Unemployed EMS Marketing Professional Spends Six Months Building the only EMS Social Network on the Web!

LinkEMS.com LogoRecently transplanted to Denver,CO and facing an unemployment rate near 9%, unemployed EMS Marketing pro, Christopher Webb takes matters into his own hands and spends six months building the only EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Social Network on the web. Launched June 16th, the site has already signed up hundreds of EMS professionals and EMS related companies. Find EMS friends, jobs, and more at www.linkems.com. Press release below.

LinkEMS.com
http://www.linkems.com Info@linkems.com

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Christopher Webb

LinkEMS.com Brings Jobs, Networking, and More to Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

Denver, CO June 16, 2012 – LinkEMS.com launches as a professional and social networking web site dedicated to Emergency Medical Services.

The LinkEMS.com network opens its online doors to bothEMSprofessionals as well as Emergency Medical Services companies. The site plans to offer the largest collection of EMS related jobs throughout theUnited Stateswhile also offering a social and professionalEMSnetwork.

Designed around making it easier for EMS professionals and companies alike to find one another, LinkEMS.com founder, Christopher Webb says “The launch of LinkEMS.com today represents a ‘soft-opening’ of our platform to do some final real life testing of the system before unlocking all the features embedded in the site”.

According to Webb, the site will launch with an abbreviated list of features including nationwide job postings, photo upload, “friending” capabilities, and online résumé builders to name a few. “We’ve built some really great tools forEMSprofessionals, job hunters, and employers alike and as we tie up all the loose ends on phase 1 of the LinkEMS.com site launch, we will be activating these features as they too become stable” says Webb.

LinkEMS.com is the brainchild ofEMSmarketing professional, inventor of the EmergiTrack™ software suite, and author of “Marketing 911”, Christopher M. Webb. As a former web hosting company owner and current marketing consultant to theEMSand ambulance industries, Webb brings a myraid of skills in both Information Technology and Marketing prowess to LinkEMS.com.

LinkEMS.com is a a service developed by Mik Market Systems, a Texas-based company which provides marketing outsourcing and consulting services to EMS and the private ambulance industry. For further information, contact Christopher Webb at c.webb@mikmarket.com.

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The $25,000 Pizza

Avoiding Anti-Kickback Violations in Ambulance Marketing

November, 2011

Think $25,000 is a lot to spend for a pizza? Cross the line and violate anti-kickback laws and you might just find yourself writing a check in just that amount.

As the government cracks down on the abuse of Medicare and State health care programs by private ambulance companies, which we have witnessed in recent headlines, many nervous private ambulance service owners are taking a closer look at their business practices to avoid the bad press, civil monetary penalties (CMPs), and even criminal prosecution that can come to an ambulance company’s principals and agents alike when abuse does occur.

The all too familiar Medicare Patient Protection Act of 1987 addresses some of the abuses that commonly occur in the private ambulance industry but for this article, we’re going to single out the anti-kickback statutes that prevent ambulance companies from “buying” their customers’ business.

Like most laws and regulations written by government officials, the language of the regulations are both specific and vague at the same time and the interpretation of this language is perceived differently among ambulance industry professionals nationwide. I have heard private ambulance professionals claim all sorts of illogical excuses, exceptions, and opinions on what is and what isn’t a violation of anti-kickback statutes.

I am no attorney and obviously cannot render a legal opinion about where the line exists that differentiates between a simple act of marketing and an illegal kickback. With that said, however, the statutes state clearly that “any person who knowingly solicits or receives any remuneration directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind” for the referral or product or service sales payable under a federal health care program could be in violation of the anti-kickback statutes. It of course goes on to apply this to the provider of the “remuneration” as well.

It is important to note that the statutes considers remuneration in excess of “nominal” value a potential violation of the statutes but they don’t define what “nominal” is when it applies to private ambulance companies and their dealings with facilities that receive Medicare funding. The Office of the Inspector General does define nominal when dealing with individual Medicare recipients but for us in the private ambulance industry. The term “nominal” is subject to interpretation and unfortunately what many ambulance companies find out the hard way…it’s not your interpretation but the OIG’s that matters.

I could go on and on about this but this article isn’t meant to school you on anti-kickback statues but instead on how to avoid violating these statutes with good old-fashioned marketing; the kind of marketing missing in so many of the private ambulance companies in operation around the U.S.

Getting down to the basics of building a solid marketing plan takes us accepting some inalienable truths about marketing, people, and the way the two interact.

Marketing is a people business.

The nature of our industry makes the acquisition of exclusive facility contracts not only nearly impossible but also incredibly dangerous in terms of violations to federal and state laws. One wrong move could cost you your career, your money, and even your freedom so many healthcare facilities avoid the practice of awarding exclusive contracts entirely when any part of their income is derived from federal health care programs. What this means for us is that even when we do get that contract finally signed we are most likely just one of a number of contracted vendors for the facility.

At the end of the day, it’s not the CEO, CFO, DON, or other member of upper management from the facility that picks up the phone to transport Mrs. Jones to her MRI; it’s the lower-level nurses, case managers, and unit clerks calling for these services. Apart from (possibly) knowing that a contract with your company actually exists, chances are that you hold no special place in these employee’s hearts unless you have made some real marketing efforts to build personal relationships with them. With that said, following some basic marketing strategies and processes, we can build our businesses without finding ourselves on the receiving end of an OIG investigation.

Marketing is a People Business

Building relationships with facility staff members (your actual callers) takes time and effort but it is these relationships that will stand up against all the pizzas, pens, notepads, doughnuts, and whatever else your competition is showering the facility with.

A good relationship is one where both parties feel free to communicate with each other without judgment or confrontation. It’s one where, when problems arise, each party believes that their relationship with the other party will result in faster and more satisfactory resolution than would occur with another business partnership with weaker relationship. A good relationship is one where both parties realize that they’re doing business but with the feeling that they’re doing this business with a friend.

Focus on the people that call you opposed to the businesses and you will reap huge benefits without spending a fortune on foods, gifts, and other expensive marketing items.

Friction Burns

The sales process is comprised of every step your customer must go through to obtain the product or service you are selling. At each one of the steps from the realization of a need for services to the actual purchase or acquisition of these services represents an area where friction can occur.

Friction is of course the resistance between objects as they move against each other. In terms of the sales process, friction is all your business practices, policies, and hurdles that your customer must overcome to actually take receipt of your product or service.

A single incoming phone line that’s always busy, unrealistic paperwork requirements and late arrivals are all examples of things that can create friction in your own sales process. By breaking your sales process down into its individual steps you can identify and fix the causes of this friction to improve your sales process and make the ordering of your services easy and painless for your customers which will result in higher sales through repetitive business.

I have written an entire article entitled “Ambulance Marketing: Friction Burns” on the concept of friction in the sales process so for a lengthy discussion on the subject, I invite you to find this and spend the few minutes it takes to read.

Perception is Key

If you take a moment to look around at other marketing messages in other industries, you might just be surprised how much of that messaging is directly aimed at creating a perception in the customer’s mind as opposed to actually painting a picture of reality.

Turn on the TV and you’ll see commercials about how fresh the produce is at a fast food restaurant, how wearing a cologne or perfume will make you more desirable, that shopping at a mega grocery store will save you money, or how insuring your car with one company will ensure that your vehicle will be repaired when another company would make you pay for it yourself.

The reality is that most fast food restaurants get their produce from the same vendors, cologne and perfume won’t turn you into a god with chiseled abs, mega stores aren’t always the cheapest, and insurance policies are going to be pretty similar across providers.

Your customers don’t see your office building, they don’t know how much money your company has in the bank and they don’t know how profitable or responsible your company is. Your customer’s perception of your business comes down to the field staff they interact with, the dispatch center personnel they speak to, and the marketing materials your company distributes.

Focus your efforts on these three areas and you will be well on your way to increasing sales and positively impacting your customer’s perception of your private ambulance company.

Make a Plan

Of course, avoiding trouble with anti-kickback regulations takes a solid marketing plan employing a variety of strategies. Don’t let this short article serve as your only source for marketing information. The tried and true marketing strategies that have built this country and the companies within it apply just as well to the private ambulance industry as they do to shrink wrapped snack.

Pens and pads have their place in private ambulance marketing but they are not a marketing strategy on their own. Take some time to put together a strategic ambulance marketing plan for your company that delivers the right message, through effective channels, and increases the perceived quality of your company and you will find that no amount of your competition’s pens, pads, or pizzas can compete and you’ll win doubly by avoiding anti-kickback laws altogether.

Christopher M. Webb brings over 15 years of marketing experience through multichannel development to the private ambulance industry. He is the Vice President of MiK

Market Systems, the creator of the EmergiTrack CRM software, and the author of “Marketing 911” (Ambulance Marketing for the Rest of Us) ISBN 978-1-4507-9243-1 and can be reached at c.webb@mikmarket.com.

Friction Burns: Ambulance Marketing

Friction. Defined in scientific terms it is the resistance experienced when one object moves against another. Perhaps you remember sliding down the rope in gym class or wrestling friends on the carpet as a child. Run around the block too fast in a tight fitting pair of corduroy pants and you’ll know the kind of friction I’m talking about. Friction can add work, damage, and even pain to any activity from sliding a backboard over a leather seat cushion to being restrained by a seatbelt during a collision.

I may have deceived you a bit because, despite the title of this article, I will not be discussing injuries caused by friction but instead will be talking about a different kind of friction entirely. In this day and age we often take for granted much of the work that companies have done to make our lives easier (and increase their sales). For example, walk into your local electronics superstore and not only will you find a comprehensive offering of televisions, car stereos, washers and dryers, and other related products but you’ll find that these products are in-stock and ready to walk out the door with you today!

It doesn’t stop there, however. The corporate giant that has brought you this smorgasbord of electronic toys and house wares has done a lot of work to make sure that buying these items is quick and easy. Payment methods include cash, check, debit, credit, in-store financing, layaway, and sometimes even trade. Product displays are placed at eye level and built to showcase items in the most efficient way possible. Staff members are trained on the features and use of all the products they sell and have all gone through very detailed customer service training.

Companies don’t do this because they love us; they do it because some well educated researchers and professionals have identified that it doesn’t take much to lose a sale. In fact, it’s the little “frictions” that often times are responsible for that customer walking out the door.

As far back as humans go there is history of us exchanging one good for another to survive. Whether we’re exchanging four arrowheads for a piece of pottery or we’re forking over $1500 for a flat panel television, these types of exchanges have and will always be a part of our lives and survival in this arena will come down to friction.

Friction in the sales process that is.

Consumers, like water and electricity, will take the path of least resistance when it comes to buying the things we want and need. Any hurdle that pops up between the time we realize we need or want something and the moment we actually take possession of the item is going to produce “friction” in the process of us buying (or them selling) that particular good; friction that may cause us to look somewhere else to have our needs fulfilled.

There are an unlimited number of factors that can produce friction in the sales process and to date there is not a single example of a completely frictionless sales process out there. The distance of a store, accepted payment options, availability of product knowledge, atmosphere, length of checkout lines, speed of delivery, and a million other things can impact how much friction exists in a particular sales process and to what lengths consumers must go to in order to procure the items they need. With that said, when two companies sell functionally similar products (in marketing we call these products substitutions), the competitor with the least amount of friction in their sales process will almost always win the customer’s business.

Friction can happen at any point in the sales process and to get a better idea of where this friction can occur and what we can do to fix it, we must dissect our sales processes into clearly identifiable steps.

Let’s take a look at a typical private ambulance company’s sales process beginning with step 1.

1. A case manager realizes the need to transport a patient

2. The case manager determines whether he/she knows where to get this service and if not, does research to find a provider

3. The case manager calls the provider to arrange the transport

4. Dispatch answers the call

5. Dispatch takes necessary information from the case manager regarding the transport

6. Dispatch inputs the information and schedules the transport

7. Field crews receive the information and go enroute

8. The field crew shows up at the pick-up facility, finds the patient, packages the patient, and loads them onto the ambulance

9. The field crew transports the patient to the destination

10. The field crew unloads the patient, and goes back in service

Now that we have at least a preliminary map of our sales process, we can pay attention to each step to identify friction that could occur in that step that could make it more difficult for our customers to buy from us.

I will not go into great detail about each step but let’s come up with at least one possible cause of friction in each step.

Step 1. Is the case manager knowledgeable enough about patient transportation to order the right service? ACLS Ambulance, BLS Ambulance, Wheelchair Shuttle?

Step 2. Have your marketing associates visited with this case manager and provided business cards, pens, calendars, or other items with your number printed on them for easy reference?

Step 3. Could you have avoided this step if you had dispatch call first thing in the morning to proactively schedule transports for later that day?

Step 4. Does your dispatch center answer in the first few rings? Are they polite and helpful?

Step 5. Is your information gathering process standardized to get all the required information in a quick and easy fashion?

Step 6. Are dispatchers writing all this information down on paper first then inputting it into a computer system thus increasing likelihood of error?

Step 7. Are field crews receiving this information in a timely manner and responding quickly?

Step 8. Does the crew need a bariatric stretcher? Do they know what floor and room to go to? Did they get adequate directions to the pick-up location?

Step 9. Is the ambulance fueled and stocked with all needed supplies? Do they have adequate directions to get to the destination facility? Has dispatch warned them that the freeway is at a stand-still due to a multi-car MVA?

Step 10. Does the crew know what floor and room they’re going to? Did they ensure to leave all the patient’s belongings with the patient? Are crews moving quickly to get back in service?

As you can see, by looking at each step in our sales process we can begin to identify areas that could create friction in our sales process and in turn also create dissatisfaction with our services. Each one of these steps can be further broken down into sub-steps for even more analysis. With each possible friction we identify, we get that much closer to identifying what changes are needed to reduce the friction in our sales processes and start winning customers away from our competition.

I have obviously simplified the process of reducing friction in your sales process but what you should be able to gather from this quick read is that by focusing on the issues that cause you to lose sales you can begin the process of identifying the same factors that will make it possible to win sales in the future.

Take some time to split out each of your own company’s sales processes like we did above and you’ll be on the road to increasing productivity, raising customer satisfaction, and capturing market share from your competition.

Christopher M. Webb brings over 15 years of marketing experience through multichannel development to the private EMS industry. He is the Vice President of MiK Market Systems, the creator of EmergiTrack, and the author of “Marketing 911” ISBN 978-1-4507-9243-1. He can be reached at c.webb@mikmarket.com.