CHALLENGES FOR THE PROFESSION
Mental Health issues make their way across the newswire at an alarming rate. We hear about teenage suicide, random acts of violence, an increase in depression and anxiety across all ages, substance abuse, complex trauma at home and abroad. Even more alarming are societal maladies that are rarely discussed. Children forever lost in chaotic homes where violence and sexual abuse is pervasive with national and local systems ill equipped to effectively address these tragedies. Such is the world a mental health professional finds herself/himself thrust into as part of a calling to serve and help those suffering psychological and emotional pain.
A mental health career is a noble and courageous endeavor, which can come at a significant price. We see state governments use mental health services as a scapegoat for poor financial management and planning, choosing to balance their Medicaid books at the expense of community based mental health programs. As a result, mental health practitioners are asked to serve effectively with few resources, little pay and even fewer options to grow professionally.
Mental health services in the private sector are equally challenging. Insurance companies devalue these services as evidenced by limited reimbursement rates, few behavioral healthcare plans for employees, and the implementation of complex and convoluted systems that test the most patient and saint-worthy of practitioners.
In spite of all these challenges in the mental health marketplace, there are specific business strategies and approaches practitioners can adopt in an effort to overcome these obstacles and ultimately triumph in the profession. In this article I discuss many of the key strategies and will expound on them in greater detail in future publications. The understanding and use of best-in-class sales and marketing principles will serve to complement an already rich skill set that will help mental health professionals succeed in ways they may not have imagined possible!
SECRETS OF SUCCESS & THE SALES STIGMA
The business world is changing at an incredibly fast pace and many of these changes have a profound impact on the way people do business. Most of us in the mental health field, however, remain blissfully ignorant and unaware of these subtle but powerful events. Those lucky few who become aware of some of these changes (e.g., technological advances that decentralize and empower people at all levels; new concepts in sales & marketing that enable you to grow your business at hyper-speed using a sophisticated multimedia approach) are presented with a window of opportunity that can lead to tremendous growth and independence. Opportunities abound for those who are open to some of these new ideas and willing to integrate new concepts into their mental health service model. The key lies in how highly skilled mental health professionals approach the marketplace and what tools they choose to use in order to succeed in a competitive environment. As a licensed clinician and mental health consultant for over 15 years I have seen many success stories that were the direct result of the effective use of the key principles I discuss in this article.
A key area most mental health professionals are sorely lacking and unaware is in understanding, utilizing and integrating sophisticated sales skills within their practice! Did you say sales skills?! Yes, indeed I did. Clinicians receive heavy doses of clinical training in graduate schools and continuing education programs. However, very little is offered in terms of how to succeed in the profession from both a financial and career development perspective. There are business seminars focusing on billing practices, business systems, and various administrative tasks but few if any discuss the power and importance of sales skills in our profession. This area is often so untapped that adopting even some of the more basic principles will immediately distinguish you in the profession and give you an extreme economic advantage in the mental health marketplace.
At first glance the idea of adopting sales principles conjures up images of self-serving, manipulative tactics and ploys. As a result, a sales approach is often the furthest from the mind of a mental health professional. However, this position is misguided and comes from a limited understanding of sales theory and practice in general. First and foremost, selling and the sales process is a critical element in all areas of commerce. No business takes place without a sales transaction of some sort or another. Mental Health services are not utilized unless a sale is made and someone chooses to use a specific service, you are not hired into a clinical position unless you effectively sell yourself to the hiring manager, a private practice does not last long without consistent sales for services, and funding for community programs is not awarded unless a government entity is sold on the need and importance of those services. As a result, our first step here is to acknowledge and accept that sales are a critical part of the process in the mental health business.
Once we come to recognize this fact we must also dispel the myth about sales being a sleazy and unethical profession that utilizes manipulative and self-serving tactics at the expense of others. Like any profession, there are theoretical frameworks and people within the business who would no doubt support these negative stereotypes. However, when we take a closer look at the sales profession we find that it can also be a highly sophisticated, philosophical and value driven profession that is perfectly suited for the helping professions.
UNRAVELING THE SALES SKILL MYSTERY: ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES TO HELP YOU STAND OUT
Having taken a closer look at the importance and scope of sales our next logical step is to explore sales theory and application in greater detail. I have grouped various sales skills/approaches into 4 Core Principles in an effort to help clarify and organize these concepts in a way that makes sense. I must also emphasize that adopting these principles will quickly position you ahead of your competitors! They are extremely powerful principles in that they all contribute to a fundamental shift essential to success in business. What is this shift? The shift I am referring to is a movement away from participating in the selling process to becoming an important/critical part of the buying process. Lead sales experts such as Dale Carnegie, Frank Rumbauskas, and Jeffery Gitomer all emphasize the importance of this paradigm shift in order to achieve high levels of success.
So what does it mean when you talk about moving from the selling process to the buying process? Simply put, your current efforts to sell your services can be a difficult and unrewarding process. At its core it is a process whereby you are not in a position of strength, where you tend to focus on your own interests and where you must seek out others and convince others to use your services. Now what would life be like as a mental health practitioner if people recognized you as an authority in the field or as someone who adds tremendous value and can help them with their needs? When a change occurs where you are viewed as a valuable resource and partner people begin to seek you out without any soliciting on your part. Business comes to you and you find yourself in what sales professionals refer to as being a key part of the buying process. The best thing about this approach is that its foundation is based on integrity, honoring your unique attributes, bringing value and helping others – all hallmarks of the mental health profession.
Let me offer an example to clarify my point. Let’s say you are a mental health clinician who has been in the field many years, you have an expertise in family/child issues and you decide to offer a group on parenting skills. You attend networking events but find that everyone at those events is pitching their own service and not seeking services to buy. Attendees shower you with praise and tout your service as “much needed” and “long overdue”, however, you generate little to no business from those events. You advertise your group to doctors offices and through basic networking channels such as local counseling chapters and school systems. Still no one comes.
The issue here is not necessarily missing the mark in terms of community needs nor is it an issue of skill and competence. People are not coming to you because you have not tapped into the buying process. In the buying scenario, you have built a level of credibility in the community and positioned yourself in such a way that they must go through you in order to access these specific mental health services. Your sales approach and philosophy prompts those in the community to recognize you, talk about you and value you as an important resource. In addition, you create communication channels/systems and remove barriers/obstacles that encourage and allow others to take the next step toward utilizing your services. If you can create this shift your ability to grow as a practitioner multiplies exponentially and with half of the effort! The principles outlined here all contribute to making that change.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these principles.
Principle 1: Be Solution/Customer Focused
Many people in all areas of business mistakenly take an approach where they sell their services versus selling solutions. A distinguishing factor for most people who are successful in their industry is that they are customer focused, meaning they sell the way the customer wants to buy. They focus solely on the needs, problems, wants of the customer and work to find solutions that will help that customer. This concept sounds basic and simple, however, it takes dedication and a high level of skill to be customer focused in the way I am referring to here. Below are some key factors associated with this approach.
- Sell the way customers want to buy. (Take time to understand customer needs, concerns, problems and wants. Show them you understand them and offer solutions even if it means referring them to someone else who can help.)
- Give Value! (Use an altruistic approach. Deliver something to potential customers without any expectation of something in return.)
- Recognize the only way you get others to do something is if you give them what they want. (Manipulative tactics and high-pressure sales tactics do not work. Be persuasive not manipulative and know the difference!)
- Go above and beyond and be remembered! (Over-deliver on services, give of yourself to the community in unique ways, follow-through in ways that highly impress.)
- Create a buying atmosphere. (Study customer needs, business systems and their unique market. Provide solutions and remove barriers/obstacles that gives them permission to buy.)
- The Power of Presence: Listen First, Talk Last and Ask Excellent Questions! (It is the rare individual who truly focuses on the customer in the here and now. Use your clinical skills to understand the needs of the customer.)
Principle 2: Build Credibility & Legitimacy
Do you want to attract high quality referrals for your business? Develop a plan that will position you as an expert in targeted areas within your profession.
- Become an expert in something. And share that knowledge for free!
- Understand and study social dynamics and the psychology of power. (Know its role in the sales process and in your profession. Use this knowledge to be in a position of strength with regards to the buying process.)
- Build credibility and attract what you view as “high-quality referrals” by giving yourself to the community. (e.g., free advice, free services, helpful hints/tips.)
- Become Published. (Opportunities abound to become published – See Mark Joyner’s e-book “Rise of the Author.” There is tremendous power in being published.)
- Study the art of presenting and find opportunities to present. (This is perhaps the best value proposition for you as a mental health professional! It builds credibility and creates powerful networks.)
Principle 3: Think Long-Term
Too often we focus on short-term immediate business needs and neglect longer lasting more powerful methods that lead to much greater growth. Focus on relationships and you will create solid sales processes and networks that will enable you to reach much higher levels of success.
- Stop focusing on the short term and work to build lasting relationships that will lead to referrals and other opportunities.(Sales expert, Jeffrey Gitomer, in his great sales book, The Little Red Book of Selling, says it this way, “Think End of Time not end of Month.”)
- Focus on others first.(Help colleagues, community members and prospective clients without expectation of something in return.)
- Always be a resource! (Offer assistance and solutions even if it has nothing to do with your area of expertise. Leverage the expertise of others and share the wealth! Helping professional colleagues will also lead to your long-term success.)
- Let go of the need/want to benefit yourself and act with the intent of helping others. (In today’s self-serving world it is the rare individual who functions in this manner. And yet, it is a distinguishing factor in a competitive marketplace.)
- Long-term strategies are equally effective in one’s career development as they are in business development.(Strategies such as informational interviewing and volunteering often lead to significantly better career and advancement opportunities.)
Principle 4: Use Intelligent and Technically Advanced Marketing Systems
Top sales performers in all businesses create effective systems that free up their time for more value driven activities and help create communication and buying vehicles that produce a powerful buying environment for the customer.
- Leverage technology to market yourself and to create a buying atmosphere.(e.g., website development, public relations & media opportunities such as e-articles, e-books, audio programs, video snapshots.)
- Automate business activities that are non-essential to your core growth opportunities. (Use technology to automate key activities and identify personnel that can help you work more efficiently.)
- Build communities that allow for sharing of ideas and networking opportunities. (e.g.,online forums, lunch & learns, supervision meetings.)
- Understand marketing principles that will effectively brand you.(Social marketing and Viral Marketing are two powerful concepts that leverage the incredible growth in technology. Learn these and others to increase your growth as a successful mental health practitioner and businessperson!)
- Know the sales cycle for your profession and be persistent with your value messages. (Market Research tells us it typically takes 6-10 exposures to your message before a buying decision is made. Create vehicles that give you a high level of visibility.)
The material presented here is merely an introduction to the powerful concepts of selling and how they can be effectively utilized and integrated within a mental health practice. Each of the areas outlined above contain a tremendous amount of depth and richness that require further discussion and clarification in order to gain the full benefits. In the coming months I will look at each principle in greater detail in an effort to clarify concepts, introduce new tools and offer excellent resources from some of the experts in the world of sales and marketing.