By Drs. Matt & Ann Bynum
Now that construction has begun on your dream office, it is time to implement strategies to make your new practice successful. Do you have a plan for attracting new patients? In the past, you could hang out your shingle and patients would flock to your office for needed dental work. What differentiates practices today is the fact that the majority of patients do not need dental work. There's a big difference between needs and wants. Knowing this ahead of time puts dentists in a somewhat awkward position. Today, dental practices must wait patiently for patients to come.
This month, we will focus on the marketing strategies that drive patient flow, as well as hiring team members.
Marketing is essential
One of the basic operating principles today is marketing. The very term marketing is taboo among some seasoned dentists. We think this stems from the violation of everything this generation of dentists has built. We don't argue that dentists once had to "put in their time" waiting, but this is not the best strategy in today's market. The dentist who frowns on marketing also sees the neighboring dentist as competition. But, in reality, the only competition a dentist should have today is for the elective dollars patients spend on products other than dental care. So, for those of you who are unsure about marketing, just do it! Marketing is a necessity today. But how do you initiate it?
Investing in your office - inside and out
Prior to investing in external marketing, invest in the office space itself. What about the interior design and external improvements? If you are building from scratch or remodeling, do your utmost to intrigue anyone who passes by your office. Do something different to make your facility stand out. Is the building aesthetically appealing? Is the landscaping attractive? Is the area surrounding the office clean? Does it look inviting?
How about the inside? Create an inviting atmosphere. Does the reception area look like a waiting room or a greeting area? If your patients are waiting, why? Are you running late? If so, that's not good for either a new or an old practice!
How about the other areas of the office? Are the treatment areas modern? Are they cluttered? Are they dark? Are they clean? How about the restroom? This is one of the most important rooms in the office. If your restroom is unclean and unkempt, then patients may conclude that your dentistry isn't up to par either. Everything from office furniture to the psychological effects of paint color needs to be well-planned. Focus on the structure and its surroundings. First impressions are often long-lasting.
People by nature are curious. While your new office is being constructed or remodeled, they are going to wonder what is going on in there. People want to know what the new building is going to be and why there are so many vehicles traveling to and from the location. Let them know what's coming! One of the first forms of marketing that can help you gain new patients is signage.
While construction is ongoing, have a 4-by-6-foot sign made that says something like this:
Future Home of Dentists 'R' Us
Now accepting new patients
For an appointment, call 976-FILN
If necessary, make the sign double-sided, so passersby can see it from both directions. Make the letters large enough to see and the sign eye-appealing. If you already have a logo for your business, make sure it is visible. People have a tendency to remember signs and symbols.
Another marketing strategy is meeting the dentists in the area. Most dentists will welcome you and offer assistance if needed. Introduce yourself to their front-office people too. Be sure to ask these offices for referrals of patients whom they cannot fit into their schedules. This is a good way to increase your new-patient flow.
From this point on - outside of standing on the street corner dressed in a tooth costume - it will cost money to implement further marketing campaigns.
There are many differing opinions about Yellow Pages advertising. Some say that no good patients come from the Yellow Pages. This may or may not be true, depending upon your type of practice and philosophy. But if getting patients in the door is a necessity, then all patients are good for business. Pros and cons aside, this form of marketing is effective in sparking patient flow.
How large should your ad be? Should it be in color? If so, which color is best? Keep in mind that the initial view of the ad is important. It does not have to be a full page, but it needs to catch the eyes of future patients.
Another way to reach potential patients is by direct mail. Direct mail houses buy the same type of information you gather by survey or form from various sources. They classify the data by every combination available and develop mailing lists to sell. They can sort prospects by zip code, new home purchase, household income, luxury car purchase, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. If you mail a promotional piece in bulk and target the right market, direct mail can be very effective.
But direct mail is not without its frustrations: It takes time to see a return (at least three to six months), and it fosters what we term the "coupon effect." People want a "deal." That's why coupons are so effective in retail. It's not a bad way to get patients in the door, but are these the kind of patients you want in your practice? If you cut the fee on the first visit, will they expect discounts on future services?
Involvement in organizations
A simple, but important, form of marketing that requires minimal monetary investment is involvement in organizations, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, or even church groups. Nobody likes to think of church as a means to gain patients, but establishing oneself in a local church leads to establishment in the community. Outside of church, the other organizations require minimal financial investment, but a greater commitment of time. The return is often minimal.
As we have said before, sometimes the best way to yield bigger, better returns is to become more aggressive and increase the financial investment. The basic business principle of "spending money to make money" is exemplified in the more aggressive forms of marketing. Some examples include magazine advertising, radio, and television. If you want to introduce the ultimate taboo, this is it. While this type of marketing is severely frowned upon by many dentists, if it is done tastefully, it can produce dramatic results. The investment can be substantial, depending on the marketing campaign. However, the rewards can extend beyond gaining new patients and making money. The result can be heightened community awareness and reputation.
Marketing strategies vary as much as dentists and their individual philosophies. Obviously, we have not mentioned all of the marketing possibilities available; we have only touched on a few areas that are routinely used. The most important thing is to follow the direction of your practice philosophy. Value yourself as a dentist. Do not lower the standards of the profession and your self-worth by standing on the street corner in a tooth outfit or by going door-to-door peddling your business card and handing out toothbrushes. You're a professional; you have worked far too hard not to act like one.
The initial phone call
Systems that make a practice successful are not found without some form of education and some amount of faltering. Success does not happen by guesswork or happenstance. Success happens because you plan for it to happen. Some systems are discovered by mistake, while others have been used for years by many. Where do you begin? How about with the first thing a patient has exposure to at your office - the initial phone call.
When a prospective patient calls your office, do you answer, "Hello? Doctor's office!" Probably not. The first impression is lasting. Are you able to "connect" with that potential patient? Does he or she feel comfortable with your office policies as explained over the phone? Are you smiling on the other end of the phone?
We don't believe in scripts. If the initial phone call is too rehearsed, you will sound insincere. Instead, try practicing what you will say with your team members. Role-playing is an excellent training tool to help you answer objections and provide information about your practice. Above all, be yourself! Greet your potential patient as you would a valued friend. Be friendly and don't hesitate to emphasize your philosophy with confidence.
When prospective patients walk into your office, will you or your team stand behind the counter without looking up as they sign in? Or will you come out from behind the safety of the front desk, walk into the reception area, and greet these people by name? The people in service-oriented professions who leave a lasting impression are the ones who are confident, enthusiastic, and friendly.
We often eat at a local, new-south cuisine restaurant in downtown Greenville called Soby's. There, you can eat a fabulous dinner, have a nice bottle of wine and great service, and then receive a card a few days later thanking you for spending time with them. Talk about a lasting impression! Treat people like you want to be treated. Leave them feeling better when they leave your office than when they first walked in.
Wal-Mart implements what it calls the "10-foot rule." When there is a customer within 10 feet of one of the employees, he is to greet the customer by saying, "Hello." What a great place to start.
Investing in team members
The largest investment that you will make prior to opening your doors will be in team members. What you do in this area is what makes or breaks your practice. The team is what makes the practice run. While you are in the treatment room for more than an hour, who is running the office? Are you answering the phone and greeting patients as they walk in the door? Of course not. So, it is particularly important that you hire the right team members who will subscribe to your philosophies, goals, and dreams.
An employee will work and act like an employee. A team member will work for the good of the team. Hire for attitude and personality, and then train for the job. Spend as much time as is necessary to do this. If you lower your standards and compromise your philosophy, you assuredly will end up making a hasty decision.
"Staff" is old-school thinking and mediocre when it comes to dental practices. "Team" is modern in thought and service-oriented. "Team" is the practice of the future. What type of practice will yours be?
The only competition a dentist should have today is for the elective dollars patients spend on products other than dental care.
Coming up ...
Next month, we will discuss the role of the team, its implementation, and its effectiveness in your practice. Stay tuned.
One of the first forms of marketing that can help you gain new patients is signage.