What dental practices can learn from Scarlett!

Jan. 1, 2000
In dental practice, just like at Tara, the winner is the practice that knows itself, its target customers, and the competition.

In dental practice, just like at Tara, the winner is the practice that knows itself, its target customers, and the competition.

Tim Breiding

I don`t know about you, but I am a big move fan. One of my all-time favorite movies is Gone with the Wind. I just love the drama, the pageantry, the epic stories, and the vital lessons in marketing.

"Vital lessons in marketing in Gone With the Wind?" you may be asking. Yes, indeed! Not only vital lessons in marketing, but vital lessons for your dental practice. Work with me on this and I think it will all become clear.

So, what does a romanticized version of a 19th century war have to do with practicing dentistry in the 21st century? More than you might realize! The modern dental practice is a lot like the antebellum woman. Dentists can`t just go out on the street and drag patients through the door anymore than Scarlett O`Hara could walk up to Ashley Wilkes and ask him to dance. Both dentists and Scarlett need techniques to attract the kind of people they want around them, and such techniques really are nothing more than marketing.

Target marketing

Think for a minute of the scene when Scarlett is getting ready for the barbecue and she is forcing her maid to cinch her waist even tighter in her corset. You know what Scarlett was doing? She was marketing! Her target was Ashley Wilkes and she wanted to get him to notice her.

Now think about the scene in which Scarlett and the other girls were practicing what they were going to talk about at the barbecue. You know what that was? Right! It`s another form of marketing. Once the boys gathered around, the young ladies wanted to be able to hold their attention.

I could go on with other examples, but I think you get my point. For Scarlett, attracting the kind of men she wanted required her to master a series of small techniques which, when done well in the right environment, resulted in success. For dentists, attracting the kind of patients you want also requires mastering a series of small techniques and executing them well in the proper environment.

A likable problem-solver

One of the basic tenets of marketing involves the "personality" of the business. For a dental practice, this is pretty easy, since the personality of the business is, to a large degree, set by the personality of the dentist. People looking for dental care have emotional ("I don`t like the way I look in these dentures.") or physical ("Doc, I can`t eat anything but oatmeal anymore.") problems that need to be solved. The goal is for you to project the personality of a kind, caring, and likable problem-solver. That attitude needs to carry over to the rest of the staff, especially the people answering the phones and scheduling the appointments. More patients are lost by a badly handled phone system in a dental practice than you can imagine.

Seven aspects of marketing

Having set the baseline of practice personality, here are seven areas for you to look at as part of your "marketing" approach. The good news is that not a single one of them involves being cinched up in Scarlett`s corset!

Your skills - Have you got the clinical skills on the shelf to back up your marketing message? If not, wait until you do! Marketing to attract specific procedures to your practice requires that you have all of the tools on the shelf before you run your first message.

Your vision - Get on target. Don`t try to be all things to all people. You probably have specific procedures that you really like to do. Focus on them! Do more of the type of dentistry that makes you a happy camper. Make sure that your staff buys into the changes and your new goals. You can`t expect positive change to happen if the staff doesn`t have any input or involvement.

Your image - Once you determine what you want to be, align all of your communication tools in the same direction. Be consistent. Develop the same targeted message in your stationery signage, Yellow Pages ad, brochure, and patient communications - all of the areas seen by the general public and, more importantly, by potential patients. Dentistry is like any other business in that you ultimately are what you say you are. Choose your practice name wisely.

Your attitude - Be positive. That means, be positive with your staff, as well as with your patients. People like being around positive people. Be extremely careful about correcting staff or handling internal-management problems in front of patients. It can destroy your credibility with patients and send them packing if handled the wrong way. Lighten up! Have a sense of humor and don`t be afraid to show it. Humor can diffuse some pretty horrible situations and make the whole office a better place in which to visit and work. Develop a personality within your practice. Concentrate on the service you are providing. Become the kind of practice that patients and employees enjoy.

Your patience - Marketing your practice is a lot of little things done well. All of them take some time if done right, whether it is in designing a new logo, a brochure, practice sign, ad, or any other piece of the program. Take the time to do it right. Putting together all of the elements of a successful marketing effort often can take several years if done correctly ? and that?s okay! The most important thing is to put an action plan inriting and then stick with it. Do only what you can afford to do without stressing the cash flow. More importantly, give the program adequate time to start getting results before you pull the plug. Coca Cola, IBM, and Westinghouse didn?t become household names overnight.

Your bottom line ? Marketing cannot fix a practice that is broken. Marketing a practice that is having financial, personnel, or other administrative problems only can make your life more miserable. Have your house in order before you start the phone ringing or you only will compound your problems. A successful practice can get to the next plateau financially and clinically if it is done right.

Your message ? Don?t do it yourself. Unless you have a marketing expert on staff, get outside help. I have visited more practices that have gotten mired down by the patient, sister-in-law, or friend that was going to help with the brochure or print ad or logo design. It usually dies in committee! It is an easy trap to get into, because everyone wants to save money.

Marketing is not an exact science. Even Scarlett didn?t win over AshleyWilkes! Which provides us with another lesson: Learn from your failures. In Scarlett?s case, she hadn?t done her research into her OcustomerO (she didn?t understand what Ashley really wanted) and she hadn?t done her research into her OcompetitionO (she didn?t realize how far Melanie?s relationship with Ashley had progressed). Her final mistake was in not realizing that she had it good with Rhett ... and she lost him, too!

In dental practice, just like at Tara, the winner is the practice that knows itself, knows its target customers, and knows its competition. Each practice is different, and each market has its own demographic peculiarities. Try something based on your best reasoning. If it doesn?t work, adjust, change direction, and load the gun again. This whole process can be a lot of fun if you let it!

For more information about this article, contact the author at breidingadv@ aol.com.

Preparing to do battle!

Here are three steps you can take to prepare yourself and your practice for market:

Visual assessment - Do an assessment of your office interior and all of the printed pieces that you use for patient communication. Gather all of the printed material together with photos of your office signage and interiors. Is the message consistent and are you telling patients what you would like to do for them? If not, it`s time for some changes in your image.

Verbal assessment - Look at your verbal communication skills. What is being said to patients or potential patients when they call your office? Is your staff "user-friendly?" If you were the potential patient, would you schedule an exam based on what you are hearing on the phone? Have you told your staff how you would like to have the phone answered? If you don`t like what you hear, get a consultant to fix it that knows what he or she is doing. Don`t try to fix it yourself. A lot of excellent systems are available and a qualified consultant can save you time and money.

Build the personality - Start having fun! Set some goals to inject some fun and a sense of humor back into the process. Get your staff involved with the process. Start simply. Find an occasion to get the staff together socially.

The entire process can be a lot of fun if you give it a chance!

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