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The seven biggest mistakes of practice marketing

Oct. 1, 2007
We hear so much news today about infl ation, mortgage defaults, layoffs, and other disruptions, that it can raise concerns about an IMPENDING ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN.

by Amy Morgan

We hear so much news today about infl ation, mortgage defaults, layoffs, and other disruptions, that it can raise concerns about an IMPENDING ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN. Such news can make dentists anxious about new-patient flow and case acceptance. In times of economic uncertainty, marketing the practice effectively becomes the critical success factor. What are concerned dentists to do, you ask? I will tell you first what not to do.

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We at Pride have seen too many examples of what I call "spray and pray" marketing. In this scenario, dentists do little or no formal marketing -- until they experience a production plateau or shortfall without knowing why. This causes them to feel a sudden, urgent need to market the practice. In a panic, they spend large sums of money on hastily conceived marketing events, and then cross their fi ngers, hoping something sticks. For fact-oriented, objective clinicians, dentists too often seem to approach marketing in an emotionally-driven, seat-of-the-pants, subjective manner.

What is a better approach? It"s called evidence-based marketing. According to Paul Herreras, a seasoned dental marketing strategist who recently joined our team, the timetested, proven way to ethically grow a practice is through an objective "systems" approach to marketing. This approach is firmly rooted in two basic principles:

  • "Patient need" must drive all marketing efforts so that they are truly effective; and
  • All marketing strategies must be able to be tracked for return-on-investment (ROI).

When you apply these two principles to your practice, all your marketing efforts will solidly place you on a path to long-term prosperity.

After more than 25 years of consulting with dentists, Paul and I have observed the following seven biggest mistakes of practice marketing. On average, the bulk of these mistakes can cost you more than $87,000 each year.

1. Choosing an unprofitable practice location.

The right location is in an area with a healthy professional to-population ratio, plus maximum outdoor signage opportunities. Choose the wrong location and you"ll have to substantially increase your marketing budget (or soon become the best-kept secret in town). For example, one suburban dentist proudly chose office space that was a real bargain in price per square foot. However, one needed a treasure map or global positioning system to find the place.

2. Not properly converting phone shoppers.

The average dental practice loses up to 67 new patients every year on the phones. Doctors and their staffs must have a time-proven protocol that is created specifically for their phone specialists so that they can convert prospects based on patient need. If I had a quarter for every time we"ve detected serious fl aws in a practice s telephone skills and screening system when our consultants posed as secret shoppers, I d be retired in Tahiti. To ensure that your phone communication systems are all that they should be, design an effective protocol, invest in staff training to implement it, and then be sure to "inspect what you expect."

3. Not having an internal marketing system.

You must have a system that stimulates additional patient referrals, loyalty, and retention. (Note: By using time-tested internal marketing communications, you can generate more than 60 percent of your practice growth each year.) Whenever I ask a doctor if he or she has a system for asking patients for referrals, invariably, the answer is "yes." When I delve deeper, I fi nd that most do not correctly apply this critical verbal skill, so they are not asking the right patients nor are they asking in a manner that is a call to action. (And asking for referrals is only one of a dozen proven internal marketing tools that you can use.)

4. Advertising externally during the wrong time of the year.

Every practitioner needs to be aware of his or her "seasonal busy months." These are the only times to test external promotions. Advertising paid for and placed during your seasonal low months has greater than an 85 percent chance of failure.

Yet we see so many doctors who, struggling with cash flow during their slow season, waste money on print ads or direct mail pieces that yield no response.

5. Putting your practice name on top of your ads.

Tiger Woods can put his name at the top of an ad and it will get read. But rarely does a dentist have enough public recognition to have his or her name entice a browser to read and respond. Instead, have a "problem/solution" headline created and placed at the top of your ad. (Headlines are responsible for up to 61 percent of an ad's response.) For example, instead of using an ad with the headline "Dr. Joe Smith Invites You to His Dental Practice," try "Let My 24 Years of Experience Enhance Your Smile."

6. Not courting referrals from allied medical professionals.

Studies show that up to 43 percent of allied medical specialists (ODs, DPMs, DCs, PTs, etc.) do not have a trusted dental professional to whom they will refer patients. The other 57 percent do, and they are referring literally hundreds of new dental patients out each year. Patients are holistic, which means they care about their teeth just as much as their cholesterol levels. If they trust their internist, they will equally trust a dentist referred by that internist. So, what are you waiting for? Instead of merely exchanging holiday hams with allied professionals, go out and find yourself new referrers.

7. No objective tracking system.

Having no tracking system to evaluate your marketing is like trying to treat a patient without any exam findings. Practitioners who don't track never really know what promotions are working or why they are working. Always quantify your marketing efforts for ROI. A signifi cant number to know at the outset when determining the goal of your marketing strategy is the number of patients in your active patient base.

This statistic tells you, among other things, the production range that is possible and the number of new patients who are required monthly to support the practice's goals. (By "active patient base," I mean the total number of patients who have been seen at least once in the past 18 months.)

Other key statistical indicators that measure the results of your marketing efforts include production, collections, number of new patients, amount of treatment presented, and the case acceptance percentage. Comparing the cost of marketing as a percentage of your total office production will give you a clear picture of your ROI.

The bottom line is: Once you understand the systematic nature of practice marketing and avoid the seven mistakes, you' ll be able to protect and grow your practice legally and ethically, and without many missteps. Economic challenges are looming. Your winning strategy to deal with uncertain times is to make yourself well known and well thought of in your community now. Make time-tested, evidence-based marketing a part of your practice tools and culture now, and you can have success ... always.

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the firm helping dentists master the business side of their practices. For more information on evidence-based marketing for your practice and to attend her seminars on leadership and operations management, call (800) 925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute. com. Coming up: Pride' s VIP Marketing Intensive Workshops with Paul Herreras.

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