The Marketing and selling of EAPs
Kristine N. Brennan
As Winston Churchill once said, “Take change by the hand or it will seize you by the throat.” The employee assistance industry has continued to change over time as demands on work organizations and the needs of the workforce have evolved. While some of the changes have been subtle and affected the administrative and operational dimensions of EAPs, others have been fairly dramatic and visible along the service delivery continuum or in the EA organization’s book of business. Ultimately, these changes have manifested themselves in the very marketing and selling of EAPs or EAP services.
THE EMERGENCE OF EAP MARKETING
Historically, the thought of “marketing” an EAP has evoked varied reactions from professionals within our field In the early days of our industry, when most EAPs were internal operations within a company or labor organization and had emerged from the occupational alcoholism arena and the corresponding early linkages to the alcoholism recovery community, some professionals felt that EAPs should rely on a philosophy of attraction rather than active promotion or marketing of the service. Over time, as more and more external providers of EAPs emerged and as more work organizations began purchasing their EAP services from these third-party vendors or “blending” their internal EA professionals with external EA vendors, the marketing and selling of EAPs became considerably more complex–as well as more critical to the survival of the industry. And with other service delivery and competition issues emerging over the years, balancing the challenges to be met with the opportunities to be seized through effective marketing and selling has become extremely delicate.
Some of today’s marketing challenges are a natural result of many EAP vendors becoming better service deliverers and many companies, labor organizations, and other “purchasers” becoming more sophisticated consumers. On top of that, employees are accessing more and more information–much of it in the public domain–about addictions and mental health and behavioral issues and about services available to address them, thus raising their expectations of the services they receive from their EAP and enhancing their ability to discern the quality of such services. All of this is taking place in the context of a dramatically changing health care environment.
The result? Simply put, being a “great” EAP is no longer sufficient to attain or retain contracts from employers, labor unions, or other purchasers. Company loyalty to a particular EAP or vendor is often lost through mergers and acquisitions or simply when a key point of contact within an organization leaves.
As the growing number of articles and presentations and the increasing “wringing of hands” by EA professionals attests, the commoditization of EAPs is also posing marketing and sales challenges. The use of the term “EAP” to describe essentially different programs–some lacking key elements of the EAP Core Technology, others grounded in health or managed care–has led to confusion for the consumer, both at the macro (purchaser) level and at the micro (employee) level. Often, programs tout similar features and scopes of service, yet sell at very different price points. While some price differences are due to efficiencies and technologies, others may result from EAP providers guiding consumers to services that are less expensive to provide than others. Of particular concern is the “free” EAP, which may be offered as part of an insurance-type product.
For these reasons and more, it is often difficult for purchasers to compare one EAP to another. Even when the differences between EAPs are clear, purchasers may lack the necessary information to determine the value of a particular program or service for their workplace and ultimately fail to discern the variables that make one EAP or vendor a better solution to their concerns.
EAP MARKETING BEST PRACTICES
Any “best practice” related to marketing and selling must start with a clear understanding of one’s own EAP–its strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs. This basic understanding allows for better decisions about how to best position the EAP and then determine the right purchaser for its services. For instance, determining whether to characterize an EAP as a job performance enhancement or a work-based service can be significant in developing a marketing approach. Specifically, with a work-based EAP, the goal typically is to reach and work with human resources personnel and top managers in an organization, whereas a healthcare-based EAP may prefer to set its sights on the benefits department.
Best practice also implies being honest and ethical in one’s marketing and selling. It is sometimes difficult to avoid the pitfalls of promising more than one can, intends to, or will deliver. Similarly, to exaggerate or provide misleading outcomes or utilization rates in an effort to overshadow a competitor not only raises serious questions about the EAPg business practices and moral compass but ultimately impugns the very integrity of our profession and industry.
Marketers have unique opportunities to educate potential customers about the true value and benefits of their EAP services, personnel, approaches and style, and the particular scope of their products. In fact, the best marketing usually occurs when those selling the services stay in touch with those delivering them and with customers and consumers, thereby keeping the marketing in sync with the rest of the EA service provider’s operations. Such “best practices” benefit the entire employee assistance industry.
Another best practice is to understand that marketing does not end with the signing of a contract. Identifying the key people in a work organization with whom to develop relationships and cultivate support for integrating the EAP with other company systems and goals is an important ongoing marketing activity. Active company accounts should be remarketed regularly, as it is wise not to take anything for granted in this volatile marketplace. If you take the stance that every contract is at risk, adopting a marketing approach that includes (1) looking for ways to assess satisfaction, (2) making regular contact so you have an opportunity to find out if “something is brewing,” and (3) continually seeking other means to better meet clients’ needs becomes a natural way of doing business. In today’s business environment, the sooner you become aware that a company may be considering, say, a buyout or merger, the better your opportunity to design and implement a marketing strategy to obtain the new account.
The issues and dynamics associated with an aggressive and upstanding campaign of “selling the EAP” are not limited to external EAP vendors. Internal EAPs similarly can benefit by understanding their varied customers and service consumers, whether they be different plant sites around the globe, different support units at the corporate site, or different work teams throughout the organization. Each presents varied needs to the EAP and offers opportunities for it to demonstrate its value on a variety of fronts.
The best practice for promoting an internal EAP to its host company or organization necessitates that the EA service itself and its EA professionals understand that one size does not fit all. An effective marketing campaign for an internal EAP necessitates the use of varied media, varied messages, varied promotional interventions, and varied messengers.
Finally, whether the EA service is internally provided or delivered through a contract with an external provider, the EAP must have an ongoing marketing and communications campaign for family members as well as employees. There is always a tendency for individuals to not pay much attention to the EAP until they have an actual or pressing need. Communicating the EA message frequently and, if possible, conducting periodic on-site meetings and information sessions goes a long way to increase awareness and utilization of EA services.
Though technology has made it possible to efficiently and effectively reach many people, in most workplaces the EAP must still also provide hard copies and use low-tech distribution systems to reach all employees. A good rule of thumb for any marketing campaign is to use different messages for different audiences and different approaches at different times. Although this is somewhat of a simplification, it is nevertheless critical to the best practice of marketing or selling your EAE whether to the purchasing company or the employee.
Kristine N. Brennan, CEAP, LPC and Bernard E. Beidel, M.Ed., CEAP
Bern Beidel and Kris Brennan are co-chairs of the Standards Subcommittee of the EAPA Professional Practices Committee.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Employee Assistance Professionals
COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group