The number one marketing must for your practice

Dec. 7, 2009

It is the most important marketing tool you have. It is consistently the most effective means of setting your practice apart from the others. It is the unique feature that no one can duplicate. What is it? You are it. You are the most important marketing tool in the practice, regardless of whether you are the dentist, hygienist, assistant, scheduling coordinator, or business manager.

In the eyes of the patient, dentistry may be the service delivered, but it’s the team of people who deliver that service that are, in many respects, “the product.” Patients are hard-pressed to judge the quality of the dentistry. But they certainly do judge the quality and competency of the team, which makes it more important to market yourself in every interaction with patients and prospective patients. Self-marketing is nothing more — or less — than continually strengthening the practice’s relationship with each patient. It sounds simple, but it really takes a conscious effort. The key is controlling the marketing messages you don’t even realize you’re conveying to patients.

For example, when dental assistant Ellie enters the operatory and begins her preparations without acknowledging the patient, she is subtly “advertising” that she doesn’t want to be bothered. She is not encouraging conversation or discussion, nor is she creating an atmosphere where patients are comfortable asking questions. The patient, already anxious about the procedure, isn’t put at ease. It may be an unintentional message Ellie is sending, but it is still the wrong message. Ellie is focused on her tasks, yet she’s overlooking one of her most important responsibilities — connecting with the patient.

Here’s another example. Business employee Ruth works diligently at her computer. She just wants to finish one little project before she deals with the patient at the counter. She is “marketing” herself in the worst possible way, yet she is completely oblivious to the negative message she is sending. Meanwhile, the patient becomes more frustrated with each passing second because he sat in the waiting room an extra 20 minutes while Ruth was busy at the computer. Ruth didn’t think to mention that the doctor was running behind.

Rather than reinforcing positive relationships with patients, Ruth and Ellie are eroding them because they’re not paying attention to their own poor self-marketing. It is essential that every member of the dental team consider the intentional marketing messages they’ll deliver with each patient interaction — welcoming messages, calming messages, helpful messages, or concerned messages.

Your welcoming messages tell patients you’re glad they chose your practice. When they walk in the door they should be greeted promptly with a smile and “Good morning, Mrs. Smith. Thank you for coming in today.” Take a page from the big-box retailers. Everyone on the team who encounters Mrs. Smith, whether in the hallway or treatment room, should acknowledge her with a smile and “Good morning.”

Your intentional helpful messages consider the patient’s time, payment concerns, ability to make an appointment, and more. In these interactions, you clearly and intentionally convey an attitude of helpfulness. If the doctor is running 15 to 20 minutes behind schedule, apologize to the patient immediately. “Mrs. Smith, the doctor is running a few minutes behind. He should be able to see you at about 10:15 rather than 10:00. I apologize for the delay and hope this will not be an inconvenience for you.” In most cases, the patient will say, “No problem. I understand.” But if the patient is on a very tight schedule, he or she needs to know the situation immediately, and the dental team needs to know the patient’s circumstances as well.

Your intentional concerned messages demonstrate that you are focused specifically on patients when they’re talking to you or you’re talking to them. Look them in the eye. Don’t look past them to see what’s happening in the treatment room, hallway, or waiting area. Your focus is completely on them. Listen carefully to what they are saying rather than thinking about how you will respond. Address their questions and concerns with sincerity and understanding.

Ultimately, self-marketing is presenting yourself in the best possible light to patients, and demonstrating this through your genuine concern, positive attitude, and delivery of excellent service every day.

Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie’s e-Management Newsletter (