When it comes to networking, open communication is the key to fostering strong relationships and building a solid customer base. But, what happens when your target audience consists primarily of high level decision makers who have an entourage of gatekeepers to screen their messages? As daunting as it may seem, there are several approaches that a small business owner can use to cut through all the red tape and speak directly to their potential customer. In episode #147, Gene Marks and Elizabeth Larkin discuss the most effective strategies for contacting a hard-to-reach client.

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Executive Summary

6:58—Today’s Topic: What Should a Small Business Owner Do When If They Can’t Reach a Decision Maker?

8:16—It’s easier to reach a decision maker after regular business hours because the administrators who usually intercept your messages are no longer at the office.

8:52—Another way to bypass any sort of red tape is to leave a voice message in their personal inbox.

9:28—If you would like to speak with another business owner in person, you should try to meet them at a conference or networking event.

10:13—Don’t underestimate more traditional forms of communication, like direct mail. In an era when everyone is bombarded by email, a physical business letter or advertising postcard will stand out.

12:17—When reaching out to another person via social media, it is best to use professionally oriented platforms such as LinkedIn or Twitter; attempting to message someone through a more personal social media account might be a little disconcerting.

15:56—Gene suggests incorporating gold-colored billfolds and décor if you run a service-based business because studies have proven that this color encourages customers to tip more generously.



Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast, this is Elizabeth Larkin, and I’m here with Gene Marks. Today’s topic is about medical billing and, Gene, I know your sister is a doctor, but she does something a little different.

Gene: Yes, it’s medical. It’s not something that she deals with, and I guess we can weave this in when we get to the person’s question, but my sister does a concierge medical thing.

Elizabeth: What is that?

Gene: So she’s like a private… This is way healthcare is going, and this is why I think she’s getting a lot of interest from businesses. She has her own private practice in Philadelphia. And if you want to be her patient, you still have to get your health insurance, but you pay an additional $1,500 a year. Additional to what you’re paying for your health, and you’re just like “oh my god, whatever.” What does that get you? Well, it gets you a personalized service with the doctor. So she only has a few hundred patients that does this.

Elizabeth: So do I get her personal phone number to text?

Gene: Personal phone number, text. I’m not kidding.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: Yeah, and I mean she has patients. She is still furious with me because I recommended a good friend who signed up with her. The guy’s texting her like all day and night and going “think I’m about to take an Advil, should I take two or should I take one?” She’s like, “I’m going to kill you.” She’s just kidding. But you can text her when you have priority appointments. Like if you need to see her, she will be there to see you. And if you need… To keep you coming back, they do these exams like all these sort of deep kind of exams to test all sorts of things.

Elizabeth: Full body scans.

Gene: The whole thing and whatever. And Vicky, that’s my sister… Listen I grew up with the woman, I wouldn’t let her cut my fingernails. Not that I need any help cutting fingernails, but she acts as my doctor.

Elizabeth: She does?

Gene: She’s a traffic cop. She won’t lay a finger on me. But I go in, I see her. She does run me through the different tests and all that, which is like eyesight, and hearing, and all that kind of stuff. But then she is my main person of, “Okay, you should see a cardiologist once a year. You should see your urologist once a year. You should see a dermatologist.” And then all the reports come into her. She reviews it. She, then, comes back to me whenever I get like a blood work done. If I’m seeing a specialist, she sees that as… She’ll top. She’s like your main person. Do you know what I mean? And that’s the concierge service. I actually think that’s really good.

Elizabeth: What type of other small businesses could have a service like that?

Gene: Well, it’s not just the types. It’s just… I’ll answer that in a minute, but if you’re a business owner of a certain size, and you’re looking to provide benefits to your employees, particularly key employees or senior people or whatever. I am seeing a lot of companies saying, “Listen. You come and work for us, not only to we have your healthcare covered, but we are going to also sign you up for this concierge service.”

Elizabeth: That’s expensive though.

Gene: It depends on the employee. So ,you’re right. It’s an extra $1,500 a year. But, okay, so that’s an extra $125-

Elizabeth: Is that a tax write off in any way?

Gene: It is deduction for the business. I mean it is a medical expense. It’s an insurance related type of expense. So, yes. And it is just another employee benefit that you can provide. And I think that it is… If you’re looking to compete, it could give you a one up on your competitors. So, you think about that. There’s a parent organization. There’s a few of them. Again, I’m not getting any commission for this so don’t accuse me. But it’s called MDVIP. M-D-V-I-P. And they have doctors like all around, so my sister is just one of many.

And the other thing that they do is if you travel, once you sign up for the service, you get the same services whatever city you are in from whatever doctor. So if I’m out of town and something happens, I can call up one of their doctors there. They are obligated to see you right away, and give you that service. I think that’s a pretty great benefit to provide your employees. Not to all of them, of course, because you’re right. It could be expensive but it… yeah for senior people or key people. People you want to attract. I’ve been talking about it. I think it’s kind of a cool thing to do.

Elizabeth: Interesting. Now what kind of businesses could think, “Oh I could do that model.”?

Gene: Yeah, it’s a subscription model. And that’s the way the world, obviously, is going is more and more people trying to have a way to keep those customers coming back, you know? So any business that’s a service business that requires ongoing service and maintenance If you’re in that type of a business, you should always be thinking about how can I monetize that with a continuous contract.

Elizabeth: I’ve seen that like with auto repair shops.

Gene: Absolutely.

Elizabeth: You are guaranteed like, “We’ll do a certain number of oil changes a year. We’ll rotate your tires. We’ll put snow tires on”

Gene: And would you consider that? Say you had a used car and you had an auto repair shop that’s like, “Listen. For 50 bucks a month, we’ll guarantee you get this type of service.” Like oil changed twice a year or whatever. “And if anything ever happens, you’ll get reduced rates from us.” And for a business owner, you got to know your numbers to do that because you could really wind up losing your shirt if you miscalculate. But then, again, you could make a boat load of money and have a continuous revenue stream if you do the math the right way. The other thing that really benefits you is this, and I’ll use my sister as an example. I mean she’s got a long way to go before she retires, but, one day when she does, she’s got a few hundred patients that have signed up with her office, with her firm. And she’ll be able to sell that.

Elizabeth: Is she the only doctor in her office?

Gene: There’s two actually. But she’ll sell it. Think about it. If you were looking to get into that business and you’re like, “Hey, we’ve got a 300 annual paying patients.” Or whatever, that’s how you build up a value in your business is when you can tell a perspective buyer we’ve got this revenue stream going. And you can buy into that. If you’re providing a service, that’s what I’m trying to do in my business.

Elizabeth: So today’s question, which we are going to get to after we hear from our sponsor, is actually from a medical billing office. And you may think that’s boring, but how will that actually connect my business. This is a question about how to get in touch with people that are absolutely impossible to get in touch with. So I think this is actually gonna relate to it.

Gene: Getting through the Gatekeeper.

Elizabeth: Getting through the Gatekeeper. We’ll be right back with that question after we hear from our sponsor.

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Question: How Do We Grow Our Business When It’s Difficult to Reach Decision Makers?

Elizabeth: So this question comes from Diane from Peabody Mass. And as I said, she is a medical… I can’t say medical billing.

Gene: It’s medical billing.

Elizabeth: Medical billing practice and practice management consulting.

Elizabeth: Okay, so this is Diane’s question. “Since we are marketing our services to clinicians, it’s most difficult to reach a decision-maker by telephone or mailings. We are stopped by gatekeepers from making contact. How do we grow our business against these odds?” So when you’re thinking about this, you’ll call. I’m going to relate this back to The Office because I’m rewatching that on Netflix.

Gene: How to get to Michael Scott?

Elizabeth: Exactly! How do you get to Michael Scott when you’ve got Pam Beesley answering the phone saying like, “No. Michael Scott doesn’t have time for this.”

Gene: Right, right. There’s a lot of Office jokes that we cold make. The issue is though is… This has to do… And I’m glad you actually used that for like Michael Scott who is from a paper company. So this is not a medical billing issue. This is any company. How do you get to the Gatekeeper of a company? How do you actually get through to them?

So it’s, obviously, it’s very, very difficult thing to do, but I’ve got a couple of tricks to try to get to the gatepost. Stuff that has worked for me in the past. The boss, the people that make decisions. If you try calling them and getting them in the office during regular business hours, it’s always tough. If you are trying to get to a business owner, or somebody that’s on their game, you try them after hours because that’s usually when the administrator is like gone home, and their often times picking up the phone themselves.

Elizabeth: So Pam is not in the office anymore but Michael-

Gene: She’s not, but not that Michael is such an early riser. Maybe he’s like a really bad example to use, but that’s has always worked for me in the past. If I call a company first thing in the morning, I can get… Sometimes I get right through to the person I’m trying to reach.

Elizabeth: Or after hours.

Gene: Yeah, or after hours. So, that’s one trick to do that.

The other is, if you’re trying to pitch or do something, a lot companies have automated systems. So going to voicemail is not that bad a thing. It’s a way to touch that person, and at least leave a message so you should have a stand. You should practice your voicemail leaving technique because if you are going to leave a voicemail for somebody that you’re going after, you better get that message across like the first five seconds before that person deletes you. But if you got a pitch that you can do within that five seconds, that is also helpful.

You really want to meet the decision-maker. Elizabeth, you go to where they go. And they go to conferences. So I you’re after some company, and you’re trying to get to the VP of sales, or the owner of the company, or the VP of operations. If you look for conferences that are given for their industry-

Elizabeth: And there’s a conference for every industry.

Gene: Every industry, and we’ve talked about this, right? Just think. Hundreds of conferences going on today as you and I are speaking. So, yes. There might be an expense for doing that. I’m not saying you have to go there and speak, but you can go there as an attendee. You can go there as an exhibitor. And if you go, it’s not just you’re going after that one person, but clearly you’re selling into that industry. There should be other prospects there. They are all there. They are going to sessions. They are drinking beers at the bar. You really want to meet those people, those decision-makers. That’s where they are going to be.

Finally, don’t discount direct mail, Elizabeth. People say like, “How do you get people’s attention?” Email gets stopped by spam filters and gets deleted. I watch these things when I visit clients and prospective clients. And when people get mail, the admin or whatever, they just wind up dumping the mail on that’s person desk. More people that I know… Don’t you do that? Like when you are at home, you gotta bunch of junk that gets sent to you, but you kind of look at it quickly before you trash it. You do give it… If you do get a letter sent to you, chances are you’re opening… “Well I don’t recognize who this is from. Let me open it up.” There’s still this thing about the physical. And, again, there’s a cost to that, but there’s some great services, like PrintPlace and VistaPrint, where you can send mailings for like a buck a piece that get through to people.

Elizabeth: Do you think… What’s the best look for that? Do you think it’s a plain envelope, or do you think it’s a postcard where someone has… You have to look at your mail because you have to figure out, “Am I throwing this away? Am I recycling it? You will get that attention.

Gene: It’s all of the above. Because I think in today’s world, don’t that you’re just going… It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. You’ve got to touch this person multiple times. So it might be a couple of emails. It might be some voicemails, and then, also combined with some direct as well. And there’s direct mails one month. It might just be a postcard with some message on it and good graphic that maybe catch attention.

Elizabeth: Thirty percent off.

Gene: Something. Whatever. And then the next month might be an actual letter in an envelope that’s sort of nondescript. Which the person-

Elizabeth: Because I always open those nondescript ones.

Gene: Isn’t that terrible?

Elizabeth: So I’m like, “Do I owe back taxes?”

Gene: But you know it’s junk, and yet you still open it because you’re like, “Oh it’s exciting somebody sending me mail.”

Elizabeth: Just in case.

Gene: You never write me, Elizabeth. That’s the problem. It’s always emails. If you send more letters to each other, right? It would help communication.

Elizabeth: I just communicate with everyone via Office memes. That’s like all I send them. So we touched on this topic before, and you mentioned social media. Now, I think it would be super creepy if someone reached out to me on my Instagram account, but on LinkedIn that might work.

Gene: Right. So a couple comments there. Super creepy only because your Instagram account is mostly personal. So if somebody reached out to you, that’s kind of creepy. People have corporate Instagram accounts or their business things. And it’s all open. If you’re out there, you’re applying your wares on Instagram then people can leave a… And let’s face it, we all read the comments. So if you leave a comment for somebody that is, “Hey, would you have”… It might help.

Twitter and LinkedIn absolutely are great. LinkedIn. I’m glad you brought that up because my trick with LinkedIn is, I send a connection request and with it, it gives you the ability to add a note. And then I will add a note like, “Hey I’ve been trying to reach you. Would you be interested in this and that and the other thing or whatever?” So first of all somebody accepts the request, that’s great. And even if they don’t respond back to the note, often times I will then respond to them and say, “Hey. Not sure if you saw my note. Would you be interested in speaking?” It’s what you do in sales.

The other thing with LinkedIn is, if somebody does accept your connection request, often times they have a different type of email that’s not on like a corporate email. Might be a Gmail or something like that. And I’m like, “Oh, that might be a good way to reach that person on their Gmail.” They put it on LinkedIn. There it is.

Twitter is the other way. Now, again, in beep to beep. If you selling because a lot of times people are not on Twitter, it just depends on who your audience is. If I’m trying to reach somebody on Twitter sometimes… I mean if I’m not successful reaching them by email or other means, I will reach out on Twitter. I just tweet them directly. And sometimes that actually does work. In today’s world, everybody get their communications in a bunch of different ways. So I think you’ve gotta touch in different ways. You can get there.

Elizabeth: Well, Diane, I hope we gave you some ideas.

Gene: So, Diane, I would again… Right? Industry conferences to find that doctor you’re trying to get through. I think we are getting back to my sister that we talked about earlier. She get people that sometimes just come by the office. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. First of all, it’s super time consuming and it’s kind of a pain like you’re soliciting.

Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s low, low rate of return on that.

Gene: It’s like you selling dictionaries door to door or something. That’s a little overboard.

Elizabeth: So conferences-

Gene: Yeah. She goes to conferences [crosstalk]

Elizabeth: Direct mail.

Gene: Yeah. Leave her a voicemail once or twice to get her attention.

Elizabeth: Oh, right! Call early in the morning.

Gene: Call her when… She’s definitely there early in the morning, as well. Reach out to her on LinkedIn. She’s active there. And she’s a good example. She has an Instagram account, and she posts like nutritional things to eat and medical related stuff or whatever. She looks at the people that comment. You can reach out to her with something complimentary. Like, “I love. I follow you. I love it.”

Elizabeth: What does she comment on what you eat, Gene?

Gene: She does not make any comments on… I think she eats a lot worse than I do actually. That’s another reason I don’t take any of her advice. I’m just kidding.

Elizabeth: Alright. We will be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.


Elizabeth: Alright, we are back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance. Is it one word, or two, or a phrase?

Gene: Today’s word of brilliance… Everybody is gonna like this one, is one word. It’s gold. That’s what it is. And here’s the reason why I bring this gold up.

Elizabeth: Are you going to argue for the gold standard?

Gene: No. Stop. I’ll use my daughter as an example. I wrote about this recently somewhere. My daughter was, for a year, between college and grad school. She was waitressing to pay. And if you’re a waitress, if anybody has ever done that, I think everybody should do that at one point in their life. It’s all about the tips. Right?So if you’re running a business where you’ve got employees that are relying on their income… like in Philadelphia, you get paid like $2.63 is the minimum wage for people in the service industry like waitresses because they supposedly make it up on their… it’s a big deal.

And attracting employees, which is really hard to do nowadays. It’s hard to find good waiters and waitresses unless you pay them well ,or else they are gonna go somewhere else. Well, Elizabeth, I’ve got a way for your waiters and waitresses or anybody who gets tips, to make more than 14% more in income without you having to pay them a dime more. I’ve got a secret for doing it.

Elizabeth: Really? What is it?

Gene: The answer is gold. A team of researchers from the University of Tennessee, did this study over the past year.

Elizabeth: You’re so proud of yourself, right now.

Gene: This is a great story. They did this study, and they went to like hundreds of restaurants. And they did a couple variations on the same theme. And the variations was this. When a diner received their check in one of those billfold things, that was black. And when somebody received their check in a bill fold that was gold, the diners left 14% more on their tips.

And they tested it, as well, with the tableware. When the tablecloths were like gold, or the plates were like gold colored or whatever, it had the same impact on the way people left their tips. There was some psychological thing going on in our heads that when we are in an environment, and we see gold we think affluence and wealth and whatever. We become more generous, and they proved that that is the case.

So the answer is to say, “Look you’re trying to compete and get good people to come visit your restaurant.” If that’s what you are trying to do, or if you are in some other type of service related business where there’s tips, the answer is this, Take a few bucks out replace your billfolds with gold billfolds, and replace your table cloths with gold table cloths. That’s a minor expense for a lot of people.

Elizabeth: It seems so obnoxious though.

Gene: You say it’s obnoxious, but then your staff is getting paid more. That benefits them, and, of course, it also benefits you because you can retain your staff more, or have them tell your friends that we are getting more at this place. “Come and work at this restaurant.”

Elizabeth: Interesting. Good word for the day.

Gene: That’s a way you can increase your employees wages without spending much.

Elizabeth: Great. Great tip, Gene.

Gene: Yep. Thank you.

Elizabeth: Well thanks for tuning everyone. And we’ll talk to you next week.

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