Playing Your ‘A’ Game

Nov. 1, 2005
An Interview of Dr. Bill Blatchford by Dr. Joe Blaes

An Interview of Dr. Bill Blatchford by Dr. Joe Blaes

Dr. Blaes: Congratulations on your book. I have enjoyed reading “Playing Your ‘A’ Game.” What was your purpose?

Dr. Blatchford: “Playing Your ‘A’ Game” is like no other book, in that our purpose is to share case studies of dental business success as seen by 23 dentists and teams. The practice models have all different shapes and geographic locations. They are very honest in their self-assessments. They share a common gratefulness that dentistry creates a lifestyle of choices.

Our book is an excellent source to view long-term business success during a period of 15 to 20 years. With 23 different examples, this is a long-term study of practice success.

Dr. Blaes: What did you learn?

Dr. Blatchford: There are no secrets. The information for success is available to everyone. What makes the difference is implementation, and ‘A’ Game shares this. I was impressed with the doctors’ dedication to their teams - the changing of lives is evident. Great practices place much emphasis on continual learning and application. Staying focused and striving for the best is definitely there. Sales skills and team communication are critical. There is ultimate happiness in dentistry.

Dr. Blaes: We know that vision is the beginning as well as the backbone of a good practice. What is your take?

Dr. Blatchford: When the leader has examined his or her own standards and values and communicated with passion, the team forms and action ensues. Successful doctors share what a difference this makes in leadership. Having the leader’s vision as the driving force creates a team striving for excellence and building effective systems. Dr. Weyers is a good example of great leadership, vision, and team with solid systems in place which carried her through chemo and radiation - and her production and collections remained stable.

Dr. Blaes: What difference does vision make?

Dr. Blatchford: All of these doctors demonstrated their passion and pleasure for choosing a profession which allows their goals to be fulfilled. With more time for family and travel, as well as increasing net return, more choices are created for life. The result is emotional fulfillment without frustration. Without vision, dentists do not experience long-term success.

Dr. Blaes: I noticed a real commitment of doctors to their teams. How do you get those results?

Dr. Blatchford: I was impressed, also. It is clear the team is valued. It also is clear these dentists search for the right people to join the team, train them well, and then reward them in a solid bonus system. When the direction is clear, staff members are selected on the basis of the same vision, and higher standards are kept for performance and skill level. This is critical. Too many dentists make compromises for team members and never have outstanding results. There are no compromises.

Dr. Blaes: Why is it such a challenge to find great people?

Dr. Blatchford: Most doctors compromise their standards on staff instead of enduring the discomfort in letting people go. Almost all dentists in our book shared their agony over letting people go when it was clear for many months that a certain person was not going to make the team. I think we tend to have too many average people on staff. I would rather have fewer great “people persons” and pay them more. A bonus system creates a game of accountability. Because of team efficiency and skills, we can offer more time off with pay according to the doctors in “Playing Your ‘A’ Game.”

Dr. Blaes: Almost every doctor is involved in marketing. What is the direction you see?

Dr. Blatchford: Marketing strategies are shifting to recognize the difference between needs and wants. We are in the arena of discretionary offerings; our guests have choices. ‘A’ Game teams recognized this and established long-term marketing game plans. One thing is clear - the team and doctor have studied, practiced sales, and continue to practice. Systems are in place so that the marketing effort is not lost when a new guest arrives. The successful practices are finding that when they budget about 10 percent of collections on marketing, they make sure their internal systems are in place so their potential is not lost when a great patient arrives.

Dr. Blaes: What forms of media are they finding effective?

Dr. Blatchford: Effective marketing is as diverse as the doctors. Small cities as well as large metropolitan areas are represented. What is evident is the courage to commit to a larger plan that positions them in the community, rather than “shotgunning” money here and there, trying to get more bodies of any kind in the chair by any means possible. In “Playing Your ‘A’ Game,” the doctors were honest about what is working in marketing and what did not work for them. What is clear is the tremendous advantages of Web sites. The Internet is allowing potential guests to do research on practices, and then call with specific requests. Dr. Kim Okamura finds it appropriate to ask patients, “Where are you in your research?”

Dr. Blaes: What are the expectations of today’s patients?

Dr. Blatchford: The expectations of patients are higher then ever before. They know what they want. The old sales model of educating patients is passé. People now have sources to discover information, and they arrive knowledgeable. Doctors have shared that a successful sales discussion is on an emotional level and does not involve clinical talk. You’ll notice in the book that many dentists devote time and resources to staff training. Sales skills and right-brained activities, such as five-star service and spa amenities, and an awareness of people’s time and comfort are necessary. The doctors in the book demonstrate that excellent clinical skills are no longer enough.

Dr. Blaes: I noticed staff members talking numbers. Is this new?

Dr. Blatchford: In successful dental practices, the teams do know the numbers. It is a sign the team is involved in the business which creates the opportunity for accountability. They know the overhead per hour, the cost of a cancellation, and the cost of doing a unit of dentistry in their offices. Thus, the team schedules effectively and treatment is completed efficiently. This is a real win/win for the practice.

Dr. Blaes: How does the staff become involved?

Dr. Blatchford: One way of measuring involvement is to tie a portion of their income to the results. Profitability is a team activity. The team needs a reward to learn new skills and be accountable. Leaders are not willing to have staff members who aren’t playing the game and pulling their weight. Our doctors’ teams are willing to study, train, role play, and practice.

Dr. Blaes: I am impressed by the drive to continuing education.

Dr. Blatchford: Yes, these doctors are way beyond the minimum of continuing education. These doctors invest by taking their teams to reach a higher level. I am impressed, because many have worked with most of the known clinicians. Several are accredited with the AACD and several are involved in teaching and writing.

Dr. Blaes: Besides marketing, do you think a practice purchase is a good avenue?

Dr. Blatchford: As shown in our book, a practice purchase or merger is a sure thing. Marketing is somewhat of a risk. The risk is reduced with a merger; it increases the opportunities.

Dr. Blaes: In what areas do dentists need the most help?

Dr. Blatchford: First, I think they need to become accomplished in nonpressure sales skills because much of dentistry is a discretionary service. Our parents’ generation never would question a doctor’s advice. Today’s marketplace is much more sophisticated.

Second, I think dentists should examine the business side of dentistry. Overhead is up 50 percent in the last 30 years. Why? The dentists have allowed the insurance companies to dictate fees and be the marketing arm for them. By allowing a setting of fees, inflation has created an income gap. The beauty of discretionary services is that dentists can set their own fees.

Dr. Blaes: There appears to be a shortage of dentists approaching. Please share your thoughts.

Dr. Blatchford: Twenty years ago, there were 6,500 graduates, and there are 4,300 dental graduates today. Our population has increased and is older. There are more opportunities to start a practice on your own or purchase a practice. There also is more money available, which helps.

We definitely are developing a shortage of dental graduates. Dental organizations should be working on the access-to-care problem. If they don’t, the federal government will step in as they did in the 1960s, mandate more dental graduates, and send dentists to outlying areas. It was clear in our book that dentists selected the profession because of the freedom to be an entrepreneur and make their own decisions. We found, too, that increasing the number of dental graduates did not increase the number of practicing dentists in underserved areas. Many dentists in the book are doing volunteer treatment in their practices as well as around the world.

Dr. Blaes: There are several dentists in the book expressing a desire to practice well into their 70s. Why do you think they want to do that?

Dr. Blatchford: Dentists who are keeping up on new techniques and delivering discretionary care are enjoying a new enthusiasm for the profession. We also see in the book that dentists have created rewarding business models with teams who share a common vision. The combination of these three factors makes practicing rewarding and enjoyable. Why quit?

Dr. Blaes: I noticed the proceeds from the book are going to two interesting areas. Tell me about this.

Dr. Blatchford: Carolyn and I see many young graduates carrying tremendous debt. This causes great stress, forcing them into compromise positions. We would like to help relieve this problem. This also was prompted by our 33-year-old daughter who is starting dental school this fall. We also are giving proceeds to the American Diabetic Association, as our other daughter developed Type 1 diabetes at age 30. It is a life-long disease with complications.

Dr. Blaes: Thank you, Dr. Blatchford. “Playing Your ‘A’ Game - Inspiration Coaching to Profitability” is available by calling (800) 578-9155, or visit www.blatchford.com.

Dr. Bill Blatchford’s Custom Coaching Program is now available anytime, anywhere. Utilizing 18 years of practice-management experience with more than 1,100 offices, he focuses on leadership, systems, case-presentation skills, communication, and profitability. The program involves maximum personal time with the coach and interaction with other doctors. Contact him at (800) 578-9155, or visit his Web site at www.blatchford.com.

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