The Secret to “Selling” Healthcare: It’s about Providing Solutions, not Pushing your Services

It’s Cyber Monday. Across the country and around the world, millions of people are online, creating a shopping frenzy that’s become one of the most important dates on many retailers’ calendars. And while it’s safe to say that very few are shopping for bargains on aesthetic services, the concept is still relevant for one simple reason:

For potential patients, healthcare, and elective healthcare in particular, is increasingly a retail proposition. As consumers considering potentially expensive purchases, they’re conducting research, evaluating competing options, and narrowing their “consideration set” significantly before deciding who is going to get “their business.”

The problem, of course, is that for someone to buy something, someone else has to sell it and actively selling one’s services is not something they typically teach in medical school. There’s nothing in the Hippocratic Oath about marketing and the line between publicizing one’s practice and self-promotion is blurry at best.

The solution is to take a more customer- (or patient-) centric approach to “sales.” It’s not about pushing products/services people don’t want; it’s about providing a service that helps people resolve perceived problems. As Stewart Gandolf, cofounder and CEO of Healthcare Success, notes, “Sales” is not a matter of getting patients to “buy,” but rather it is presenting a product or service that delivers what they want:

There’s far more mutual satisfaction in finding people who are looking for products or services — and delivering a solution — than in convincing someone to “buy something” that they didn’t want. It’s simple enough; and in many respects, it’s a fairly obvious concept. Selling is helping.

It’s what savvy retailers like Amazon and Nordstrom do. Sure, they’re selling products but they also enhance the process by providing content — rich media, targeted suggestions, online reviews — that helps people make more informed decisions. Along the way, they create another key pillar of successful retailing: Branding.

Alas, like “selling,” branding can be a tricky concept, especially in a field that’s about helping others rather than promoting oneself. And when doctors are reluctant to create a brand around their practice, it makes it that much harder for potential patients to differentiate among them. As a recent post by Vanguard Communications puts it,

Psst. Here’s the world’s worst-kept secret: Patients can’t tell much difference between doctors. Heck, doctors often can’t tell much difference, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., surgeons who repair other surgeons’ errors). Faced with multiple buying choices, any healthcare consumer looks for differences. What makes one doctor different and memorable?

The answer, they say, is differentiating yourself from the competition (which, it’s worth noting, is another key to success in traditional retail). It’s about crystallizing the culture of your practice, assessing what makes you unique — a particular specialty, for example, or a reputation for responsiveness — and emphasizing it throughout your marketing and communications. Just as legions of retailers sell shoes or books, countless other doctors are out there are offering to provide the same services you do. You may believe you perform them better than anyone else — and perhaps you do — but in a world where patients are also shoppers, that’s no longer enough. As the folks at Vanguard Communications put it,

When you’ve spent half your life preparing to be a great healer, it can be tough to accept that healing skills may not guarantee a successful practice. And it can be harder to go against professional taboos on self-promotion and self-distinction. But the best news is this: Being different is no more than being yourself. Defining your values, your principles, your contributions to the world, and the flag you salute every day is half the battle.

The other half is sharing it with others — not by pushing products and procedures but by “selling” solutions.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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