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In this article series, I address each of the five basic systems that dentists and dental technicians need to have in place and give advice on how they can best prepare for the future. In Part 1, I referenced the seminal work The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and discussed financial systems in dental practices. In this current article, I will focus on Gerber’s second business system: lead generation systems (how we attract new patients and sell more to existing patients), which is otherwise known as practice marketing.
Shortly, I will share with you a six-step process for ensuring that your marketing is contemporary and on point, but before that, I want to describe what I believe to be a hugely important distinction, between advertising and marketing:
Advertising is the systems by which you make strangers aware of your practice and aware of the products and services that you offer.
Marketing is the systems by which you encourage existing patients to buy more and to recommend you to their family, friends and colleagues.
The purpose of this article is to describe methods by which you can do successful marketing, according to my definition, and it is not within my scope of practice to talk about advertising.
When my clients ask me about advertising, I direct them to experts and agencies in this field, with the warning that advertising can be costly and necessitate a huge attrition rate—essentially advertising is appealing to price shoppers and potential time-wasters—and that they need to carefully monitor what the agencies do with their money.
Can you detect a note of bias in my language? I apologise, but I have spent too many hours listening to practice owners and managers complaining about lack of results and lack of information. Caveat emptor!
My preference for marketing is based upon the knowledge that it can be a predominantly in-house activity, under your control, relatively low-cost and easy to monitor. So, let us look at my marketing systems, especially in this post-COVID digital world of ours.
Your recall system
It comes as a surprise to many clients when I suggest that a properly run patient recall system is the first rung on the marketing ladder. The COVID environment resulted in many recall systems being halted, and the demand for dentistry since has resulted in some recall systems being left unattended while the waiting list is dealt with. Given the current economic landscape (recession and inflation), I am advising my clients to look again at their recall systems and reactivate regular reminders for dental health reviews and hygiene visits. You should consider the following:
- Are your existing patients being contacted on a regular basis to remind them that their appointments are due?
- Are you able to triage dental health reviews and visits by zoning diaries to allow for ample time to review and to deliver higher value treatment?
- Do you have a virtual consultation platform in place so that patients can talk to a treatment coordinator or clinician before visiting?
- Do you offer an online booking system?
- Do you offer an online chat facility (chatbot)?
At a patient review or recall, you will have the opportunity to upsell higher value treatment (if appropriate and affordable) and ask for word-of-mouth and digital referrals, as well as a Google review.
Complaining about social media is as pointless as complaining about the weather—it is here to stay. Irresponsible use of social media is inappropriate in dentistry. Responsible use of social media, however, allows our messages to travel further and faster than at any time in history.
I ask my clients to follow a simple rule in all their marketing, the 80/15/5 rule for content:
- 80% stories about real patients for whom you have made a positive difference;
- 15% stories about your team members and how working with you is enhancing their lives; and
- 5% oral health education.
Far too many practices reverse these proportions, and their social media becomes me, me, me—me on a course, showing off equipment, at team training or lecturing on oral care. These may be important, but are largely boring to the audience. Regarding social media engagement, you should consider the following:
- Do you add three or four social media posts weekly?
- Do they follow the 80/15/5 rule?
- Do you engage and interact daily with any followers who engage with you?
- Do you encourage Google reviews from every patient with a simple QR code on a card?
- Do you regularly collect patient selfies and video testimonials (with the necessary consent)?
Correctly used, social media can be a godsend for your practice marketing and your marketing budget.
Many prospective patients, even those referred by others, will visit your website as part of their discovery process. Is your website modern, freshly designed and engaging? Many years ago, and in collaboration with a leading dental web design company, we described the six essential components to make your website earn its living.
To begin with, address the profile of your dental practice—this includes your name, brand and unique selling points—and emphasise this throughout your website, especially on your home page and landing page. This will help build brand awareness so that you become a familiar name throughout your community. You want people to associate your profile with good customer service and quality dental care. Build up a collection of Google ratings and reviews from your existing patients to help emphasise this further.
Make sure that your home page and landing page are both unique, interesting and engaging so that they encourage prospective patients to explore the rest of your website and leave their details or contact you directly to either find out more information or book an appointment to visit you in person.
People and premises
Showcase the people on your team and the premises of the dental practice. This is very important in the marketing mix, as it helps prospective patients to familiarise themselves with you and your team as well as find out more about your surroundings to help ease their nerves when they visit you in person.
The prices of your treatments are very important. Most patients will try to get the best deal possible. If you can offer better prices than the other dental practices in your area, then this is beneficial for you. If you have higher prices than your competitors, then work to emphasise the quality of dental care that you provide to justify your prices and help patients recognise your experience and expertise.
Promise and products
Promise your patients that you will provide them with fantastic dental care and excellent service and prove this using the Google ratings and reviews as well as before and after pictures of successful treatments carried out at the practice. Inform patients of individually tailored products in the form of treatment plans or smile makeovers that they can undergo at your dental practice.
Important considerations for your website include:
- Is your dental website refreshed every three years?
- Is your bounce rate low so that you know that visitors are staying to research?
- Have you incorporated the six Ps?
- Can you confidently say that your website earns you a living?
- Does your website include videos of patient stories?
- Is all your photography current and professional?
- Do you have an online booking and chat facility?
- Is all copy optimised for search engine optimisation?
The digital patient newsletter
Most of my clients publish a patient newsletter every month. The objective is to upsell treatment and to encourage patients to share the newsletter with family, friends and colleagues if they think an article will be of interest.
Although some may use a module in their practice management software, the majority will use a modern newsletter platform like Mailchimp. The content of the newsletter follows the same 80/15/5 rules, but allows you to go into more details, showcasing patients and team stories. The feedback is always that patients do enjoy these publications, provided they are not seen as sales documents.
The daily huddle
Given my focus on internal marketing, it will be no surprise that the morning huddle is a focal point, during which the list for the day is reviewed to identify patients visiting that day who could be approached for internal marketing. A typical daily huddle list would be:
- New patients: Count the number of welcome packs sent out at the end of the day.
- New treatment plans: Add up the total of the signed treatment plans at the end of the day.
- Production: Collect the completed average daily production sheets and insert the total production into the sheet.
- Facebook check-ins: Count the number of check-ins on the practice’s Facebook administration page (practice manager or treatment coordinator).
- Problems: List any problems reported throughout the day.
- Follow-up calls: List any diarised follow-up calls. Also, note any difficult treatments or concerns from the previous day (clinicians).
- Patients who failed to attend or cancelled: List any patients who failed to attend or cancelled on the previous day and actions taken.
- Achievement against production target: Compare reception-booked average daily production sheets against the targets for each clinician.
- Emergencies: Make sure that there are spaces in the appointment book for utilisation for emergencies etc.
- Laboratory work due: Check the next working day for laboratory work and raise concerns if laboratory work is missing (dental nurses).
- Email addresses: Check in the appointment book for an “e” icon next to the appointment. If there is no “e”, then highlight for collection the next day.
- Smile checks: Identify patients who have not had a smile check in the last 12 months and highlight them on the list for a smile check on arrival.
- Handing out referral cards to patients: These are normally handed out to patients at the end of treatment reviews.
- Facebook engagement: Explain to patients that the practice is having a charity drive for Facebook likes and reviews. Ask!
- Testimonials: Make sure that at the end of treatment immediately after the final dentist review, patients are booked with the treatment coordinator for a six-monthly healthy mouth review booking and testimonial requests.
- Membership: Highlight any patients not on membership (e.g. with a different colour in the appointment book) and ask whether they are aware of membership and its benefits.
- Thank you: If a patient has referred a new patient to us (evident from a pop-up on the patient’s file), thank him or her and ask whether he or she has received his or her chocolates yet? If not, find out why!
- New patients: Make everyone aware of the time a new patient is coming in. Be prepared!
- Access issues for any patients: List the appointment time and ensure surgery coordination.
- Any known highly demanding patients: Find the time of attendance and make sure you are on time!
The end of treatment review
When patients reach the end of a course of cosmetic treatment, they should be at an emotional high point in their journey. That is the best possible time to engage them as an advocate for the practice—so be ready with your MRCREST approach:
Membership: Would you like to join our dental plan?
Referral: May we give you three of our business cards to pass on to any family members, friends or colleagues who would benefit from visiting with us?
Check-in: If you have a Facebook personal profile, could we ask you to check in at the practice today?
Review: May we give you a Google review card with a QR code and request a review?
Email: Do we have your email address and may we add you to the subscriber list for our patient newsletter?
Selfie: Can we take a selfie?
Testimonial: Do you have time now to record a short video testimonial or can we invite you to one of our VIP evenings to be filmed?
By adding all these steps together, you create a full internal marketing system that will turn your patients into your unpaid sales force. Internal marketing is a fun team effort that strengthens and deepens your relationships—and it works!
Further information on Michael Gerber can be found here.