make stronger roadmaps for your team. And that means more efficient campaigns that will let you spend your marketing budget to forward the business’s desired outcomes. 

And keep in mind that not all of a business’s desired outcomes are purely about ad budgets and maximizing patient acquisition. You also need…


Messaging Alignment

I may risk having my healthcare marketing card revoked for saying this, but some of the most important alignment that marketing should consider is not just marketing ROI.

Take a deep breath, and hear me out.

A lot of the latest wisdom in healthcare marketing has to do with centering patients. We acknowledge the fact that patients are individual people, and you have to understand the different types of patients and market to your ideal patients accordingly. But once you’ve gone through the effort of positioning your brand and forwarding that message to reach your ideal patients, it’s important to avoid anything that will unravel all of that work.

What Happens Without Messaging Alignment

When marketers have no communication with operations, they may put out a slick campaign that drives a few more people to the funnel at the expense of damaging the brand. Off-message marketing can be disruptive to the practice and seriously damage trust—not only the trust that patients have for the brand, but the trust that operations has for marketing!

Imagine that the marketing team has no communication with operations and decides to run an advertising campaign promoting a discount for new patients. On a pure CAC level, it gets patients into the funnel, so it might seem like a success. But what if the practice owners feel that the campaign devalues their work and years of expertise? What if it attracts the wrong types of patients who are looking for a cheap fix and not an expert caring solution? What if the campaign ends up bringing in patients who don’t want to continue care, who just have one visit with very low-profit margins?

Messaging matters. Every marketer knows this, but it’s important to realize that messaging doesn’t just matter to the patients but to operations and the medical team as well. You need to have that communication to make sure marketing is in alignment with operations so that the messaging that goes out isn’t just effective from a marketing standpoint but is in alignment with your brand and the goals of operations as well.

“We’re really focused on building the next phase of marketing in terms of patient communication and automation and finding alignment between marketing and operations. We call it MOPs at PRM. We make sure that our patients have the right communication at the right time so that the entire patient journey is totally automated and seamless. They’re getting the right education, the right access.” —Theresa Porcaro, Director of Marketing, Pelvic Rehabilitation Medicine

I know that 90% of healthcare marketing is about getting patients in the door, but again, it’s no longer enough to just get patients in the door. You have to have alignment with operations, or you run the risk of eroding the message, the brand, and the trust of the rest of the business in your marketing. You want operations to respect you so you can collaborate with them effectively, which means you need to respect operations, respect the medical team, and respect that they have goals and needs which may go beyond just getting any random patients in the door no matter how you do so.

The good news is, once you’ve built that mutual respect, you’ll foster a collaborative culture, which is the key to buy-in for…


Technology Alignment

If messaging alignment is about how marketing can help operations achieve its goals, technology alignment is about how operations can help marketing achieve its goals. Because while everyone is technically working for the same goal of “having the business succeed,” on a day-to-day level, different teams have different focuses and priorities.

As marketing scientists (no longer just wizards), healthcare marketers want one thing, and it’s data. 

The more data, the better. However, increasing HIPAA enforcement has removed some of the previous ways that data was gathered outside of the practice, so new marketing technologies are evolving for capturing that data, often integrating with electronic health records and practice management systems. 

Adopting new technology and integrating it with historical systems isn’t easy and can require a significant lift for operations, IT, and compliance teams to implement. Don’t make light of this effort, and seek to make implementation as painless as possible.

Lastly, what happens after it’s implemented? All of this great new technology that gives you data generally involves some extra workflow—or, at the very least, a significant change in workflow—that can create challenges for doctors and healthcare administrators. Having conversations with affected parties *before* adopting new technologies will help make sure everyone is on the same page and that operations don’t just feel like you’re callously dumping new hoops for them to jump through.

Marketing Technology Adoption Requires Preparation

What types of conversations should you be having to foment alignment with your operations and compliance teams? You want to use best change management practices, which means you should:

  • Explain why the technology is important, appealing to both logic and emotion
  • Seek to understand their workflows and how those will change with the new technology
  • Ask what information they need and what resources are needed for implementation
  • Find out what risks they fear, and share a vision for a brighter post-adoption future
  • Enlist volunteers to increase buy-in and work with them on the implementation plan

So, how does that look in practice? 

Imagine that you’re a marketing leader who wants to use call-tracking technologies like Liine and Patient Prism to gather quality signals. (This should not take much imagination.) As a marketer, the benefits for you are obvious: The gathered information helps marketers evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. The data collected by call tracking tools can be used to inform ad platform algorithms so they can maximize performance.

But for operations, it’s a different story. Implementing call tracking technology can fundamentally change how contact centers process incoming patient calls and scheduling and add a lot of hassle. So, how do you get them to accept this change? You need to show them that the hassle is worth it. That means explaining both what’s in it for them at an operations level and how it helps achieve the organization’s overall goals. 

In the case of AI-powered call tracking, that might mean explaining how the new technology can help you analyze calls to detect trends like:

  • Poor customer service by agents 
  • Great customer service by agents
  • Patient experience satisfaction (cleanliness, parking, check-in procedures, etc.)
  • Service requests (are patients seeking something you don’t offer?)
  • Confusion about positioning (patients think you provide a different service)
  • Any common issues that prevent patients from returning 

Aiming For Acceptance

Once you’ve explained the benefits and the business need, you’re less likely to encounter as much resistance. This is not to say every member of operations will be thrilled to adopt the new technology. But they will understand why it’s important, which will increase the odds that they will adopt it more readily and start gathering that delicious data that you desire.

Realistically, a front service line is rarely going to be excited about adopting a new technology that adds extra steps to their workflow. Collaborating is more likely to gain their buy-in and result in a better outcome for both marketing and operations, which is why technology alignment is so important.

There are some good general principles for achieving marketing operations alignment across all of the aforementioned areas, but I’m sure by now you’re asking…


How Do I Achieve Alignment?

I’ve gone into some targeted strategies in various sections above, but here are a few general principles for achieving alignment within your organization:

Identify Aligned Goals

The first step to alignment is for all parties to recognize that you are working towards common goals. These include both financial business goals, like increased revenue, and more mission-driven goals, such as helping patients get care.

Consider Their Perspective

Of course, common goals alone aren’t enough to achieve alignment. You need to understand the perspective of your operations team. What matters most to them? How can your plans benefit them? How can you address their needs while still achieving the overall business goals? 

Prioritize Good Communication

A key to marketing operations alignment is communicating in a way that your audience will find easy to understand. Avoid using too much jargon—operations doesn’t need to hear that the CAC for your PPC campaign has a good ROI given LTV. You want to explain things clearly in a way that gets your message across without becoming bogged down in details or inside baseball.

Meet Frequently

Alignment is not something you finish. It is a constant process to ensure that communication is always taking place, that marketing is always aware of the operational needs, that operations always understands marketing’s reasons for things, and that everyone is collaborating to achieve their shared goals. Constant communication will allow you to identify any issues surrounding new patient acquisition.

Be Receptive to Feedback

Of course, frequent meetings are only valuable if the people in those meetings are actually listening. You need to keep the door open to address any emerging issues, which means listening to what’s working and what isn’t — and adjusting accordingly.

Practice Empathy

Lastly, but as far least as possible, remember that you work with other human beings. These are people who, like you, are trying to do their best and help patients get care, which is why they work in healthcare. And healthcare, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, is not easy. Working with patients can take a heavy emotional toll, exacerbated by everything from staffing shortages to payer disputes. But if you can remember that every person on your team is a fellow human being and treat them as such, you’ll be one step closer to finding true MOPs alignment.

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