Many health care providers fall into the trap of spending big dollars on marketing without knowing their customers. A well-structured strategic marketing plan requires a mechanism for identifying the needs and wants of your customers. Thoroughly understanding the market one operates in is tantamount to the strategic process. Research, as the prelude to strategic planning, supports decisio- making processes and financial investments involved in growing a radiology business. Without understanding the market and specific customer demands, the radiology business cannot be effective in truly delivering value to its customers and differentiating itself from competitors. To effectively develop corporate or marketing strategies, there are key segments that require thorough understanding. The most obvious radiology customers are the referring physician and staff, the patient, payers/health networks, the hospital system, and the internal customer –the staff. The market analysis should focus on obtaining the customers' perspectives about their interactions with the radiology business or competing providers. By reaffirming basic needs, understanding emotional triggers and identifying which service offering are perceived to provide value; the radiology business/department distinguishes elements of the purchasing behavior to tailor service offerings. It also identifies other entities that may be potential opportunity. The Customer Market research provides the customers' perspective of their service needs and wants. When decisions are being made about service offering and benchmarks are being established for service delivery, the customer is the critical element in developing direction. This research requires connecting with each customer segment and identifying their needs. Surprisingly, many are anxious to discuss their needs in order to improve their ability to address their own customer/patients' needs. Train the staff to ask key questions of all customers (patient, referring office/physician, payer, etc.) to acquire vital information about service delivery, performance or service needs. When visiting or talking to a referring office, be astute and seek opportunities to meet their specific needs more adequately. This makes the staff keenly aware of successes and deficiencies in their own workflow processes relative to meeting the needs of the customer. This strengthens brand loyalty. With regards to the patient customer, profile your market. Understand your market's demographics, sociographics, geographic profiling, level of education, income levels, and growth potential in targeted geographic area(s). Take every opportunity to view your business from the patients' perspective. Mystery shoppers are always a great technique to broach this area of the research. Fortunately for us, a medical practice's information system is rich with data, perfect for segmenting and profiling current customers. Competition Most radiology providers content with highly competitive environments. Approach the comprehensive assessment as a means of collecting information of the market surpluses or deficits in service and delivery offerings. Tailoring one's service programs are then focused on the specific market needs and thus bring greater value to the customer, rather than reacting to competitors' positioning statements and marketing programs. Base your knowledge about competitors on true market research rather than assumptions. Include the patient in the competitive assessment. Include questions about competitors' service characteristics in your customer surveys. The customer can provide feedback about their experiences at competitors' environments. This information should be used to identify strategies for differentiating one's business from the others by understanding what the patient customers view as important service attributes. Internal Environment One key element that should not be overlooked is one's internal business environment. If service promises cannot be delivered, brand equity is lost. Building workflow processes that are conducive to optimal service delivery improves customer attitudes and strengthens brand loyalty. External Environment Additional external forces that may impact the successfulness of a business are economical and political influences. In healthcare, understanding the intricacies of the political arena is vital to the company's livelihood. This year has provided proof to the importance of this with the introduction of DRA! Additional elements of the external environment that can have direct impact on the operation and finances of the radiology business are other businesses that we do business such as the manufacturing firms and suppliers that control equipment, supplies and service costs. Getting Your Arms around the Customer Refrain from making key strategic decision on personal assumptions. Market research, as a prelude to strategic planning is fundamental to success and effective strategic direction. Market research improves one's ability to approach the planning process. It provides one with a fresh perspective and it opens opportunity for exploring better ways for delivering value to each segment. Research is the starting point to effective strategic decision making and planning. Being in tune with one's own market and customers provides direction for establishing well defined goals and objectives, a strong mission statement and value statement to the customers that emphasizes their importance to your organization.