‘Tis the Season … for Term Letters in Healthcare

Nothing says “happy holidays” like a year-end coverage termination notice. It’s particularly awkward this time of year, because it overlaps open enrollment for commercial, Medicare Advantage and Exchange members. In this column, we’ll look at five seasonal drivers within healthcare, and how marketers can prepare for term letters, open enrollment and more.

Nothing says “happy holidays” like a year-end termination notice. It’s not unusual for healthcare organizations engaged in contract negotiations to send term letters to patients in mid-November. The notices fulfill contractual and regulatory obligations to provide advance notice to patients while also ratcheting up the pressure to reach agreement before a January 1 effective date.

This would cause headaches for marketing and communication professionals under the best of circumstances, but it’s particularly awkward this time of year because it overlaps open enrollment for commercial, Medicare Advantage and Exchange members. This is just one of the external factors that creates seasonality in healthcare communications.

In this column, we’ll look at five seasonal drivers within healthcare and how marketers can prepare.

1. Termination Letters

Term letters are usually sent 45 days in advance of a contract’s renewal or end-date. While these can occur at any time, a common scenario is a termination letter sent by a health plan about six weeks before the end of a calendar year. The letter goes to patients of physicians/medical groups or hospitals covered under the contract in question.

In some cases, you may not know the term letters have gone out until you begin to receive frantic calls from patients wondering if scheduled appointments or procedures will be covered. This puts you in a terribly reactive situation.

Proactively, marketers should schedule quarterly meetings with their organization’s contracting department to discuss commercial, exchange and governmental agreements that are coming up for renewal. Your contracting team is likely to focus on the financial framework of the agreement, while your concern should be on how to manage the fear and uncertainty a potential disruption has on individual patients.

Coordination with your customer service team, as well as impacted physician practices, are also critical because they will be on the front line of inquiries. You will need to understand your state’s Continuity of Care guidelines, the terminating plan’s grace period (if any), and work cross functionally to help guide patients to in-network facilities or providers if the agreement ends.

This is a labor-intensive, detail-oriented process because of the number of potentially impacted people, and emotionally draining for the patient’s family. Communicate your awareness of the situation, provide updates often and be prepared for significant push-back and one-on-one problem solving.

2. Open Enrollment

Although open enrollment for major employers, general business, Medicare/Medicare Advantage and Exchange business differ, the main season occurs in the fall and early winter. Some organizations invest all their awareness efforts during this time, when in fact this is when you should be converting prospects based on the awareness, goodwill and brand desirability you’ve cultivated all year long.

The foundation for a successful open enrollment season is based, in part, on decisions made by upstream parties during the spring and summer. As 2018 approaches, be sure to build in strategies to reach large employers, brokers, physicians and health plans.

Building Your B-to-B Marketing Database

The single most important tool in B-to-B is, arguably, the marketing database. Without a robust collection of contact information, firmographic and transactional data about customers and prospects, you are at sea when it comes to customer segmentation, analytics and marketing communications of all sorts, whether for acquiring new customers or to expand the value of existing customers. In fact, you might call the database the “recorded history of the customer relationship.” So what goes into a marketing database? Plent 

The single most important tool in B-to-B is, arguably, the marketing database. Without a robust collection of contact information, firmographic and transactional data about customers and prospects, you are at sea when it comes to customer segmentation, analytics and marketing communications of all sorts, whether for acquiring new customers or to expand the value of existing customers. In fact, you might call the database the “recorded history of the customer relationship.” So what goes into a marketing database? Plenty.

First, let’s look at the special characteristics of B-to-B databases, which differ from consumer in several important ways:

  1. In consumer purchasing, the decision-maker and the buyer are usually the same person—a one-man (or, more likely, woman) show. In business buying, there’s an entire cast of characters. In the mix are employees charged with product specification, users of the product and purchasing agents, not to mention the decision-makers who hold final approval over the sale.
  2. B-to-B databases carry data at three levels: the enterprise or parent company; the site, or location, of offices, plants and warehouses; and the multitude of individual contacts within the company.
  3. B-to-B data tends to degrade at the rate of 4 percent to 6 percent per month, so keeping up with changing titles, email addresses, company moves, company name changes-this requires dedicated attention, spadework and resources.
  4. Companies that sell through channel partners will have a mix of customers, from distributors, agents and other business partners, through end-buyers.

Here are the elements you are likely to want to capture and maintain in a B-to-B marketing database.

  • Account name, address
    • Phone, fax, website
  • Contact(s) information
    • Title, function, buying role, email, direct phone
  • Parent company/enterprise link
  • SIC or NAICS
  • Year the company was started
  • Public vs. private
  • Revenue/sales
  • Employee size
  • Credit score
  • Fiscal year
  • Purchase history
  • Purchase preferences
  • Budgets, purchase plans
  • Survey questions (e.g., from market research)
  • Qualification questions (from lead qualification processes)
  • Promotion history (record of outbound and inbound communications)
  • Customer service history
  • Source (where the data came from, and when)
  • Unique identifier (to match and de-duplicate records)

To assemble the data, the place to begin in inside your company. With some sleuthing, you’ll find useful information about customers all over the place. Start with contact records, whether they sit in a CRM system, in Outlook files or even in Rolodexes. But don’t stop there. You also want to pull in transactional history from your operating systems-billing, shipping, credit—and your customer service systems.

Here’s a checklist of internal data sources that you should explore. Gather up every crumb.

  • Sales and marketing contacts
  • Billing systems
  • Credit files
  • Fulfillment systems
  • Customer services systems
  • Web data, from cookies, registrations and social media
  • Inquiry files and referrals

Once these elements are pulled in, matched and de-duplicated, it’s time to consider external data sources. Database marketing companies will sell you data elements that may be missing, most important among these being industry (in the form of SIC or NAICs codes), company size (revenue or number of employees, or both) and title or job function of contacts. Such elements can be appended to your database for pennies apiece.

In some situations, it makes sense to license and import prospect lists, as well. If you are targeting relatively narrow industry verticals, or certain job titles, and especially if you experience long sales cycles, it may be wise to buy prospecting names for multiple use and import them into your database, rather than renting them serially for each prospecting campaign.

After filling in the gaps with data append, the next step is the process of “data discovery.” Essentially this means gathering essential data by hand—or, more accurately, by outbound phone or email contact. This costs a considerable sum, so only perform discovery on the most important accounts, and only collect the data elements that are essential to your marketing success, like title, direct phone number and level of purchasing authority. Some data discovery can be done via LinkedIn and scouring corporate websites, which are likely to provide contact names, titles and email addresses you can use to populate your company records.

Be thorough, be brave, and have fun. And let me know your experiences.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.