Using internal marketing to create an ideal patient base: An interview with Dr. Christopher Baer
To keep up with corporate dentistry, some dentists feel pressured to compromise the patient experience. But Dr. Christopher Baer of Baer Dental Designs took another approach: he differentiated himself by providing outstanding care and building an ideal patient base through internal marketing. Learn more in this interview by Adam Smith.
I recently had the chance to sit down and ask a few questions to Christopher Baer, DMD—someone whom I respect greatly. Dr. Baer is the owner of Baer Dental Designs and is very successful at attracting new patients. If you want to know a little bit more about Dr. Baer, feel free to have a look at his website. Otherwise, let's jump right into the interview
Interview with Christopher Baer, DMD, of Baer Dental Designs
SMITH: Dr. Baer, tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey in dentistry.
DR. BAER: I had in interest in dentistry from a very young age. My grandfather was a dentist, but he passed away before I was born. My grandmother used to tell me stories and show me pictures and articles about my grandfather. He worked at the National Institutes of Health as well as a private practice. He did some really cool research on ultrasonics and dentistry. I was always intrigued.
I actually hated going to the dentist when I was growing up, and liked the old-fashioned fluoride gel treatments even less. I was fascinated by the orthodontist, who could move teeth will tiny little wires. I helped out and observed in many different dental offices in high school and college. When I was in dental school for a few weeks and started to get to used the drill, I knew I had chosen the correct path in life. I was all smiles.
I got closer to finishing dental school and felt I needed to learn more and get more procedural knowledge, so I applied to one of the best residencies in the country, in San Antonio, Texas. I was lucky enough to pass their entrance process and get accepted as one of the residents. It was there that I gained at least 10 years of dental experience in one amazing year. I almost decided to become a root canal specialist, but the advice of my mentors was that my skills would go to waste if I limited myself to doing just root canals. So, I decided to focus on general and cosmetic dentistry.
I have always been on a quest for knowledge and self-improvement, and a mentor of mine suggested I seek out knowledge at the Kois Center in Seattle, Washington. I finally graduated from this elective, intense dental education program in 2015. It has been an amazing journey to get to where I am today.
SMITH: Your answer really shows how much you want to learn and expand your skill set. How long have you owned your practice now?
DR. BAER: I worked in different types of dental practices, and I realized that with my skills and ethics it would be best to open my own. I found it difficult to find a practice that wanted to focus on the high quality of care I was committed to. In 2009, I opened a practice from scratch and decided to call it Baer Dental Designs because the focus was on the design aspect of treatment and smiles. We design custom treatment plans based on each patient’s individual needs.
SMITH: You have had the chance to see a lot of change over that time, I presume. Describe what you have seen and how it has effected you in your practice.
DR. BAER: I have seen so many changes in dentistry in my 14 years of practice. One of the biggest changes is the evolution to digital dental practices. I have always been someone who has been interested in technology. As I have progressed through my dental career, I have evaluated dental products for manufacturers and been able to test out products and give my opinions and suggestions. I have been scanning patients with digital technology since I had an introduction to digital scanning in 2005. I have been fortunate to see it evolve to where it is today and see the accuracy and comfort it provides patients. I have also used it to make the dentistry that we provide better and more efficient, as well as more comfortable and predictable for patients. It even allows us to 3-D print models, appliances (like night guards), surgical guides, and retainers.
Dental practice ownership has become more difficult with the influx of corporate dentistry. Sometimes it seems like corporate chains focus on profit and not necessarily great clinical results, which drives many dentists to try to compete on price. While this has changed the overall landscape, I think there is still room for those who do not play the same game. Patients can be cost sensitive, but they are also value sensitive. If you give them enough time and value, they are typically less cost sensitive, which is what we focus on in my practice.
SMITH: Now that we have a good background about you and your practice philosophy, can you give us one marketing strategy you've used that did not work the way you'd hoped?
DR. BAER: We decided one year to partner with a company that would put us on shopping carts. It was for a large grocery store that was directly across the street from us. It seemed like a great opportunity. It cost a few thousand dollars for exposure to thousands of people. We tried it for about nine months, and it really didn’t work. We had, at most, five people who called us because they saw us on the shopping carts. We had high hopes—it seemed like everyone would see it—but it just didn’t pan out. Nobody seemed to look at the ad, or they just didn’t get motivated by the ad.
SMITH: What did you learn as a result of this unsuccessful marketing campaign?
DR. BAER: We learned that we would be more cautious with new marketing attempts, and that our sole focus would be internal marketing. It was one of the things we all enjoyed as an office, and it gave us the best referrals. Focusing on internal referrals allowed us to build a patient base that was most like our ideal patients.
We had many marketing campaigns that brought in the "deal seekers," as we called them. If we offered a deal to get patients in—like free whitening for a new patient—we noticed that those patients came for that deal, and if somebody offered them another deal, they would switch in a heartbeat. Those just ended up not being wonderful long-term patients of the practice. It costs more money to provide quality dental treatment, and we want to spend our time and money on those who really appreciate what we do and how we provide this outstanding care.
SMITH: Based on your response, is it safe to say that internal marketing has been your best source of new patients?
DR. BAER: Definitely! We have a rule for every staff member in the office, and that is that we don’t do anything on a patient that we would not be comfortable doing for a family member. Patients have seen that, experienced that, and they have sent us countless friends and family because of it. People just want to be treated fairly, have their concerns listened to, and have things fixed once—not done and re-done. People already hate coming to the dentist, so we try our hardest to make it as enjoyable as possible.
SMITH: Give us some numbers. How many new patients are you getting per month from internal referrals?
DR. BAER: We get between 30 and 50 new patients each month from internal referrals. We make a conscious effort to make sure each our patients have the best dental experiences of their lives every time they are in our office.
SMITH: That's a great new patient flow! What a great philosophy for growing your practice. Now onto one of my favorite questions. You have been in the game 14 years and seen many different dental practices. What is your best advice for the new practice owner when it comes to growing the practice?
DR. BAER: If you are just starting out, make sure you have a budget and stay within that. Don’t listen to all the people who come knocking at your door with "amazing" marketing strategies. Start by simply taking great care of every patient. Ask for referrals when patients compliment you on a job well done. Don’t be tempted to waste money on things like mailers or grocery cart ads. Look at who your ideal dental patient is and where you can find them. When somebody comes knocking with a sales pitch for marketing, see if it makes sense with what your ideal patient would want. Ask a few of your existing ideal patients if it's something they would look at if they saw it. If not, then seriously consider walking away. Overall, always trust your gut.
Adam Smithis co-owner of Oxford Dental Care. He has personally consulted with more than 70 dental practices across the United States and Canada. Smith worked as a consultant and a data analyst with Dental Intel, where he fell in love with the statistics and business aspect of dentistry. He has a background in online marketing and website development, and works with select practices on their marketing on a referral basis only. He also runs a dental marketing Facebook group where he provides tips to dentists to improve their online marketing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Additional articles by Adam Smith
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.
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