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Creative Marketing in a Down Economy

Sept. 16, 2010

Enlighten – Empower – Evolve

by Helen H. Cohen, MA, CEG
Marketing in a down economy means you must be creative in your approach to attracting new patients. Here are five pragmatic suggestions for your practice to try:1. Target your satisfied patients to increase referrals. Patients who have had positive results from your treatment and who trust and like your practice are always your best advocates. Train your staff to be on the alert to ask for a referral during a "peak" patient visit. For example, the tactful approach: "Mrs. Jones, we wish we had 100 patients like you!" Mrs. Jones will ask why, and you say what a wonderful patient she is because ___ (fill in the blank with a descriptive adjective). Patients will be so pleased by this exchange. With this method, you are able to plant the “seed” for a future referral. Focus on patients who are the primary decision makers in their family. Whenever you have an opportunity that presents itself to elevate patients’ confidence, trust, and satisfaction with an in-office interaction, you gain their loyalty. The best “dental missionaries” are the ones who are the most enthusiastic about you and your office.2. Reward and acknowledge your staff for referrals.Implement a referral bonus system of giving a designated cash amount for each new patient that accepts and starts treatment with your practice. This can be for a set time frame or can be ongoing, depending on the practice’s needs for generating new patients. At staff meetings, discuss and role-play how to properly ask for referrals. Motivate staff to spread the word about the office in their network of contacts. It's a win-win situation — they receive the cash reward and the practice gains a new patient. In addition, you will be able to assess which staff members are fully behind your practice’s success, and dedicated to promoting dental health and you as a terrific dentist.3. Brainstorm with your team members to generate creative marketing strategies/plans.Schedule some staff meetings with the sole purpose of talking about ways to market your practice both internally and externally. Think outside the box with ideas that may have potential. To feel comfortable, staff members need to understand that all ideas will be accepted in a safe space. Team members have to have courage to bring forward any ideas they may have. Hold this think tank session outside of the office in a nice neutral location or over an extended lunch. No idea is too small or too big, but depends on the perspective from which it is given. Your staff has to understand the importance of marketing the practice, and must look for opportunities to grow the business. By using your staff’s talent, the dentist will not be the only one responsible for coming up with novel ideas. After an idea has been worked through and agreed upon, a documented plan to implement it should be created. Think short-term and long-term goals with definite timelines. Decide how it is to be accomplished and who is in charge, and hold the staff accountable to follow through. By including your team as a viable resource to increase your referrals, you increase their self-confidence as contributing members to the office and production, and their enthusiasm also increases.4. Referrals from generalists need more cultivation from specialists.Typically general practices receive lots of contacts from specialists in their community. Generalists send business to specialists year round, but what are they doing for them? To remember them at Christmas may not be enough for the amount of generated income and goodwill forwarded. Think of ways to be more appreciative of their referrals. Refer patients to them as well. For example, if a new patient moves into town and sees an orthodontist to start or continue active treatment, ask if the family has a generalist. Often they don't, so send referrals back to reciprocate. Another idea is to do a "lunch and learn" at the GP's office about some topic that is new and innovative regarding your specialty. Specialists should not assume that generalists know about every new technological advancement or mode of treatment outside of their expertise. Take notice among their staff that would benefit from some ortho treatment and invite them to your office for an evaluation. I am an example of this, as I chose to go into active treatment and picked an orthodontist in whom I had the upmost confidence and who we referred to often. The result was well worth it. I was in braces at middle age, and our adult patients were so impressed and encouraged by my decision to be in treatment that I was able to generate several new referrals. 5. Referrals from patients need to be rewarded. Use your dental software to monitor all patient referrals weekly, monthly, and annually by source. Referral sources are from patients, external advertising, specialists or generalists, insurance plans, promotions, team members, and more. From this you should be able to ascertain what efforts are the least and most effective. The significant sources that are clearly identified as returning on your investment of time and cost can then be expanded upon. Establish a referral reward system for each time your patients send you their first, second, and third referrals. A simple handwritten thank you note is a very genuine, remembered, and cost effective first step. From there, you may elect to give gift cards for restaurant meals, movie passes, coffee houses and more. If you market yourself with an office newsletter, mention the names of all the patients who referred others. People really like to see their name in print and receive recognition. Timeliness of the reward is important and ought to be within one to two weeks of the referral to have the best impact.In closing, be open to trying different approaches and exploring the possibilities. It’s like the financial advice often given to wise investors to diversify their funds. I am a firm believer that the more you do the greater the results!Good luck to your practice!
Are you ready to take your practice to the next level? I invite you to experience a complimentary (no charge or obligation) 30-minute coaching session to see if you are ready and would benefit from dental coaching. Please visit my Web site at to learn more about the services I provide. Contact Cohen at [email protected] or call her at (913) 491-1368. Her LinkedIn address is, and her blog address is