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How the "value-driven conversation" drives profitability

September 21, 2010
by Dennis Grantham, Senior Editor
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Part II: If you genuinely understand the customer’s need, pricing concerns often “disappear”

Explaining exactly what happens in the process of what Bill Corbett (Corbett Business Consulting, Loveland, Colo.) calls a “value-driven conversation” is a bit difficult. But the impact of this conversation on revenues at Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale, Colo. has been crystal clear.

According to CEO Bobby Ferguson, adopting this sales conversation during prospect conversion enabled Jaywalker Lodge to cut “scholarship” discounting (based on gross revenues) from an average of over 20 percent to under five percent annually—without affecting average census. (See Let value drive treatment conversation.)

For treatment providers, the value-driven conversation starts with a single premise: People, mainly young people, blinded by a deadly chronic illness (addiction), are laying waste to their own lives and doing grievous harm to a shrinking circle of loving, caring people (parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, close friends) who surround them.

The conversation begins as a caller (usually one from within that circle) phones a treatment center for help, their thoughts full of worry as they confront the risks and opportunities of treatment for a loved one. All the while, they’re mindful that their love has cost them much and will soon cost them even more. Corbett sees this as the first opportunity to make contact.

Based on his own recovery experience, he advocates spending time to “genuinely understand the concerns of the caller” before addressing the logical concerns about an individual’s treatment decision. He says that it takes a special kind of person to conduct this conversation—one who is highly knowledgeable about the impacts of addiction on individuals and on loved ones, thoroughly grounded and convinced about the unique strengths and capabilities of the treatment center program, empathetic, and open.

Initial conversation addresses the caller as a person, acknowledging the damage that the addiction has done to those who surround the individual: “How are you doing?” “What has this addiction done to you?” “What if treatment is successful?”

Such conversation takes the first step in connecting with the caller, understanding their motivations and needs, and establishing a foundation of trust, which sets the stage for the next step: “What’s best for the individual requiring treatment?” The goal of this step of the conversation is to win the caller’s confidence that the center will do whatever is needed to get the individual into the right kind of treatment—regardless of the location or program. Explains Corbett: “It establishes a foundation of hope for the caller that this treatment program really will make a difference.”

The key to this step is to review with the caller the criteria needed for a “good fit,” identify and understand other issues or co-occurring disorders in the individual, and, essentially, come to a decision. The decision is framed throughout by deep understanding of—a connection with—the caller’s needs, the addicted individual’s treatment issues, the program’s resources, and a sincere, shared goal of finding the right treatment approach.

At any point in the conversation, questions about pricing may arise, says Corbett, who maintains that such questions are often a proxy for other, unspoken issues. Many callers, due to lack of understanding or experience, initially may frame the treatment decision with the same wariness as any large purchase, subject to price manipulation or negotiation—a kind of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

If pricing questions arise, “it’s essential to ‘redirect’ the conversation, as any good counselor might do, by focusing on the central issue: saving and transforming the life of the individual and relieving the lives of those around him/her,” asserts Corbett. “Establishing this relationship of trust and bringing the caller to feel its sincerity—the hope of a different life for everyone involved—is at the core of the value-driven conversation.”

All of this could sound like a bunch of words—the worst kind of hard sell—unless, as Corbett says, you’ve got the right program, inclusive of elements that would truly benefit the individual, a good match with the individual, and a treatment decision that is deeply considered and felt. If all of these elements are present, he maintains that the outcome becomes obvious—the right treatment decision is made, and finances take their place as a secondary concern. In this context, the price of the program becomes a necessary path toward a well-founded hope of transformation for the individual and their loved ones.

For employees of the treatment center, adopting the value-driven conversation may feel like a major paradigm shift, but it’s not, says Corbett. “It’s simply a strong reminder, a new realization of something they always knew: Outstanding treatment has remarkable, life-saving, transformative power.”

For providers, it’s essential to separate that power from the fears of “filling beds,” lest they fall into the discounting trap. Corbett says they can do so by making the transformative power of treatment fully understood to the customer and by ensuring each potential recipient is well matched to the treatment program. If this type of value-driven conversation takes place, pricing concerns often totally dissolve.

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