by Rhonda R. Savage, DDS
Elmer Wheeler, a selling genius from the 1940s, said: "Don't
sell the steak, sell the sizzle." But, you can't sell the sizzle if the
patient doesn't trust you.
Think about the "steak" as your basic dental services. The
"sizzle" is above and beyond. The sizzle can be those little things
that increase your bottom line: adult fluoride, night guards,
sealants, cosmetic whitening, nitrous oxide or referrals of new
patients by existing patients. Also, the "sizzle" can be big things
like cosmetic dentistry, implant restorations, orthodontic treatment
or laser-assisted periodontal treatment.
You can't offer the steak or the sizzle unless you get new
patients in the door and you keep them in your practice. You
won't attract word-of-mouth referrals from your existing patient
base if your patients don't trust you.
Step into your patient's shoes. Would you choose your
dentist or physician if he or she were totally about self-responsibility?
How about if he had the reputation of placing your
needs above his? "My dentist makes recommendations based on
what's right for me, not on what's best for him!"
As a privately practicing dentist, former dental assistant and
front office person, I look at the business of dentistry from the
inside out. Who do you stack up against, from a competition
standpoint? As a consultant and a dentist, I can say that my
products are a head and shoulders above the competition. Can
you say the same about yours?
People are willing to pay a premium for these qualities. You'll
attract more new patients if this is your reputation. People shop
up if they have the opportunity. Price is only an issue in the
absence of value.
What's holding your practice back from creating value? Is it
training or refining your team's talents? There are five areas of
critical training that exist in dentistry.
You'll need to personally examine your practice and consider
how you fare with your "steak and sizzle" in each of these
categories. It doesn't make sense to spend your precious time
and money on marketing if you don't engender trust in your
patients. This is true whether you're a fee-for-service practice, a
participating provider or a Medicaid-based practice.
- Clinical and motivational verbal skills
- Financial presentation skills
- Communication systems within the office
- Leadership skills for the doctors
- Effective business systems
Marketing is one step; keeping the patients is another. First,
you need a defined goal.
In order for your practice to grow, you should be seeing
between 25-40 new patients a month per doctor. As an established
practice, you need 10-20 new patients a month. If you
have an associate, I recommend your goal be 50 new patients
per month. Your need for new patients depends upon your
demographics, practice style and number of years you've been
in practice. As an established practice, if you have less than 10
new patients per month, your practice is declining.
A growing practice should have a marketing allowance of
two to six percent of collections. Consider spending two-thirds
of your budget on internal marketing and one-third on
I've worked with some rapidly growing scratch practices
who see a high number of PPO patients, primarily obtained by
billboard marketing, magazine and newspaper ads and neighborhood
mailers. If you consider the PPO adjustment as a
marketing tool, how much of your gross production could be
technically considered "marketing"?
Your team members need to understand that PPO participation
can be considered one way to build a practice. Be careful,
however, that you work to keep those hard-earned patients.
If you get too many new patients, don't have an adequate staff
and there's no effort to recall or reactivate, you'll be a revolving-door type of practice.
Here are 12 strategies to market
1. Stay Connected
One very powerful marketing tool is a confidential patient
survey (Smile Reminder is one company offering a great electronic
survey). Or, you can choose to do an in-office survey; a
mail-in survey will obtain more information because the
patient can choose to be anonymous. E-mail me if you'd like a
copy of our in-house survey. Have your front desk team let the
patient know you're asking all of your patients for their help.
Give them a self-addressed, stamped envelope and inform them
that the survey can be anonymous or signed.
Recall and reactivation is truly the best form of internal marketing.
What is your percentage of effectiveness in getting your
patients back in the door?
Stay in touch with your patient base with a newsletter. The
least costly is a electronic version (Smile Reminder, Demand
Force and TeleVox are some companies to research). Make it 50
percent non-dental, fun and interesting! Also, send birthday
cards, anniversary cards, sympathy cards and daily thank you
cards to patients.
2. Call Patients Post-treatment
Are you calling patients post-treatment to see how well
they're doing? Your patients will be very impressed that the doctor
is calling them! You should call after major treatment.
Patients love it! Also, your hygienists should call after any scaling
and root planing, within 24 hours post-treatment.
3. Call New Incoming Patients
Within one to two days of scheduling, call new patients to
greet them and welcome them to the practice. This will certainly
set you apart from other dentists and decrease new
patient failures! Ninety-five percent of the time, you'll be leaving
a message. This is what I say: "Hi, I'm Dr. Rhonda Savage.
I understand you've made a new patient appointment with
my practice. I wanted to call and let you know we're looking
forward to having you in our practice. If you have any questions,
feel free to call me at 555-1212."
4. Evaluate Facility Appearance
One significant part of marketing is the appearance of the
facility. Is cleanliness an issue? Hold your cleaning company
accountable. I recommend an outside cleaning company; if you
must use internal help, the cleaning person needs to be held at
the same level of accountability as an outside cleaning company.
In order to see what the patients see, set aside 20 minutes at
your next team meeting for a patients' perspective exercise (PPE).
Everyone walks in silently from the outside and looks at all the
spaces. Each staff member should make notes on a pad of paper.
Then meet and combine the notes and ideas into three categories:
ideas that cost nothing, ones that cost a little, and those that cost
a lot. You will be amazed at what a little "spring cleaning" can do!
I always recommend that all spaces be "patient ready" at all times.
Does your facility project warmth in color and décor? You
don't need to spend a lot of money to create a warm look with
paint, carpet and décor.
The entire team needs to be involved in cleaning their personal
space or have an assigned operatory. They should be cleaning
their operatory from top to bottom quarterly. This is not the job
of a cleaning crew. Doctor, does your desk need cleaning?
Dusting? Your space should be kept as neat and clean as the rest
of the office. Cleaning the blinds is the duty of the cleaning crew.
They should be cleaned quarterly or at least semi-annually.
Make certain the front entrance area is kept clean on a daily
basis. Have a well-lit exterior, with colorful flowers if possible.
Consider the use of small, decorative white lights to illuminate
trees and create interest at nighttime.
5. Consider Professional Image
If you're interested in presenting a higher level of care, you
might consider professional dress. The front desk needs closed-toed
shoes and a professional top with little or no cleavage visible.
Even in warm areas, I recommend the team avoid capris and
sandals. If someone appears at work with cleavage, they should
be sent home to change. Everyone should reflect the image that
you want your office to be known for! Consider the image as part
of your PPE discussion.
6. Adding Services
An addition of new services within your practice will help
make your practice stand out from others. One company to consider
is OralDNA. Ask your hygiene department to research its
products. Also, have your staff wear one of many magnetized
buttons that say, "Ask me about Six Month Smiles!" or "Ask me
about Cosmetic Whitening." Check out RLM Dental Marketing
for these buttons; place them in a basket and have everyone grab
one each morning at your morning huddle.
7. Personal Marketing Outside the Practice
The doctor needs to be active personally in the community.
All team members need to actively refer when out in the community.
Give your team $25 per new patient referral from outside
sources (personal family members do not count).
8. Keep an Up-to-date Web Site
Do you need to increase the search engine visibility of your
Web site? Do a local search to check your placement. Also, review
the image of your site. Does it draw patients in within the first
few seconds? Blog, blog, blog on your Web site. You need video,
rave reviews and Facebook on your opening page. Look into the
QR code! Have rotational promotions on your site.
9. Consider Patient Financing
Look into alternate patient financing as part of your marketing
program. I personally have worked with CareCredit all my
years in private practice. If the patient doesn't qualify for
CareCredit or ChaseHealthAdvance, consider ComprehensiveFinance.com.
10. Evaluate Patient Services
What's in the patients' best interest? What can you offer them?
Consider X-rays every year for the majority of your patients.
Unless the patient is a clean, healthy adult, you cannot diagnose
what you don't see. Sometimes, even those that appear clean and
healthy can surprise you!
11. Front Desk Organization
The front desk needs to be prepared for everything. Examples
include: checking insurance benefits ahead of time, knowing
whether a patient is covered for X-rays. Prior preparation says,
"We're professional and you can trust us!" It is a marketing tool!
Also, look into On Hold Messaging as a form of advertising.
Customer service is reflected in your recare/reactivation
efforts. This is a front desk responsibility. Keep your front desk
accountable for preparedness and organized systems.
Consider a white board to greet new patients and welcome
back returning patients. Or place a picture board in the reception
area to create instant connections.
12. Show Thanks
Step up your "thank you" program versus a flat $25 credit
to their account/new patient. Have an internal raffle semiannually.
Put the patient's name in a fish bowl when they
refer a new patient or "like" you on your Facebook Fan Page.
Have a great non-dental prize like an iPad as a first prize, then
in-office whitening as a second prize, then a kid's Sonicare
toothbrush as third.
A downturn in the economy is when you need to count on
creativity and innovation the most. You can utilize the talents
of the team to accomplish the majority of these efforts. It takes
the entire team to offer and perfect your "steak and sizzle."
So… pull out the barbeque and have a team meeting this week
to review your current marketing efforts!
|Dr. Rhonda Savage began her career in dentistry as a dental assistant in 1976. After four years of chairside assisting, she took over
front office duties for the next two years. She loved working with patients and decided to become a dentist. Savage graduated with a
BS in biology, cum laude, from Seattle University in 1985; she then attended the University of Washington School of Dentistry, graduating
in 1989 with multiple honors. Savage went on active duty as a dental officer in the U.S. Navy during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and
was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, the National Defense Medal and an Expert Pistol Medal. While in private practice for 16 years, Savage
authored many peer-reviewed articles and lectured internationally. She is active in organized dentistry and has represented the State of
Washington as president of the Washington State Dental Association. Savage is the CEO for Miles Global, formerly Linda L. Miles and Associates,
known internationally for dental management and consulting services. She is a noted speaker who lectures on practice management, women's
health issues, periodontal disease, communication and marketing and zoo dentistry. To speak with Dr. Savage about your practice concerns or to
schedule her to speak at your dental society or study club, please e-mail email@example.com, or call 877-343-0909.