The deceptively simple concept of “breaking bread” is actually a powerful healthcare marketing tool. It’s an idea that seemingly has little connection with hospital or medical practice marketing. But the reality is that people bond over food, and here is how physicians, administrators, physician liaison representatives and others can make more effective use of “food power.”
Although there are many marketing and public relations reasons for sharing a meal, for purposes of this post, let’s consider the connection with a professional referral system. In healthcare marketing, professional referrals seldom, if ever, materialize out of thin air or among strangers.
Doctors and staff members will refer to people and provider practices that they trust. Professional referrals happen in situations where the parties like each other and where they have a sense of competence and confidence. And—to our point—a trusting relationship is nurtured by sharing a meal.
Why is there bonding power in food? There are several theories, but clearly, some form of positive connection and chemistry often comes from sharing a meal. By one philosopher’s account, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. Every breakfast, lunch, or dinner can become a time of growing communication with one another.” But that, as they say, is the good news.
On the other hand many professionals resist the idea of “doing lunch.” Physicians, surgeons or office administrators are busy. Everyone’s busy. It seems that nobody has time for lunch anymore, especially if there’s a concern about feeling like a “sales encounter.”
Here are four tips about getting past resistance, making a connection and having a positive experience when physicians connect with colleagues or representatives to connect with doctors or staff:
- It doesn’t have to be lunch. The mid-day mealtime can be the least convenient for many professional schedules, so consider breakfast. It’s often cheaper, quick and casual. Alternatively, dinner is more formal, takes longer and may be best where there is an existing relationship.
- Schedule it and bring a box lunch. An in-office sandwich session might fit into the office routine and the day’s calendar. (An excellent sandwich from an upscale deli can make a healthy impression without getting in the way of the conversation.) Be on time, but be flexible; an appointment that can slip a little. It may be somewhat brief, but face time is face time.
- Keep the conversation light and positive. Some of the best chemistry can come from informal and casual conversation. The mix of social-to-business should be in favor of a social, but professional, connection. If necessary, research the topics of mutual interest.
- Leave them with a nugget of gold. Be prepared with something special that they can use. Perhaps it’s a bit of information about what’s interesting in your field that is useful and applicable to their field.