Essential marketing strategies -- part 1

May 14, 2010
In the first of a two-part series on marketing, Christine Uhen, GDH, BA, says a good marketing campaign involves many strategies to increase a practice's presence to potential patients. Further, she says marketing is not just about new patients, but introducing new services to existing patients.

By Christine Uhen, GDH, BA

I cannot tell you how many times doctors have said to me, “If only I had more new patients, my practice would be successful.” I can assure you, there is no magic number of how many new patients are needed to make an office successful. So why aren’t all dentists marketing to get new patients? Many do market, and do it well. But too often dentists see an advertisement as a “quick fix,” a marketing idea that promises unlimited new patients. It’s just not that easy. On average, a marketing message must be heard 10 to 15 times before a consumer will act on that message. Therefore, a good marketing campaign involves many strategies to increase a practice’s presence to potential patients.

Before embarking on any marketing campaign, a great deal of time and thought needs to be put into why you are marketing. What is the goal? Is it to attract new patients? Is it to introduce a new procedure to your practice? Is it to strengthen the relationship you have with your existing patients? The answers to these questions are necessary in order to direct the marketing campaign that will give you the best results. It has been said that if you don’t manage your reputation, somebody else will. Marketing helps you take control of your reputation in the community. Remember, there is no “hope” in marketing. You need a real plan, and you must manage your expectations and track your success.

Marketing is much more than advertising and it is not a sales pitch. It is everything you do on a consistent basis to promote your practice, and it has become a key factor in developing and maintaining a successful dental business. The question is no longer should you market, but in what media should you place your message and how much should you spend.

Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of business?” According to Vicki McManus, COO of Productive Dentist Academy, the answer is, “To attract and delight your customers. The profit is secondary.” The goal of marketing is to keep your existing patients and attract new ones.

Begin by establishing a marketing budget. Various marketing and consulting companies will recommend a range of 5% to 8% of your collections for a solid marketing campaign, and that campaign should be planned for 12 months. To establish a budget, review the last 12 months of collections as well as what the office plans to produce in the upcoming 12 months, then take an average. With this figure, your decision becomes how to get the best return on investment from your marketing strategies.

It may seem obvious, but the most powerful method of new patient development is still word of mouth — the referral of new patients from your existing patients. Not only does this bring in the best quality of patient, it is also the least expensive form of marketing. It costs you almost nothing! What it does take is a certain level of confidence to actually ask a patient to talk to his or her friends and family about you. Keep it simple. Look for the opportunities that happen throughout your day. Do you or your team members ever receive compliments from your patients? Of course! When this happens, simply say that you love to provide this type of dentistry. Ask them if they know anyone else who could benefit from this care. Let them know you are accepting new patients and you will take good care of them. That’s it! It doesn’t have to sound like a sales presentation, and it is not a “script” to be memorized. What it needs to be is sincere. When it comes from your heart, you don’t need the perfect line. Putting quality dental care as your first priority and building meaningful relationships with patients will turn them into “walking billboards” who will promote your practice.

At Productive Dentist Academy, we call these “raving fans.” It is a measurement of the depth of the patients’ emotional connection to you. The deeper the connection, the more likely they are to talk about you to their friends and family. We strongly suggest that this be measured, not just by a gut feeling, but by actual tracking. Take note of how many of your new patients come from personal referral of your existing patients.

On average, a patient will refer a new patient to you once every 10 years; our goal is to double that. Imagine how your practice would grow if you had twice as many patients making personal referrals! Building raving fans is a powerful way to grow your business and should be a focus for each staff member every day. Take time in your morning meeting to identify your ideal patients. These are patients who you enjoy seeing on your schedule, who keep their appointments, accept the dentistry you recommend, and pay their bills. Chances are, these patients have friends and family who are just as nice as they are, and who you would enjoy working with. Be sure to celebrate your relationship with each patient, and let them know that you value them as a patient and you would be honored if they would send their friends and family to you. No matter what your marketing goals or budget, asking for referrals should be a solid foundation on which you can build your marketing plan.

Another no-cost idea is to highlight a new feature in your office. Whenever the doctor or team attends a continuing-education program, learns a new technique, or adds a new dental service, the office should place a press release in the local newspaper. In addition, an article that highlights this treatment or service is a great supplement to the press release. Base the article on a patient’s experience with the new service and how your dental care enhanced his or her life. Newspapers are always interested in human interest stories and will welcome your submission.

You may already have technology that can be better utilized to strengthen the marketing in your office. Patient contact systems, such as Smile Reminder, Sesame, or Demandforce, are used primarily for appointment reminders and confirmations, but they can do so much more. These systems are capable of sending out newsletters to your existing patients through their e-mail accounts. They have preset texts, or you can send out the same message as your press release.

Marketing is not just about new patients, but introducing new services to existing patients. In addition, these programs offer dental offices the option of sending out patient surveys after any dental appointment. The end of each survey asks patients to submit any personal comments regarding their appointment. This is an excellent way to receive positive patient testimonials about your office. These quotes can be used on other marketing pieces, such as advertisements, mailers, and your Web site to give greater credibility to your office.

Part 2 will appear next month.

Author bio
Christine Uhen, GDH, BA, is a head coach with the Productive Dentist Academy, an officer with the ADIA, and frequently lectures on all aspects of business management to clients across North America. She can be reached at [email protected].