Howard Speaks: Your Best Moneymaking Tool: Listening by Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, publisher, Dentaltown magazine

Dentaltown Magazine

by Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, publisher, Dentaltown magazine

20 years

Editor’s note: To commemorate Dentaltown’s 20th anniversary, throughout 2019 we’ll be running some classic content unearthed in the publication’s archives. (In case you didn’t know, every issue back to October 2001 is available online at The topics in Dr. Howard Farran’s column from January?2002 are still valid today, which illustrates how, although the dental industry may have changed tremendously over the past two decades, some concepts are timeless, like the need for reflection, responsiveness and responsibility.

After I completed my Master of Business Administration degree from Arizona State University, I realised there was more to making a practice successful than just proficiently using the dental tools and techniques we were taught in dental school. Dentistry is a people business, and you must utilise effective marketing techniques to appeal to your neighborhood. Do you understand your patient’s wants and needs—and the difference between the two? To successfully develop and implement strategic marketing for your unique demographics, you must be familiar with basic marketing principles and how to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

Keep your eyes—and ears—open
In retrospect, I realise that many people and events helped to shape my business sense—my dad; what I learned at ASU; what I’m continuing to learn through continuing education; and talking with the Townies who post on Dentaltown’s message boards.

One of the things I remember my dad saying is, ‘God gave you two eyes so you could keep one on the customer and the other on cost!’ What does ‘keeping your eye on the customer’ really mean? It means observing the customer’s behaviour to understand his or her needs and priorities. I regularly get calls from dentists asking what they should do to get new patients. They ask me if they should join referral services, mail postcards or send four-page, four-colour newsletters. “What should I read about marketing?” they ask. They want to know if they should provide patient financing.

What confuses me the most, though, is that while I’m busy saying yes to the dentists’ ideas, frequently their front office receptionist is saying ‘No, no, no’ to potential patients.

  • Patients ask, ‘Are you open any evenings?’ ‘No’, says the receptionist.
  • ‘Well, are you open on Saturdays?’ Another resounding ‘No.’
  • ‘Do you offer payment plans?’ ‘No.’
  • ‘I’ve been going to you for five years. There isn’t an orthodontist in town, and I was wondering if Dr. Good could do my daughter’s orthodontics?’ ‘No.’
  • ‘Can you pull my son’s wisdom teeth?’ ‘No.’

Why don’t these practices just get it over with and train their receptionist to respond, ‘What is it about “no” that you don’t understand?’ 

See Howard Live

Give patients what they want—and ask them what that is
To uncover the mysteries of the market, I taught our entire dental team how to use a very easy system. It’s called the ‘Getting to Yes’ pad. Every time patients ask for something and my staff has to tell them ‘No,’ we write down the details on this pad. At the end of the month, we review all the information from the pads and analyse in detail what our patients want and the merits of accommodating their requests. 

I’ve never understood why many dentists prefer to add the latest technology to their practice rather than assess their patients’ real needs. Many jump on the bandwagon and follow the trail to learn veneers, and not how to do simple orthodontics. Yet, think about it—the ortho market is 8,000 times bigger than the veneers market. Every dentist I’ve met usually treats his or her own children with orthodontics and bleaching. Have you ever seen veneers on a dentist’s own children? So, why is this one of the primary treatments in their own practice? 

If you properly explain the merits of in-office bleaching to your patients, you’ll probably cut down radically on your home bleaching cases. Talk about free marketing! Manufacturers are spending a fortune on ‘perfect smiles’ awareness, so all you have to do is make sure you have the service available in your practice. We provide in-office bleaching at Today’s Dental, and patients absolutely love it. 

Many dentists cry, ‘Stop taking dental insurance.’ Who are they kidding? The market—our patients—love their dental insurance. Have you ever had a patient say, ‘Oh, I have dental benefits, but I’d prefer to pay for everything’? No, they come into the office waving those insurance cards as proudly as the American flag.

If you’re treating the top 10% of the country, then maybe you have every right to decline insurance. But if you’re located in a typical middle-class Americana town such as the one I practice in, you’ll never make it if you don’t listen to what your patients are telling you about being able to use their insurance benefits. If you’re losing money to insurance, learn how to evaluate your real operating expenses; then, you’ll be able to decide if you can take those benefits and still make money on the deal. 

I don’t know about you, but my motto is: ‘If I’m not going to make money on the deal, I’m not doing the deal.’ Learn how to really listen to your patients. That is the primary marketing skill you’ll need for real success.

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What topics would you like Howard to tackle?

What should Dr. Howard Farran talk about in his next ‘Howard Speaks’ column? Visit and tell us what you think his next focus should be in the comments section under this column.

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