Table of Contents

Continuing Education
Cover Story

Inside Dental Technology

July/August 2013, Volume 4, Issue 8
Published by AEGIS Communications

Data Mining for Growth

Using your laboratory’s customer database to recognize industry trends

By Terry Fine

Think about what the newspaper meant to 1920s society. It was the shared authoritative source for information, and contained a relatively small amount of information by today’s standards. If you were a successful 1920s businessman, you were most likely familiar with the daily paper not necessarily because it held valuable financial statistics, but because you needed to be aware of the variables—trends in culture, economics, and your neighborhood. In order to be successful, you almost had to read the newspaper.

Today, though, there is more of everything, and it’s all bigger and consequently less manageable. Now, it is no longer sufficient to merely peruse your tiny-town paper and expect to be in the know. It is also no longer sufficient for companies, big and small, to manually review stat sheets to recognize trends. As a dental laboratory then, how can you manage your seemingly innumerable channels of information? How can you recognize dental trends to make profitable business predictions?

Data mining is a computational, non-manual (for the most part) process by which companies can recognize and learn about new information regarding patterns, trends, and predictions with information that is most likely already available to them. To data mine, your company will assess numerous variables by entering information into a software system that uses algorithms to organize and evaluate.

Regardless of whether you have years of business experience or are just starting out, data mining can be beneficial to your laboratory as long as you take the time to assess the variables of your market. For a relatively trivial example, imagine you are trying to discern what type of people spend the most money on groceries per week. You can choose variables such as the their sex, income, job, marital status, number of children, geographic location, where they choose to shop, etc. After entering those statistics into your data mining system, it can uncover trends and patterns that would have either taken too long to realize manually or, even worse, gone completely unnoticed. Once you can see those trends, you will be able to plan your laboratory’s buying and saving strategies more precisely, resulting in saved expenditures and new profitability.

You may wish to employ a marketing company to data mine for you, or maybe learn how to do so yourself. If you want to try it out, there are systems available for download or purchase. You know Microsoft Excel? It is part of a data mining system that, when partnered with Microsoft SQL Server and a free downloadable data mining plug-in, allows you to ascertain new trends and reach maximum profitability. As a dental laboratory, though, you will most likely already have the necessary software and information readily available to start data mining. Some highly functional dental laboratory systems include Labnet, ABS, and Jenmar DL Plus. These systems have the ability to provide robust reporting functionality when used correctly. Not only will these systems help you understand your current customer base, but they will enable your laboratory to employ already available data to help you understand, and micro-cater to, a target demographic of new dentist customers.

To get started compiling your variables, start by understanding your data sets from your current customer list. Follow the model shown in the sidebar to get started.

Far too many laboratory owners misappropriate their assets’ values. Some laboratory owners will say their most valuable asset is their staff; others will say that it is their brand-new milling machine. Those assets are incredibly valuable—but why aren’t more laboratory owners recognizing the irreplaceable worth of their customer database? What would you do if you lost your customer database? You might find that to be a more difficult question to answer than what would you do if you needed a new milling machine or productive staff. Learning and appreciating the value of your customer database is a sure product of data mining. You already have the information and tools to get better numbers, you just didn’t know it.

Data Sets from Current Customer List

Customers
Basic Info
Name, Address, Age, Specialty, Number of doctors at practice
Case Information

Date of first case, Yearly sales volume, Monthly sales average, Monthly average number of cases, Percentage of remakes (monthly, yearly), Traditional impression or digital impression

Product Mix

Fixed
• PFM­—NP, SP, HN, Full Cast
• All ceramics­­—e.max®, BruxZir®, Procera, etc.

Removable
• Full denture—Std, Economy, Premium
• Partials—Cast, Flexible

Implant (Patient Specific vs. Stock)
• By manufacturer—Nobel Biocare, Astra, Biomet 3I, Zimmer, Straumann, DENTSPLY Implants

Other

Credit Information
• Payment terms
• Payment type
• Average date of payment

Inactive Customers
• Date of last case
• Case type
• Customer notes