The Oins? and Oouts? of marketing

Dec. 1, 1999
Use these four cornerstones of relationship-building to help patients decide that you are the dentist for them.

Part 2

Use these four cornerstones of relationship-building to help patients decide that you are the dentist for them.

Paul Homoly, DDS

Remember Jerry? In my article in the November 1999 issue of Dental Economics, I introduced him as the dentist who spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars perfecting new skills in order to move into the more lucrative world of cosmetic dentistry, only to see the patients stay away in droves.

OI almost feel like a fake,O Jerry said when he sought me out to help him with his dental practice and his burgeoning speaking career. OHere I have offers to talk to groups, and yet I?m having problems getting enough cosmetic cases to do myself.O

Jerry had made the common mistake of thinking that, just because he had learned new procedures, new patients would flock to his door. He compounded the problem by boring patients who did seek him out with detailed technical talk.

Carolyn, one of Jerry?s top chairside assistants, put her finger right on the problem: ODr. Jerry is a wonderful dentist. I wouldn?t work for anyone else! But he just doesn?t come across as enthusiastic to the patients about cosmetic dentistry as I know he really is.O

I taught Jerry the difference between concept-selling (the OoutsO because it happens outside the office) and relationship-selling (the OinsO because it happens inside the office).

In the November issue, I explained how concept selling requires a combination of carefully chosen advertising produced by professionals with article placements in local newspapers to create the Osocial proofO that cosmetic dentistry is a desirable thing to do.

Once the Osocial proofO is created, patients will seek you out. And that?s when relationship selling begins.

A big mistake many dentists make is thinking they need to sell the dentistry patient by patient, in detailed technical terms. Maybe so, but most patients need to know more about you than they need to know about the technical aspects of care.

The fact that patients are in your office is evidence that they have experienced adequate social proof ? whether through ads, publicity, or the referral process ? that cosmetic dentistry may be the correct answer for them. Now it?s time for them to decide if you?re the dentist to do it. You can help them make that decision in your favor by building a personal relationship based on four cornerstones: 1) Attitude, 2) Connection, 3) Disclosure, and 4) Visual Language.


By attitude, I mean expressing the emotion behind your words. When we?re clear about how we feel about a topic, our tone of voice, our posture, our breathing, our gestures, and expression all come to life. Attitude is passion for what we do. If you?re not passionate about doing great dentistry, how can your patients be eager to get the treatment?

It?s important to keep in mind that attitude is getting in touch and expressing the emotion behind your words. It does not mean that you?re wildly enthusiastic and unrealistically upbeat each time you speak. Attitude will change from time to time. Attitude must change; otherwise, you lose credibility with your patients.

Since 1995, I?ve taught a workshop called OSpeaking of Dentistry.O It?s a two-day workshop where I coach speakers to be more memorable and persuasive. A consistent pattern I see in dentists is that they are reluctant to show how they feel about their topic. They believe that the logic of their presentation is sufficient to persuade audiences. All workshop attendees boost their persuasiveness, credibility, and likeability by 100 percent once they give themselves permission to show their attitude. The same is true chairside with a patient. No one ever lost credibility by being interesting.


Connection is another place where many dentists fall short of their patients? expectations. Connection is when the dentist and the patient have each other?s full attention. If you want a patient?s full attention, you must first give that person yours.

One way to demonstrate that you?re giving a patient your full attention is through eye connection. You?ve heard of the importance of eye contact. Eye connection takes eye contact to the next level. Eye connection means looking into your patient?s eyes like you?re looking into a child?s eyes to earn their attention. Connecting gives your patients the opportunity to look into your eyes. Let them see that you?re accepting, open, interested, kind, humorous, and gentle.

When I?ve coached case acceptance for high-dollar dentistry, I?ve discovered dentists and most staff members do not connect. Most dentists will talk to the patient while looking at the record, a radiograph, a study model, or off into space. The most consistent eye contact with the patient occurs when the dentist says OhelloO and Ogoodbye.O Is it important that you give patients the opportunity to OreadO your eyes? It?s important if you want to sell high-dollar cosmetic dentistry.

Lack of connection is the basis for a major disadvantage associated with using high technology for patient education in the dental office. It disconnects the patient and the doctor. I am not against having the best technology in your office. But, the liability of overly relying on intraoral images, CD-based patient education, and visual aids is that human contact is lost. It?s hard to build a relationship with a television screen.


Disclosure is the essence of building relationships. It?s letting the patient know more about you than just your role as a dentist.

Patients have very little in common with dentists, so there is little to like. But when the patient learns about your experiences as a parent, son or daughter, gourmet cook, hockey player, pilot, golfer, singer, church member, etc., they discover things you have in common. You and your patient are more like each other than they realized.

This Olike meO realization brings us closer. The primary role you have as a dentist has a very narrow source of disclosure ? shared experiences. But your other roles are a much richer source of appeal and persuasion for most patients.

Visual Language

The fourth component of building a relationship is using visual language. Visual language refers to words that produce a picture in the mind of the listener. Visual language appeals to the visual mind. Visual language is memorable. Visual language is composed of metaphors, similes, and colorful comparisons to things that the patient easily can imagine.

When I say, OShe has quality dentistry,O what do you see and remember? Not much! But when I say, OHer eyes are as clear as the sky and her smile is the sun,O do you see and remember more?

When your mind?s eye OseesO more, you?ll remember more. It?s easier to remember mental pictures than it is to remember facts. Which is easier to remember? I live in the big white house on the corner or I live at 815 Poplar Avenue? You can?t see 815 Poplar, but you can see the big white house on the corner.

Here are some words we use with patients every day: laminate veneers, periodontal disease, endodontics, inflammation, osseointergration, and tooth reduction. What do you think your patients imagine when you say these words?

Nothing, I?m sure! They would imagine and remember more if you said: front-tooth covering, gum infection, pulp therapy, redness, rock-solid in bone, and tooth reshaping.

Do you need to use visual language in the dental office? You do if you want people to understand and remember your recommendations about cosmetic dentistry.

Happy endings

Jerry?s story has a happy ending. He and a colleague teamed up and cooperatively marketed using newspaper print advertising. They also split the costs of case-acceptance coaching, public seminars, and staff continuing education. Both doctors are now doing the dentistry they love to do.

Here?s what you can do to start the process of marketing both the OinsO and OoutsO of cosmetic dentistry:

* Collect testimonials from happy cosmetic patients. These testimonials endorse the process of cosmetic dentistry. They can be used to build social proof in advertising and publicity, and when building relationships.

* Determine your marketing budget. Budgets can vary from 4 percent to 10 percent of gross collections, depending on the impact and response rate you want.

* Spend your budget from the inside out. First, develop in-office relationship tools ? personal and staff communication/relationship skills, telephone skills, facility improvements. Then develop outside promotional tools.

* Find an experienced marketing/promotional specialist. Look for a small agency that would value your account and give it the attention it needs. Large agencies tend to under-serve and over-charge small accounts such as dentists.

Word pictures

Don?t Say:

laminate veneers

periodontal disease




tooth reduction

Do Say:

front-tooth covering

gum infection

pulp therapy


rock-solid in bone

tooth reshaping