The private practice rehab industry loves to talk marketing—WebPT included. We all scour the Internet for ways to improve referral marketing, online marketing, print marketing. But clinic directors, managers, and therapists alike seem to adamantly avoid or abhorrently oppose anything related to sales. I’m here to say we absolutely shouldn’t. More importantly, we can’t. Because while yes, marketing and sales are two distinct aspects of business, they’re inherently linked, always working in tandem. And for your PT, OT, or SLP business—or any business, really—to be a success, marketing and sales need to take a page from Forrest Gump and Jenny: always be together like peas and carrots. Here’s why:

First, Sales Isn’t a Dirty Word

I’m sure most of you are actually performing sales in one way or another whether you realize it or not. And yet, most of you refuse to admit that you’re “salespeople” who are “selling.” But to quote business and marketing coach Jay Abraham, “The fact is, everyone is in sales. Whatever area you work in, you do have clients and you do need to sell.” So if we’re all selling, why then is “sales” such a dirty word?

In this blog post, product developer and professional speaker Justin Jackson explains that, “For a lot of us, our feeling about sales stems from a bad experience with a salesperson. The problem is, most salespeople are selling someone else’s product; they’re not directly invested in the product itself.” A good example? A car salesperson. He or she doesn’t “design, build, or distribute the cars.” That person is just trying to clear out inventory and make a commission. But as Jackson states, “...you’re different. You’re not selling someone else’s product.”

When you’re a rehab therapist, your services are the product. You’re selling your abilities, your expertise, and your practice’s culture, style, and approach. You’re not in it for the commission. You’re far more invested than that car salesperson. You're helping people. It’s not sleazy or selfish to find people who need help and provide them with a solution, but it is sales. (Stay tuned to our blog because later this week, Brooke Andrus is going to explain how to sell your PT services without sounding like that stereotypical salesperson.)

Second, the Buying Funnel Works When There’s Marketing and Sales

No matter the business, if you’re trying to turn a profit, the buying funnel applies. And in the age of direct access, it’s even more relevant. The funnel is a consumer-based model that illustrates a customer’s journey toward buying a product or service. There are many variations of the funnel, but I’m going to try to describe it in the simplest form.

You start off with the general public. When they become aware of your practice, they enter the funnel. As those potential patients travel through the funnel, disinterested people fall off and interested prospects continue to travel through the next stages of the buying process: interest, desire, and action (or purchase). But remember, the funnel doesn’t stop after a single purchase. For those who make it all the way through the funnel and become your patients, you have to work to ensure that they continually repeat the funnel process, purchasing from you again and again. You also should capitalize on these repeat customers—in other words, your most loyal patients—to help others enter your funnel through word-of-mouth.

Here’s the kicker: The funnel is quite tricky without sales. Physician referrals certainly reduce the pressure to sell. As long as you have quality relationships with your referring physicians, they’ll probably continue to refer to you. But as I mentioned above, what about direct access? And what about repeat customers?

Marketing can get you far, especially if it’s persuasive. However, when you’re at, say, a tradeshow or community event, you have to employ sales tactics, specifically:

  1. Touting your expertise
  2. Identifying your key differentiators
  3. Asking for action—whether that’s booking an appointment or providing contact information for follow-up.

The third step is essential—and it’s unfortunately what so many PTs, OTs, and SLPs get hung up on. As CEO of Human Business Works Chris Brogan explains in this blog post, “People get squeamish when asking for money or when promoting something of value to their community. If you feel it’s a genuine value to the community, why feel squeamish? You’re providing many services for free. To ask for compensation for certain parts of the value you give away is natural and expected.” You must shelve your squeamishness and “make the ask,” as Brogan calls it. If you don’t, someone else will, and they’ll get the business. 

The same is true when it comes to current customers. If you’re treating a patient, you still have to tout your expertise, educate him or her on what you’re doing and why it works (in plain English), and make the ask—whether that’s pre-booking appointments or asking the patient to review your clinic online. Demonstrating the value of your services only matters if patients acknowledge that value and return to your practice. You have to sell them on you, your treatment, and your business in order to achieve that. If you don’t, patients may seek another therapist’s service—or worse, and more likely, they’ll give up on physical therapy altogether.

This whole discussion boils down to one quintessential point: If you lose an opportunity to provide someone with your services, you invalidate—flat out waste, actually—your marketing efforts. Marketing generates leads, but sales closes the deals. You need both to get the most bang out of the buying funnel; you need both for your business to truly succeed.


How do you feel about sales? What strategies do you employee to market and sell your services? How can rehab therapists come to terms with the selling side of private practice?

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