Market Your Practice Inside Out

April 1, 1997
Dental practice marketing is necessary in today`s business climate to attract new patients, retain existing patients, and expand a dental practice. While external marketing consists of strategies used to attract new patients, internal marketing consists of methods by which a practice pleases existing patients to lock in loyalty and build referrals.

Internal marketing enhances your reputation as a caregiver

Howard Farran, DDS

Dental practice marketing is necessary in today`s business climate to attract new patients, retain existing patients, and expand a dental practice. While external marketing consists of strategies used to attract new patients, internal marketing consists of methods by which a practice pleases existing patients to lock in loyalty and build referrals.

I want to discuss some ideas and time-tested fundamentals of internal marketing applicable in any dental office.

While internal marketing concentrates on retaining existing patient loyalty, it is, ironically, the foundation for new-patient referrals.

However, there is no "silver bullet" or quick and painless gimmick to achieve 90-percent patient retention. Daily dedication to your patients and perseverance in applying internal marketing methods is necessary to achieve success.

According to one survey, "For most patients, the perceived risk associated with the purchase of dental service is relatively high. As would be expected in a high-risk purchase situation, the respondents placed the greatest reliance on personal sources of information and word-of-mouth communication." In other words, new patients usually are the result of referrals.

Many dental practices seem to entertain the notion of trying various marketing schemes, but the implementation of these ploys is hastily executed and quickly abandoned if market im-provement does not immediately occur.

A few years back, Chicago-based marketing consultants Joseph Taylor and Paula Bartholome wrote: "Your practice should follow basic marketing precepts, but with a bias for action and correction rather than over-analysis leading to paralysis."

That advice holds true today. Here are some of the things doctors of dentistry can do to ensure patient satisfaction and promote referrals.

A Call From the Doctor

Many doctors of dentistry never talk to patients on the telephone unless there is a persistent problem. It is no wonder that many practitioners associate patients and phone calls with stress. I propose changing all that by following a simple rule: all patients with anything more than a prophylaxis are to receive a call from their dentist the evening of the day of treatment. I know I`m not crazy, because I`m not the only one doing it. Dr. Ronald Reinman, a practitioner in Atlanta, calls all of his patients who receive local anesthetic during the day. Terry Dischinger, a clinician from Oregon, says, "I call patients the evening after treatment to ask how they are doing and if they have any questions. I find that my patients adapt well to the initial inconvenience of treatment if they receive this follow-up call, and they greatly appreciate the minimal amount of time it takes to make the call."

Take the patients` phone numbers home with you and get comfortable. Most likely it will take about 20 minutes of your time, and the amount of goodwill you`ll generate and receive from the calls will relax you and take more stress out of your job than you could imagine.

A Picture Tells a Story

Dental offices that have several photo albums scattered on the seats in the waiting area accomplish several objectives. First, they convey the ideas that the practice performs the various treatments shown. Second, with "before" and "after" photos and a written caption explaining, in "nondentalese" what was done, many cosmetic procedures seem less complicated and easier to undergo. Some dental practices create what has been termed "a wall of smiles," which consists of patients and their "after-treatment" picture-perfect smiles.

Dental literature is available in our waiting area, as well. Pamphlets with photos and illustrations, help those unfamiliar with treatment to learn more about it. In some offices, newsletters often are mistakenly sent only to existing patients. It`s advisable to get them mailed out to those who are not yet patients, as well. In both cases, an economic incentive with an expiration date often will motivate patients to make an appointment.

As another attempt to educate and motivate patients, in my Phoenix practice, we have a TV set in the waiting area that plays a VHS tape called "Marketing Dental Products and Services." I had this tape professionally produced to highlight products and services my practice offers, in a visual manner that would appeal to, educate, and interest my patients.

Factual Promotions

Promotional give-away items can be used as a part of any internal marketing strategy. Whether it be balloons, pens, key chains, or refrigerator magnets, Dr. Richard Kalb, director of the practice management program and chairman of comprehensive dentistry at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, recently made a relevant suggestion in the literature. "All patient-education literature handed out or made available should have the [dentist`s] name and phone number," wrote Dr. Kalb.

This is an especially important tip for copies of dental information and articles. Indeed, this suggestion is applicable to every promotional item.

Thanking Patients

Let`s say a patient referred a brother to your practice. The brother, consequently, came in and received a prophylaxis. Besides the cleaning, this brother had the best set of teeth you had every seen. No restorations, no caries, and a bright white smile. It is obvious that thanking your patient for referring her brother with a $20 bouquet of flowers is impractical. That`s too much money and flowers die. Similarly, giving candy is hypocritical. Even sugarless candy doesn`t last.

Unfortunately, postcards are a one-way form of communication. Why not give your referring patient a coffee mug, with your practice name, address, and phone number on it?

In my dental practice, one patient kept referring to us and, at last count, we had sent him 11 coffee mugs. (Of course, mugs always are sent to the workplace because the family members are regular, happy patients.) Do you know what the guy did with the 11 mugs? He gave them away to other people at work. He recently told us that in the breakroom, it looks like the office of Dr. Farran because there are so many of my mugs.

Howard Farran, DDS, is a full-time practitioner in Phoenix. He is founder and president of Dental Mania, a Phoenix-based practice-management firm. He is the is author of "The Business of Dentistry," a book and audio cassette series, and "The Complete In-Office Practice Management Sys-tem" videotape series.

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