How Account-Based Marketing Secured Quality MQLs

John Trader is the Director of Marketing at Health iPASS, a Chicago-based startup that enables medical groups to deliver greater convenience for their patients and complete transparency into cost of care through a multi-channel patient engagement platform.

Read on for a transcript of his presentation from our November 15, 2018,Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where he led us through how he used account-based marketing to rise about the noise to secure quality marketing qualified leads (MQLs).

What I'm going to be talking about has to do with account-based marketing. Just by a show of hands, who here does account-based marketing right now? So just a couple of people, okay. So I'll try to explain in a little bit of detail about how we kind of pivoted our marketing approach from inbound and outbound to more of an account-based marketing approach.

Health iPASS is actually a health IT tech company, and what we do is we concentrate on the patient revenue cycle and healthcare.

So I'm sure everybody in the room knows that over the past six, seven, eight years, you've probably seen the deductibles and the co-pays for your health plan skyrocket.

What's happening in the healthcare industry is that employers are shifting more of the costs in healthcare industry to patients. So as a result of that, medical providers are having a real tough time collecting the money that patients owe.

How many times have you gone to a doctor's office and they'd never asked you for a dime, and then later on you get a bill in the mail for $100? How many times have you not paid that bill or looked at it as, "I don't remember this service” or “I don't know exactly why my insurance didn't pick it up”?

So what we do is we simplify that process. It starts from the initial appointment and goes all the way through to the final payment of whatever claim is associated with that particular visit to a medical office.

I'm proud to say that we did a research report in the spring of last year where we analyzed the returns that our clients were seeing with our particular patient revenue cycle solution.

We discovered that clients that use Health iPass are achieving a 97 percent collection rate, so that's patient responsibility dollars that they're collecting over 97 percent of the time that are owed. So that's pretty amazing. We were very proud of that.

And we are a VC-backed firm, so we are a startup. We’re about three years or so into existence. I've only been on board for about 10 months, but I do have a lot of experience in marketing in a lot of different fields. I've worked in finance, as well as nonprofits, and I've worked for health and medical science publishing.

;And if anybody knows, healthcare is just a different beast in and of itself when you market to these particular companies or individuals that you're going for. I think it takes a really creative and patient approach, as opposed to some of the other industries, especially retail.


So what's our situation? Essentially, as I said at the beginning, when I came onboard, Health iPASS was relying a lot on inbound and outbound marketing strategies. You can almost think of that as running ads in trade publications that cater to the target audience that we're trying to reach.

It might also be mass email campaigns that are sent out in bulk to 20,000 to 30,000 people. And that was fine, but it really was not yielding the amount of MQLs that are board-expected. I mean we're VC-backed. There is a lot of accountability in what we're doing and us having to report back on what our results were.

So one of the problems that I identified right away is with this particular industry and this niche that we're in, which is the patient revenue cycle, it's very specialized. So there is a place for inbound and outbound marketing in what I do, but I realized that we have to figure out a way to stand out above the noise, so to speak.

We're competing against companies. We're about three years old, that we're competing against companies that have been in the industry for 12 years, so they are very entrenched. Everybody here knows that unfortunately healthcare is very much a pay-to-play world.

You do advertisements with journals, and they're more likely to pick up a new story that you have versus a company that doesn't. It's very hard to get noticed if you're not spending thousands of dollars in advertising.

And look, there is a place for brand recognition. I'm not saying that doing inbound and outbound marketing doesn't have its purpose. But when you work for a VC-backed firm, again, that level of accountability is a little bit higher.

And what is our board most interested in? Yes, they care about brand recognition, but they want to know how many MQLs we're getting and how many of those were converting to SQLs. That's the first question I get, not, "How's our brand doing?"


1.  I pivoted marketing to an account-based approach

There was a lot of pressure when I came onboard to turn the ship around a little bit, and I spent a lot of the first six months sort of doing the blocking and tackling that's required with building a team. We launched a new website. We had to put a lot of pieces in place before we could actually launch an account-based marketing campaign.

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As I mentioned, the results that we were achieving and the expectations and accountability was just super high. So they brought me onboard to try to turn that around and take more of an account-based marketing approach.

I pivoted to this account-based marketing approach where a lot of people are kind of fuzzy on what that means specifically. I'll give you the best analogy I can that I found on the internet. I can't take credit for this and I won't. However, I can't even remember the person who wrote this.

Think of account-based marketing as opposed to inbound and outbound marketing. Think of it as instead of fishing with a net – so you have a bunch of guys on a fishing boat that go out with nets, cast them in the ocean, pull in thousands of fish, and then they pick through those. "Okay, this particular one is one that's going to bring me money, this one, this one." And then they throw all the rest back.

Account-based marketing is like fishing with a spear: you're standing on the side of that boat, you're waiting for that one particular fish to come, and you're attacking it.

It's almost as if you treat, in our case, medical practices and individuals within those medical practices, as markets of one. Instead of doing these mass campaigns which, again, still have a place in what we do but not as much now as our account-based marketing approach.

2.  I whittled down our prospect list to those with the highest propensity to convert

The first thing I did was I started working with our sales team more closely. You’ve probably worked in an organization that is very siloed, meaning that there are a lot of territorial issues. There's a lot of pride in what people have done for X amount of time.

Breaking through that silo and involving the sales team in the process was one of the first things that I did to be able to more narrow down our target audience.

So it was asking the sales team, "Okay, who within this medical practice are we really interested in targeting? We're running an ad on physician's practice that thousands of practice administrators are seeing, maybe thousands of doctors, but who within the medical practice are the decision makers?

“Who's the steering committee that makes up the decision to whether or not to invest in our product?"

So I work with the team and identified who are the biggest people that have the highest propensity to actually convert into an MQL.

3.  I customized efforts with more appealing messaging focused on inspiring action

I customized that particular effort with more appealing messaging. So I'll give you an example: If you know anything about the healthcare world, you probably think that medical practices are most concerned about the money. So when all of us market, what's our bottom line? We want to increase sales, right? We want to increase revenue.

But if you dig a little deeper into some of the personas that are involved in the decision making for the people who are actually deciding whether or not to invest in our product, you find that not all of them care about money.

Take a practice administrator, for example. I was able to build these personas with a list of what do these people care about the most? Well, practice administrators, yes, they care about money, but what do they care about even more? The attitude of the staff. The trust and loyalty of the patients. How is the workflow affecting productivity?

This is what the practice meant. Yes, they care about money but a lot less than they care about those other things. So it's being able to customize your message to whatever the pain points or the particular value propositions that these personas care about the most.

4.  I designed direct mail campaigns with low cost, unique giveaways tied to our unique value propositions

And so, what I did is – and direct mail, by the way, is not dead – I designed direct mail campaigns to these particular personas that spoke directly to what their most and largest pain points were as they were running their practice. And I'll give you some examples a little bit later on.

5.  I supported direct mail with timely follow up

But I want to mention here that this particular effort, an account-based marketing effort, means nothing unless there's a follow-up system and a follow-up program in place.

You may think to yourself, "Well, if I went to a salesperson and I presented them a list of prospects that I have procured as a result of account-based marketing campaign that are red hot, they're going to jump right on it.” Well, that's not always the case.

They may have other competing priorities involved. My point here is that if you are going to launch an account-based marketing approach, make sure that you have that follow-up system in place.

Make sure that you have those lines of communication open with your sales team. Because look, when you send a direct mail campaign, you've got a very short window that you're actually able to engage with somebody after the mailing to say, "Hey, did you get that widget that I sent you?"

So there is a very short period of time that's critical in account-based marketing campaigns, so timely follow-up is extremely important.

6.  I began to attack prospects from a local level

One of the other strategies of account-based marketing is marketing more in a local rather than a national level.

I mentioned before we were running ads and publications that catered to the target audience we were trying to serve that reached thousands of people. We got lots of impressions but very little conversions into MQLs.

One of the other aspects that I incorporated for account-based marketing was to work more on a local level.

For example, there is the Medical Group Management Association, for those of you who work in healthcare, the MGMA. They have a lot of state and local chapters. So we began to develop more relationships with those chapters, offering them curriculum, running ads in their publications as opposed to a national publication.

That was all part of the steps that I enacted in order to switch or pivot to an account-based marketing approach.


Some of the results: I was able with the first campaign that I did – we marketed to about 200 individuals. Now, these were – we call them “hit lists” – for each of our account executives. So these are people that I had mentioned before that we had worked together to identify. Laura used the term "low-hanging fruit."

This is what the really low-hanging fruit was. These are the people within the practice that are making the decisions on, "Hey, do I want to purchase a patient revenue cycle solution or continue with the status quo?"

All of the first campaign that we ran, which went out to about 200 people, I was able to secure seven MQLs from that. So there were people that raised their hand, that either went to our website and filled out a demo request form, or followed up by our SCRs and qualified and we set meetings up that way.

So, just to give you a little bit of a comparison, based on what I spent, and I spent about $2,800 on the initial direct mail campaign, I was able to secure those MQLs at about $400 per MQL, as opposed to our event marketing.

Now, this is our conferences and trade shows that we do all throughout the year. As everybody here knows, they aren't cheap. It's expensive to do trade shows.

What are you getting from this trade shows? How much does it cost you per MQL to get somebody to come in your booth, see a demo, and then eventually get to the point where they're turned over to a salesperson and you push them further down that funnel?

Well, the answer is, we were spending over $200 more at the events. So immediately right there, you can see that our trade shows and conferences is important, absolutely, but we look at them now as more of a branding exercise rather than securing MQL.

And we're looking now more in an account-based marketing approach to really where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Of the seven MQLs that we were able to secure from the first account-based marketing campaign, three of those actually moved down the funnel. So it became with awareness, to interest, to consideration, to evaluation.

Those three MQLs have been pushed down to the evaluation phase, meaning that they've already seen the demo, they've engaged, and we've done pro forma invoices with our prospects. They're now ready to take it to a steering committee to decide whether or not to invest.

Two of those, I've been assured, are going to be closing this month. So, rah-rah, I'm happy about that. But the whole point of this, as I mentioned at the beginning, is when I go back to our board and report on what the marketing activities have been, they're going to be less interested about branding and more interested in these types of numbers.

This is real data that I'm able to convert into that. We talked about the accountability for VC-backed firms.

In addition to that, anybody who works in healthcare knows that the sales cycle is ridiculous. This is the third startup I've worked for. The prior one, I did biometric identification management. We're talking about two years, two-and-a-half-year sales cycles.

The sales cycle that we identified and analyzed was about six to eight months, initially. I was able to lower that to about three to four months.

Again, this also is important, especially if you've got goals that you're trying to reach, whether that goal is X number of MQLs per month, whether that goal is moving whatever percentage of those MQLs down to the funnel to SQLs, and then, thus converting them into sales.

So shortening that sales cycle in healthcare is huge, because it enables the sales team – the account executives – to move on to that next project. They don't have to spend as much of their time. So we're talking about a very important metric that I'm going to report back to our board.

And the average value that we're seeing from the deals that were closing is about $100,000. So we're talking about $8,300 of monthly recurring revenue, and that's fantastic for us as a small startup, again, competing against companies that have much larger marketing budgets, much larger marketing staff that we have.

;We're seeing some very excellent results from this. And another, I guess, byproduct of this that isn't on this slide is the relationship with our sales team now. I engage that sales team and ask them for ideas on, "Hey, what do you think would work in your area, in your territory?"

"We've whittled down the list of prospects based on persona. What do you think based on geography, on where you are?" And just to give you an idea of some of the campaigns that we ran, and please feel free to steal these ideas because I sure did.

This is a message in a bottle. We sent out just a plastic bottle with a note and postcard inside of it, along with the nice 6x9” postcard, and this was very well-received.

We got a text message that was sent to our CEO from Midwest Bone and Joint, who is one of our prospects that saw this, and texted him and said, "Extremely clever idea, I'll take that." That's the type of feedback that you want.

In the northeast, we ran a campaign where we used suntan lotion and we basically sent it out at the beginning of the summer. So we ran this campaign around the beginning of July.

This actually came from one of our sales reps deciding that if you've ever been to the northeast, people tend to care a lot about how they look, which is great. But basically the suntan lotion appealed to that particular audience.

And this was a campaign that we ran in the south. I lived in Atlanta for a number of years, and anybody who's ever lived in the south knows you better have an umbrella in your briefcase or somewhere around because usually it rains everyday.

So we tied this particular campaign to practice administrators and we used this as something as a trust factor, because that's a huge aspect of what we do is building that trust.

So this is some examples of the campaigns that we ran. And look, I said this at the beginning, direct mail is not dead. It is a great way to rise above the noise, to stand out, but you have to have that follow-up system in progress because that lead is only going to stay hot for a day or two after you send out the campaign.