Stop Wasting Your Marketing Budget
5 processes you must examine before spending another dollar on marketing
When it comes to the term “practice marketing,” reactions among dentists run the gamut. Some cringe at the mention of marketing; others cheer. While some think they operate their practices so well that marketing has been rendered unnecessary, other doctors believe so wholeheartedly in the importance of marketing that they may ignore glaring internal practice issues.
These diverging opinions represent extreme ends of the spectrum—dental practice marketing does not have to be all or nothing. Marketing and practice management both have a utility and should work together. Marketing should not be used as a bandage to avoid addressing practice management challenges, nor should practice management be used to avoid marketing as a critical part of any practice’s business plan.
At the same time, most dental practice marketing advice is predicated solely on bringing new patients into the practice. But marketing is more than just getting the phone to ring; dental practice marketing encompasses the entire patient experience. Plenty of gimmicks may compel new patients to call; however, if proper leadership and operational processes are not in place to ensure that the dental team meets patient expectations, first-time patients will never become lifelong patients and the money spent on external marketing will go to waste.
Dentists and team members alike should remember that patients’ experiences are not limited to how they are treated when in the chair. According to Pew Internet Research, 72% of Internet users search for health-related information online, indicating the patient experience often begins well before the first phone call to the practice is placed. How patients are treated once they do make the first contact (whether online or over the phone) and how they feel about their experiences both during and after their first appointment, at their first follow-up, and even in between appointments all sum up the overall patient experience.
Dentists who spend money on external marketing efforts but fail to see a positive return on investment often erroneously come to the conclusion that marketing is a waste of time. The truth is that it may not be the marketing that is failing. Before spending more cash, a dentist may find it worthwhile to invest time in reviewing the following internal processes to determine how to improve practice processes that are inextricably related to marketing—and can ultimately make or break a practice’s marketing efforts.
Verbal Skills Training for Your Marketing Team
Even if the dental team has no official marketing coordinator, a virtual marketing team still exists in every practice. Every staff member who interacts with patients is part of the marketing efforts in that they are all contributing to the overall patient experience, particularly the new-patient experience.
“It’s imperative that the front desk team receives comprehensive training on every verbal skill, from converting callers into patients to addressing insurance and payment concerns,” says Amy Morgan, chief executive officer of Pride Institute. “Hygienists and dentists also need to be properly prepared to overcome common mistakes, obstacles, and objections related to case presentation and treatment planning, especially when it comes to patients who are new to the practice.”
Appointing New Patients
A phone ringing off the hook with new patient inquiries is a good sign that the practice’s external marketing is working effectively. Keep the momentum moving by making new patient calls the front desk’s top priority. Commit to scheduling new patients within 1 to 3 days of the initial phone call. New patients do not yet have a sense of loyalty to the practice or dentist. If a patient is not invited into the practice within a reasonable time, they may choose the next dentist on their list, and the new patient opportunity can potentially be lost—along with the marketing dollars spent on attracting the new prospective patient in the first place.
New Patient Communication
New patients are vulnerable to poaching and procrastination, so communication needs to be handled particularly carefully. Help them feel as though they are already belong in the practice by tailoring communication with them. Upon the first appointment, or even prior to the appointment, a welcome letter can help introduce the patient to the practice and answer common questions. When new patients are in the chair, avoid using too much clinical information and instead speak to them in friendly terms. A two-way conversation will help the dentist get to know the patient—and by building trust, the doctor will slowly uncover the patients’ motivations and concerns. Understanding why the new patient is at the practice in the first place can help tailor the treatment plan to that patient’s needs.
Calculating Return on Investment
Make sure the money spent on marketing efforts is being used most effectively by tracking the ROI, or return on investment. Determining whether a marketing activity is successful is impossible if no one tracks the results. The front desk team plays an important role in this part of the marketing process; for every new patient inquiry, no matter whether that person actually makes an appointment, the front-desk team should be asking the caller for basic contact information as well as how the caller learned about the practice. These data will help paint a clearer picture of which specific marketing efforts are resulting in both phone calls and first appointments.
Improving the Online Experience
Today’s modern dental patients inevitably use the Internet to research the dentist and practice before they make their first appointments. Be sure that the practice’s online reputation accurately reflects both the practice and dentist. The dental practice website should be professionally designed with a contemporary appearance and an easy-to-use interface. Social media profiles should be updated regularly. Online patient review sites such as Yelp, Google+ Local, and Healthgrades.com, all common online destinations for patients conducting research about healthcare providers, also need to be populated with up-to-date practice information and a sufficient number of positive patient reviews to inoculate the practice against any potentially negative reviews.
Engaging in external marketing activities is necessary for practice growth, but it’s critical to remember that marketing is just one component in an integrated practice management strategy. To maximize the practice’s marketing results, dentists and office managers alike should ensure that the practice is set on a course for success—and that the leads coming in the front door via marketing efforts aren’t going right out of the proverbial back door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and serves as chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader who co-teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing course, Smart Marketing Solutions: A Dentist’s Guide to Thriving in Today’s Modern Marketing Landscape. She blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @naomi_cooper, or on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing. For information about upcoming course dates, call Pride Institute at 800-925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com.