12 Marketing Ideas that Don't Break the Bank Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

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.
  • Clinical and motivational verbal skills
  • Financial presentation skills
  • Communication systems within the office
  • Leadership skills for the doctors
  • Effective business systems
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.

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 external marketing.

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 your practice:

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!

Author’s Bio
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 rhonda@milesglobal.net, or call 877-343-0909.
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