Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 04 Rich 1

The silver words of a visiting rich dentist

April 26, 2017
When a wealthy dentist visited Dr. Ankur Gupta's dental school class, the students lapped up his advice. But when he entered practice, Dr. Gupta quickly learned that things are changing, and how some dentists acquire patients may not work for others.

When a wealthy dentist visited Dr. Ankur Gupta's dental school class, the students lapped up his advice. But when he entered practice, Dr. Gupta quickly learned that things are changing, and how some dentists acquire patients may not work for others.

While in residency at MetroHealth hospital in downtown Cleveland, my class of GPRs was visited by a very successful dentist from a nearby suburb. While talking with us, he felt it tremendously necessary to emphasize how lucrative his private practice was. He was, in our eyes, the picture of success, and he welcomed our admiration.

During his presentation, he mentioned something that stayed with me the following year as my wife and I opened the doors to our from-scratch private practice. He told us to “never advertise, as word of mouth is the best and only way to market to new patients.” He suggested that advertising was for the inferior and desperate professionals and entrepreneurs, and he encouraged us to “let our work speak for itself.”

His advice, I realize after nearly 15 years as an entrepreneur, was legitimate. Word of mouth not only helps to recruit patients who already have a personal connection to you and your office, and also a decent amount of trust. These are undoubtedly the most valuable new patients; however, this visiting dentist could have served us so much better if he temporarily lifted his air of superiority and condescension.

We trusted him, and my wife, Nisha E. Punjabi, DDS, and I attempted to stay true to his advice as we opened our office in a new city where we had no contacts. Our hope was to hang up an open sign and impress the heck out of each patient who walked through our doors while leveraging heavily on “letting our work speak for itself.” A few years later, with sputtering growth and unpredictable daily production, we realized that the dependence on service and quality as an engine for new patients might have been incomplete.

For the first time in our careers, we made the decision to step outside of our comfort zone and actually put in practice many free but uncomfortable techniques to personally market our small dental business. Here I will share the ones that really worked for me.

1. Call people after you’ve done a painful procedure on them. This includes the obvious stuff, such as surgeries and root canals, but should also include procedures that last more than 90 minutes. Often, the person answering the phone is not the patient. While the follow-up call provides you with an amazing goodwill from your patient, it also impresses the person who answers the phone.

2. Every time you’re served by someone in your community (a librarian, a salesperson, the teachers at your kid’s school), give them a toothbrush. At first they’ll stare at you and think you’re weird, and let’s face it, handing a toothbrush to a stranger is pretty weird. But there are ways to minimize the awkwardness here, and people really like getting free toothbrushes. When we ask new patients how they heard about our office, they often shrug and say they can’t remember, but then they tell us they had this toothbrush in their work drawer for months.

3. When patients express their happiness with their experience at your office, look them in the eye and ask them for a favor. When they say yes, ask them to give your business card or a toothbrush to one of their friends, coworkers, neighbors, or family members. Doing so serves two purposes. First, it gets patients to commit to helping your office during the moment they’re happiest with you. Second, by giving them a tangible item that they’re charged to give away, they tend to remember you and their commitment to you.

4. When a person refers someone, write them a personal note, the kind that gets a stamp and goes in the mail. Thanks to communication via phones and computers, handwritten mail has become rare but has not eliminated our need to regularly check our mailboxes. Receiving a letter from a dentist may seem trivial to us as the senders, but the gesture could serve as a truly special and memorable sentiment for the recipient.

5. Get on your computer, open PowerPoint or Keynote, and put together a picture-heavy, ultra-simple, one-hour presentation about health, teeth, smiles, periodontal disease, implants, or whatever interests you. This is not the kind of PowerPoint you would put together to be evaluated by peers, with cited references. The goal is to come across as likable and kind rather than knowledgeable and highly skilled. Prepare a similar presentation for children from preschool through third grade. Then, whenever you have a patient who is a teacher, nurse, librarian, Rotary member, a member of a senior group, manager of a company, etc., ask them if you could provide a one-hour lunch and learn. This, of my five strategies here, is the most effective means of acquiring many high-quality new patients. It also happens to require the most effort.

If you’re now feeling nauseous, you’re not alone. For years, I despised all this. I would have rather done a DOB composite on tooth number 16. All of these exercises were so far outside my comfort zone. But the reality is that when my staff and I committed to confidently asking for referrals, writing letters, handing out toothbrushes, and presenting to the community, the phone rang more, and high-quality new patient numbers increased. Amazingly, this type of marketing required very little money and no outside help, but was more effective than anything else that I have done.

New patients, in my opinion, make dentistry fun. They are a clean slate. They represent an opportunity to do better and be better. When new patient numbers are high, dentistry is more fun and my office is more profitable. If you feel the same way, challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and be creative.

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After completing a one-year GPR in Cleveland, Ankur A. Gupta, DDS, started a practice from scratch, North Ridgeville Family Dentistry, in 2005 with his wife, Nisha E. Punjabi, DDS. Armed with what he considered adequate knowledge, hand skills, and personable demeanor, he watched as his practice floundered, finances became unpredictable, and his lower back and life outlook became worrisome. Rather than continue the trend, he made a guinea pig out of his office, family, and himself, and he attempted any and all personal and professional “experiments” in self-improvement. He now enjoys enviable new patient numbers and case acceptance, a solution-oriented dental team, and most importantly, a meaningful and positive identity. He happily shares the failures and successes with dental and community groups throughout the country, always ending his presentations with practical step-by-step ways to become better. Feel free to contact him at [email protected].