As budgets for agencies tighten, available grant money shrinks, and money for lab testing becomes less of a priority, it is increasingly important for labs to draw in new business to increase revenue. While there is no quick fix, labs must figure out who their potential clients are before trying to market their services. By identifying these clients—who they are, where they can be found, and what they need—labs can specifically target their marketing to these clients.
To determine who the clients you are trying to reach are, first look to your current client list. Are they new home owners, pregnant mothers, small businesses, water utilities, etc.? Are they located locally, in your state, or all over the country? What kind of testing are they requesting? If you are unable to easily answer these types of questions, consider revamping your chain of custody (COC) forms by adding a few questions with check boxes. This way when future samples are brought in, you can tally results to see who uses your lab services the most. If possible, modify your LIMS to capture this data so it can be more readily accessed.
Source: Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) Laboratory.If a large percentage of your samples come from private citizens or local small businesses, consider adding similarly worded questions to your COC. Where did you collect your sample: house, apartment, or business? What made you decide to test your water today: bought a new home, selling a home, someone in the household is pregnant or you have an infant living in the home, annual testing, to check the safety of your drinking water, it tastes funny, your water has an odor, the water isn’t clear or has a color or solids present, or discoloration noticed in sinks, toilets, or laundry? Lastly, ask your clients how they heard about your lab’s services. Did they find you on the Internet? Did the newspaper or other media mention your lab or services in a story? Did their doctor refer them or was it a neighbor or a friend? Did a business like a realtor or well driller recommend they get their water tested?
If your clients are more businesses and municipalities, consider them a good source of information. Ask them how they heard about your services. Find out if they know others who need the same testing. Ask why they do the testing—is it required, grant-funded, or for safety concerns?
By asking some of these types of questions you will learn how clients became aware of your lab services and why they are performing the testing. Once you have this information, you can more effectively focus your marketing to reach new clients that may have the same needs or concerns.
A strong marketing plan will consist of a multifaceted approach. First, an easy-to-use website is essential. Have someone outside your agency act as a potential client and see if that person has problems locating or navigating your website. Make sure specific keywords bring your website to the front when lab services are searched for. Check that contact information for your lab is readily located. Lastly, feel free to include pictures, videos, and articles that describe your lab and services.
Consider developing pamphlets or brochures that address specific concerns that private citizens and small businesses may have. Provide suggestions for selecting tests on the basis of specific circumstances (for instance, age of home/plumbing, potential of farm/industrial runoff to groundwater). For water quality or safety issues, discuss the importance of regular testing and how your lab can be of service. There are many different ways to get these brochures into the hands of these potential clients.
Contact local dentists, doctors, and hospitals about your testing services. Ask if you may drop off a packet explaining your testing options. If they have their own contract lab that handles their work, don’t be afraid to ask them whether there is a bidding process for their testing that you could enter. Also, ask whether there is a time when you could give the staff a short presentation or brochures about your lab services. Use this time to educate the staff on the importance of environment and water quality to patient health. Explain how your lab can help their patients ensure that they do not become sick from materials in their homes (radon, lead paint, etc.) or water. Ask if there is a place where you may leave brochures for patients to pick up.
Contact doctors or clinics that specialize in pregnant women. Find out if they have Lamaze or parenting classes at which you can make a presentation or pass out information about testing options for homes that have infants or small children. Take the time to educate the parents about why they should test their water, air, and paint.
Find out whether there is a professional group for local realtors or well drillers to which you could talk about your lab services. Ask if they give out packets or brochures to homeowners and if they’d be willing to include something from your lab.
Offer to speak at a home-buying seminar or set up displays at a home-improvement shows or county/community fairs. Educate current homeowners on the importance of water quality and environmental health in their homes to encourage testing. Consider doing quick checks using screening kits for nitrate or lead to show how “clear” water can actually be unsafe to drink. Pass out or place coupons in programs for discounted testing.
Libraries and schools often have display areas or allow the posting of presentations to the general public. Check to see if you can take advantage of this low-cost option for promoting your lab services while educating the public on matters of local interest.
Contact public offices (assessors, clerk offices, city hall, etc.) to inquire about their display cases or areas that you may be able to utilize to draw attention to your lab. Also, many municipalities have bill stuffers with annual tax statements or utility bills. This may be another opportunity to advertise your lab services.
If a higher percentage of your samples come from businesses, contracted clients, researchers with grants, etc., a different approach is needed. You will need to find the best way to reach your audience. Once again, look to your current client list and figure out what other similar businesses are out there. If you have a large amount of potential clients located close to you, consider holding an open house or lab tours and inviting these clients. Consider placing virtual tours or short educational videos of your services or your lab equipment on your website.
Networking with others in the sciences is another good way to meet prospective clients. As we all know, instruments break down or a project may require analyses that a lab is not able to handle. Those labs will need someone to do the testing for them, and if they know you from professional meetings, they may turn to you when they need help.
A less well-known and underutilized method for advertising your lab services is offering to speak to groups about topics relevant to your work. Speak at board and council meetings about concerns in their districts. For example, if spring flooding is an issue in your area, prepare a short presentation about the impact of flooding on drinking water quality and the importance of testing. Many civic groups like the Rotary or the Lions Club have guest speakers. Members of these groups are often local business leaders who at some point may need your lab services. Use these groups as a way to talk about testing that could be done while presenting information on topics of local concern. Also, don’t forget about youth groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H, and Future Farmers of America. These are your future clients. Use the opportunity to educate these youth while promoting your business.
Lastly, whether your future clients are businesses or private citizens, don’t underestimate the use of the media. Don’t be shy about bragging about your successes and drawing attention to your lab services. Contact the media with potential stories when your lab helps in a newsworthy situation. Don’t be afraid to write articles for local newspapers, magazines, community newsletters, or trade journals. Sometimes even letters to editors about specific topics can bring business. Make sure that when staff are quoted or write articles, your laboratory name is included. When your staff become known as experts on topics, people are more likely to use your lab when they need testing.
Marketing your lab can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and some legwork, often at little cost. By doing research up front on potential customers, and planning your marketing based on the targeted audience, you will be more successful reaching your customers with the right message.
I would like to thank my coworkers and supervisor at PHMDC for their support, ideas, input, and feedback.