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Stop selling! Represent your program instead

August 24, 2014
by Julie Miller
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 There's a distinct difference between "selling" and "representing" your program, according to Ben Cort, business development manager and community liaison with CeDAR, the University of Colorado Hospital. And the difference is holding yourself to a high standard of ethics and honesty.

Speaking at the Behavioral Health Leadership Summit, Cort said the idea of "selling" always caused him to bristle. Instead of heavy-handed pressure, he has developed a philosophy of transparency and deliberate representation of the CeDAR program he markets in Colorado.

In selling any product or service with a sole focus on profit, the typical tactics might include providing only selective information or bait and switch schemes, for example.

"Any sort of attitude of buyer beware...we don't get the luxury of saying these things," Cort said. "The people we are working with are sick, and the families we are working with are sick."

Cort compared his perceptions of what an attitude of "selling" might look like and compared it to an attitude of "representing" a program.

The checklist for "selling" includes:
  • Treating patients like commodities or "heads in beds"

  • Using the skills of hustling and stretching the truth that might have served your addict personality well in the interest of survival but is completely unethical in the treatment world

  • High-pressure and strong-arm tactics to make the sale

  • Putting the needs of the business above the needs of the patient

Instead, Cort believes the ethical attitude should be one of "representing," which includes:
  • Answering all patients' and families' questions honestly, including questions about the scope of service and how you work with insurance coverage plans

  • Understanding who the most successful patients might be and whether the program and the patient are a fit

  • Understanding your place in the continuum of care and knowing when to seek out others such as your executive director or clinical leadership

  • Making referrals to other programs when appropriate, without the expectation of reciprocity because no program has the solution for every patient.

Cort advised other marketing professionals to evaluate other programs for referrals with objective measures. It might be tempting, but resist the urge to send referrals to incredibly friendly people just because you like them personally or because they offer you gifts or free dinners. Refer patients only to programs that you know are a fit for them.

"Marketing substance must stay paramount over fancy gifts," he said.
He recommends that programs create a code of ethics for sales and marketing and has based his own code on the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) ethics policy. Market responsibly because otherwise the industry is doomed to see more regulations come from lawmakers rather than from the industry itself.
"We're a '60 Minutes' special waiting to happen," he said.