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For many businesses, scheduling and managing appointments is not only a core competency, but a critical step in the revenue process. Whether you’re setting appointments for haircuts or B2B sales consultations, you need to have the right tools in place. Appointment setting software gives you the ability to manage a high volume of appointments, connect customer profiles with calendars and tasks, and pass appointment data between team members.
The selection process can be challenging for a first-time buyer, but you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you make an informed decision by outlining industry applications, two major software categories, and a case study of a leading appointment setting solution.
Applications by Industry
Appointment setting isn’t necessarily a fixed practice. It varies depending on services rendered, the type of client, and the number of stakeholders involved. In each of these situations, the software user will have different goals and a need for certain unique features. To help you better identify your needs, let’s look at some practical applications for appointment setting in three industries.
In B2B sales, appointment setting is an integral part of the lead generation process, used as a final step for qualifying leads before they speak to a sales development representative (SDR). Typically an inside sales representative (ISR) will call prospects after they’ve downloaded a piece of content. After a series of conversations and/or emails, they’ll ask if the prospect would like to schedule an appointment to discuss the product in detail. Inbound leads sometimes schedule their own appointments by submitting a web form (e.g. “Schedule a consultation with one of our experts”).
At this point, the lead is assigned to a SDR; it’s the SDR’s responsibility to follow up on time and make the most of the consultation. If all goes well, the appointment will result in a sales conversion. But almost every business struggles with this process. Here are some of the biggest challenges appointment setting software addresses in B2B sales:
- Following up on time: 72 percent of buyers say the seller who responds first has the biggest advantage1
- Being persistent: Not all prospects will convert (or answer the phone) on the first attempt, even with a scheduled appointment
- Integrating lead profile data into the appointment setting process
- Transferring data between ISRs and SDRs
In the personal and professional services industries, most employees and employee-owners offer their services to numerous customers throughout the week, so effective time management is paramount. Examples include consultants, barbers, beauticians, photographers, massage therapists, dog walkers, tattoo artists, and even the famed “life coach.” For specialists like these, time is valuable and billable, so the appointment is much more than a scheduling tool; it’s a medium for tracking and monetizing customers, without which the business would collapse.
Unfortunately, many of these small service companies are still using spreadsheets, personal calendars, or paper-based methods for appointment setting. Without an automated system, it’s hard to accommodate last-minute changes, track customer information, and keep customers in the loop. Here are some of the biggest challenges appointment setting software addresses for personal/professional services:
- Flexibility for last minute cancellations/changes to appointments
- Keeping customers engaged and informed about their appointments (e.g. through text updates, email notifications, etc.)
- Maintaining a hassle-free user experience
- Analyzing appointment and customer trends
- Integrating appointment data with billing/invoicing process
In the healthcare industry, appointment setting is almost inseparable from patient management. This is true for private practices, dental offices, veterinary clinics, counseling centers, or any type of non-urgent care facility. Efficient appointment management reduces administrative work and gives caregivers the ability to see more patients per day, week, etc.
It’s critical for care providers to use a central system of record for setting clinic appointments and checkups, managing cancellations, and exchanging referrals with other providers. Many EHRs and practice management solutions provide built-in appointment setting features, but some providers may need a third-party solution. The right appointment setting software can address the following challenges for a healthcare organization:
- Making sure scheduling practices comply with HIPAA and Meaningful Use standards
- Giving patients online access to appointment and account services
- Flexibility for last minute changes or cancellations
- Integrating appointment data with your revenue cycle management.
- Maintaing high patient engagement
- Automating appointment reminders to reduce labor costs and no-shows (e.g. through text updates, email notifications, etc.)
Two Ways to Implement Appointment Setting Software
There are many different kinds of software that can be configured for “appointment setting.” For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on two of the most common manifestations: customer relationship management (CRM) and standalone appointment scheduling applications.
CRM Software + Email
Customer relationship management software gives businesses in any industry a system for tracking customer data, interactions, and automating workflows. Some CRMs provide built-in appointment setting features through a calendar/task management module (Insightly is a good example). But more commonly, CRMs integrate with an external email service like Outlook or Gmail. This integration lets users create and sync calendar appointments from directly within the CRM, or create appointments in their email account using CRM data (accounts, attendees, notes, etc.).
For B2B organizations, a CRM’s sales force automation features streamline some of the more repetitive aspects of appointment setting, such as assigning leads to sales development representatives or updating lead status. The CRM also allows ISRs and SDRs to work from the same data in real time, maintaining a single version-of-truth, and ensuring everyone has all the latest information on each customer and/or account.
Here are some common features of CRM software that pertain to appointment setting and appointment management:
- Calendars and task management
- Workflow automation
- Email integration (Outlook, Gmail, etc.)
- Auto lead assignment
- Lead nurturing and email follow-ups
- Lead profile data (firmographics, web activity, notes)
- Opportunity management (for converting leads into closed deals)
- Mobile access
3rd-Party Appointment Scheduling Applications
If your CRM or other system of record doesn’t offer built-in appointment tools, you still have options. There are dozens of standalone scheduling applications on the market that give users the ability to book and manage appointments, store customer data, and bridge the gap between scheduling and billing. Some are designed for use in specific trades (such as SolutionReach, a medical scheduling app, or MindBody, for salon and wellness facilities), while others are general-use (such as Appointedd, or Schedulista).
If you’re leaning toward a third-party application, you’ll want to make sure you can synchronize data between your current systems (CRM, point-of-sale, email, etc.) and the scheduling application, either through pre-built integrations or APIs. Keep in mind that some scheduling applications are designed strictly for standalone use.
Most solutions will offer some of the following features:
- Event management and scheduling
- Task management
- Online booking, via customer portal
- Customer and account management
- Ecommerce integration
- Social media integration
- Basic email marketing
- Reporting and analytics
Creating Executive Buy-In
If you’re leading the initiative on software procurement, you’ll need to build a compelling business case that “sells” appointment setting software to its future stakeholders in the company, especially leadership.
This process will vary from buyer to buyer, depending on industry, business size, and organizational hierarchy. To get you started, here are some talking points for specific executives:
Chief Revenue Officer (CRO):
If you work for a B2B sales organization, you’ll probably need to consult your chief revenue officer or equivalent — a leader who has a vested interest in the efficient execution of sales and marketing. One of your CRO’s biggest priorities is to drive alignment between revenue-related teams.2 You can use this priority as a springboard to discuss the appointment setting process, which is a hand-off between outbound and sales development teams. Explain how automated appointment setting software can streamline this hand-off, help SDRs connect with leads, and possibly increase revenue.
Small Business Owner:
A lot of personal and professional service business are run by an owner or sole proprietor. If you’re the sole proprietor, the decision is yours. But if you answer to business owner, you’ll need to show them the present need for an appointment setting solution and the empirical value of implementation. For example, you could run through reports from the past six months and tally the total number of appointments missed, then calculate the estimated financial impact. Point out inefficiencies in your current manual workflows, and identify specific ways an appointment setting tool can improve productivity (automatic text and email reminders, online booking, integrated billing, etc.).
Chief Technology Officer (CTO):
The CTO’s goal, no matter the industry, is to supply technology resources that support business goals. In that sense, your CTO can be one of your biggest allies in the procurement process, provided you clearly demonstrate the business value of automated appointment setting. In addition to being your ally for conversations with other executives, your CTO can help you compare appointment setting software and decide which solutions offer the best long-term value for your needs. Be sure to get their input on which products are the most reliable, will integrate with existing systems, and cost less to maintain. If you have your eye set on any specific vendors or features, be prepared to explain why.
Clinical Services Director:
This executive role is, of course, unique to healthcare organizations. If you’re buying software for a hospital, private practice, or care clinic, executive buy-in will come from your CSD or from someone whose role is to improve quality of care through business administration. In a smaller practice, this could simply be the lead physician.
It’s rare that a healthcare organization isn’t already using some kind of scheduling system, so your objective here may be to prove the superiority of a new appointment setting solution over your existing tools (spreadsheets, email, etc.), rather than prove the value of scheduling automation. In that case, narrow down your search to a select few products, and focus on specific features or workflow improvements they might offer. How are your current tools under-serving patients, compromising your business model, or inhibiting quality of care?
How to Choose the Best Appointment Setting Software
At TechnologyAdvice, we help businesses connect with the best technology for their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on leading appointment and scheduling solutions to make the buying process more straightforward for decision-makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the appointment setting software listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a custom recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
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- Heinz, Matt. “It’s time for a lead follow-up intervention.” Heinz Marketing. Last modified November 6, 2013. http://www.heinzmarketing.com/2013/11/time-lead-follow-intervention-boy-stats-suck/
- “Chief Revenue Officer.” Wikipedia. Last modified August 6, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_revenue_officer