Healthcare’s unique environment creates excellent lessons for staffing firms

By Janet Elkin

Not too long ago, the common belief in healthcare staffing was that if you had enough clinicians, clients would beat a path to your door. If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t today.

With Affordable Care Act implementation and other government regulations, combined with the growing competitiveness throughout the industry, healthcare staffing now has much more in common with the business development pressures of other staffing segments.

That being said, selling into a healthcare facility can be a daunting challenge and presents unique issues. In an environment where the person you’re selling to is dealing with life and death decisions every day, you have to approach sales with a little different perspective.

Following are a few lessons from the trenches that I’ve learned through the years, framed in three basic categories.

1. Understand your environment. Healthcare is overflowing with policies and guidelines. Understandably so. After all, do you want to be treated at a facility that makes decisions based on who dropped off pizza last? Additionally, rules tend to change from facility type to facility type. What is acceptable behavior when selling to a hospital might be very different from a skilled nursing facility.

You have to put in the time and effort to learn the ropes. You have to know what you can and can’t do. You have to understand the requirements of organizations like The Joint Commission and ruling bodies like state boards. As difficult as it is to gain access to a facility’s chief nursing officer or make inroads with a physical therapy supervisor, you can see months of hard work disappear by not understanding the boundaries healthcare companies must work within each day.

Is it really any different working with other industries? Healthcare might have less tolerance for mistakes, but it’s easy to run afoul with any client, so you’d better know where the foul lines are.

2. Know what you’re talking about. The warm and fuzzy of healthcare is reserved for patients and families of patients. It certainly isn’t extended to staffing companies. As a result, you’d better know what you’re talking about from the first time you walk through the door.

Learn the language, know the vocabulary. I’m talking disciplines, specialties, licenses and don’t forget the acronyms, there are thousands of them. I’ll never forget the first time a new salesperson I knew flew solo on a sales call and, when asked if he could fill PRN jobs, said, “of course, we can place any skill set.” If you’re laughing right now, you know how quickly that sales call ended; if you’re not, the lesson here is that healthcare professionals don’t have the time or the inclination to teach you. Nor do they suffer fools gladly.

In the end, knowing what you’re talking about is a sign of respect — for your clients and your profession. That’s true for every staffing segment. No client wants to deal with a company that is represented by someone who doesn’t care. You can’t fake being a professional — at least not for long.

 3. Selling is service and service is selling. You don’t really understand the synchronicity of sales and service until you work in healthcare staffing. If we oversell, over-promise — or under-deliver — the consequences are serious. Hospitals might have to turn away patients, people suffer.

Successful sales begins with uncompromising customer service. You can’t cut corners. Compliance is king. Credentialing is sacrosanct. You have to be honest and transparent in your client communication, even with bad news. People’s lives depend on compliant clinicians being there when needed.

And this starts with sales. Our salespeople have a responsibility beyond just closing the deal. Their job is to learn; ask questions, tour the facility, understand their culture and their needs. Is that customer service or sales? It doesn’t matter, it’s about helping facilities help patients.

Shouldn’t that be the focus of any staffing salesperson in any staffing segment?

While these lessons are not unique to healthcare, they are magnified by the pressure, pace and stress of healthcare. And, the consequences of violating these lessons tend to be more severe — making healthcare a great teacher.

Janet Elkin is president and CEO of Supplemental Health Care.