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What business are dentists really in?

Aug. 8, 2017
If you're not getting the  quality of new patients that you want and need to grow your practice, look at how you market. Expert Colin Receveur examines some of the wrong assumptions dentists make when considering dental practice marketing. 

If you’re not getting the quality of new dental patients that you want and need to grow your practice, look at how you market. But before that, look at how you view the business you’re in.

I’ve talked with thousands of dentists, and I’m amazed at how many of them believe they’re in the business of fixing teeth, replacing teeth, and clearing up gum disease. That’s like saying Apple’s phone division is in the business of providing smartphones with advanced features. That analogy is true as far as it goes, but it really misses the mark.

Apple doesn’t advertise solely on the features of its phones; it sells an experience. In Apple’s ads, there’s the implicit promise that your life will be better when you own one of its products. That may be due to enhanced convenience, clarity of sound or image, ease of use, or anything else that goes along with having and using a smartphone. There’s also an undefinable but real sense of prestige underlying its advertising. “Buy one of our phones,” its ads seem to promise, “and you’ll have bragging rights.”

It makes sense to define a consumer-oriented business by the value of what its efforts accomplish, not by the nuts and bolts it takes to provide that value. By that measure, dentistry isn’t about fixing teeth and healing gums. The ultimate value of dentistry is about its ability to improve and even change lives.

How you define your business determines how you market

If you view yourself primarily as someone who fixes and replaces teeth and clears up gum disease, your dental practice marketing will reflect that view. You’ll focus on procedures and materials, because that’s basically what you offer. That limited viewpoint determines how you market to attract new patients - on price, discounts, and specials. Because price- and insurance-driven dental prospects, in my experience, make up about 80% of any given market, that might seem like the sensible approach.

The problem with marketing to this 80% is that every other dentist in your market is doing exactly the same thing. You’re all competing for the same limited pool of relatively low-value prospects. What’s worse is that with everyone advertising the same way, prospects have only two reasons to choose a particular dentist - price and payment options. If you cut your prices to attract more new patients, your competitors will cut theirs. That forces you to shave your margins again to keep your new-patient pipeline reasonably full.

That’s a race to the bottom that has only one winner: the dental practice with the lowest overhead and the financial resources to keep undercutting the competition. In your market, that may be a group practice or one of the corporate dental chains. The losers will, at best, limp along with an anemic stream of low-value, no-loyalty, new dental patients. Over time, this will spell the end of your dental practice as you know it.

Change your view, get better patients

Take the time to consider the results of what you do rather than how you accomplish those results. I’ve watched my dad go through that process. I’m the son of a very successful dentist in the greater Louisville, Kentucky, area. It’s been fascinating to watch how his concept of what he does has evolved over the years. It’s been even more interesting to see what that change in attitude has accomplished for his practice.

Dr. Receveur gradually came to see that the value he offers his patients lies in the life-changing results he provides. He’s now one of the go-to dental implant specialists in a 200-mile radius, and not only is he doing very well financially - he’s happy as a clam. He’s providing his patients with the ability to laugh freely, smile without embarrassment, and eat the foods they love. Take it from me: he wakes up in the morning and can’t wait to get to the office.

That’s exactly the opposite attitude from dentists whose practices consist of an unending stream of filling replacements, crowns, and routine exams. And based on my experience, there are far too many dentists out there who are enduring, rather than enjoying, their chosen careers.

When you market on the results you can provide for your prospects, in terms they can understand, you attract more and better patients. I mentioned previously that 80% of a given market is composed of cost-driven patients. The other 20% has the discretionary income to pay more for a dentist they regard as a trustworthy, likeable dental expert. And those patients are fiercely loyal to the dentist who delivers the results, and the patient experience, that they expect.

Going back to my dad for a moment, those are the prospects he markets to. Implant cases represent very high case values, which means he’s out of the “assembly line” practice of dentistry. He’s challenged every day, but more than that, he’s gratified by the improvements he can make in his patients’ lives.

Change your marketing, change your life

Those better patients are who you should be marketing to, but you won’t get them by advertising on price, discounts, and specials. You need to refocus your marketing, and to do that, you’ll need to reevaluate what you actually offer to your prospects - not fillings, crowns, or bridges, but positive changes to their lives.

Make sure that your prospects know that those life-changing, life-affirming things are what await them when they choose you to solve their dental problems. To accomplish that, you’ll probably have to revamp your entire marketing system to be more patient friendly. While you’re at it, be sure to provide loads of testimonials focused on the life-changing results of treatment rather than, “Gee, everybody at this office is so nice!” And be sure to have separate streams of dental problem-specific automated e-mails to keep your practice in front of your prospects until they’re ready to choose you to solve their dental problems.

This is just a small portion of what goes into setting up a system to attract more and better patients. Thanks to the efforts of you and your staff, your patients can smile without embarrassment, laugh freely at a good joke or just at life, and rediscover the simple joy of eating the foods they love.

ALSO BY COLIN RECEVEUR | How to attract patients with dental fear and anxiety to your practice

Author’s note: For more information about setting up your own patient attraction system, visit or call (888) 741-1413.

Colin Receveur, a nationally recognized dental marketing expert and speaker, is the author of several best-selling books on internet marketing, including the recently released blockbuster The Four Horsemen of Dentistry: Survival Strategies for the Private Dental Practice Under Siege. His company, SmartBox, helps more than 550 dentists on three continents get more patients, more profits, and more freedom. Reach him at [email protected].

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