A Marketer’s Take on Practice Building

All businesses need to have an ongoing marketing effort in order to maintain their level of sales and, hopefully, grow. Marketing budgets vary greatly among different industries. As a rule of thumb, however, a budget could be set somewhere from 5% to 50% of gross sales, customized specifically to fit the marketing objectives of a business.1 If this recommendation is followed, an average dental office grossing $500,000 should allocate at least $25,000 for marketing. The question is, how should this money be spent in order to grow the practice?

According to Levin, “These days if a practice is not growing, it is in decline, and putting ads in the Yellow Pages simply is not enough to give a practice that extra edge that makes patients want to go there. Instead, a consistent, repeat, and ongoing set of marketing strategies is necessary to put a practice on the map and get people excited about becoming patients. These strategies should incorporate a blend of one-on-one personal contact, group contact, written communication, and phone contacts.”2

Because dentists are healthcare professionals, they need to make sure their marketing efforts are not seen as purely commercial or sales oriented. An advertisement in the local paper may help a new restaurant gain patrons, while a similar ad for a new dental office may cause a negative stigma among the community. In general, most practices rely on standard practice-building procedures such as Yellow Pages listings and advertisements, welcome wagons, and local newspaper advertisements.

People looking for a new dentist want to find a professional who will care for them and provide top-quality dentistry. Many of these potential patients believe that dentists who make efforts to “sell” their services are less reputable than dentists who concentrate on providing the best care for their patients. The most difficult part of any type of practice-building program is to create awareness of a dentist among potential patients without generating a negative image. Positive press and word-of-mouth recommendations are much stronger marketing forces than advertisements and Yellow Pages listings, and they avoid the negative stigma.

This article outlines a new way for a dentist to implement the kind of marketing program Levin recommends to reach potential patients without a negative stigma. The practice-building program described generates positive press, encourages referrals from trusted community members, and demonstrates that the dentist is more concerned about his or her community than the commercial aspects of the dental profession. The program completes this goal by helping a dentist interface with his or her community in a professional manner. These donations can be turned into marketing opportunities, including advertising, publicity, and word-of-mouth referrals, which bolster an image that the dentist altruistically cares for the community. A dentist can complete this program and gain many new patients for a cost far less than $25,000.

PRACTICE-BUILDING PROGRAM

 

The program consists of 3 parts, which each focus on both internal and external marketing: donations and gifts of consumer dental products (CDPs), lecturing to community groups, and large-scale donations of CDPs with press coordination.

(1) External marketing increases the interface of the dentist with the surrounding community.

(2) Internal marketing focuses on patients already in the practice as both a source of income and a potential source of new patients.

Donations and Gifts of Consumer Dental Products

Figure. Possible CDPs from left to right: Reach Access Flosser (McNeil-PPC), Save-A-Tooth Emergency Tooth Preserving System, and Crest SpinBrush. All of these CDPs can be labeled for distribution with the doctor’s name as shown.

The concept behind this segment of the program is to increase new patients by creating awareness in the community and gaining additional referrals from existing patients. The dentist selects a dental item (CDP) that is suitable for donation. Examples of these items are Crest SpinBrush (Procter & Gamble), dental care books,  and Save-A-Tooth systems (Phoenix-Lazerus). These items, with the dentist’s telephone number on them, are then donated to local community groups. Every donation increases contact that the dentist has with potential patients, thus increasing the number of new patients seeking his or her services. The program recommendations require little time on the part of the dentist and keep his name in front of potential patients for an extended period of time (Figure).

Donations to Community Groups

This first step in gaining new patients should be addressed to groups and organizations that have large numbers of potential patients.   Examples of these are as follows:

(1) hospital emergency rooms,

(2) local ambulance services,

(3) school health centers (ie, school nurses),

(4) school athletic programs,

(5) local children’s intramural teams (ie, soccer, midget might football, Little League baseball, and T-ball),

(6) daycare centers, and

(7) camps and YMCAs.

One way to select the services is to have dental staff members and even patients write down each of their own children’s or grandchildren’s activities or their own community service groups. From this, an excellent list can be constructed; an added bonus is that since the coaches or directors of the listed groups may be known personally, initial contact is simplified.

Once a product is selected, a staff member then calls each of the selected organizations and finds out who is the head of that organization. For example, if a soccer team is chosen, the coach is identified, and a meeting is set up. The dentist or selected staff member* takes the Save-A-Tooths to the head of each selected organization. (*Although the most effective method of practice building in this segment is by the dentist delivering the CDPs, a qualified staff member also can do this.) At this meeting the dentist tells the coach or director about the problem of dental trauma and that he wants to make sure that the children, participants, or patients have the best possible opportunity for preventing dental trauma and knocked-out teeth. When a dentist distributes a CDP, the immediate effect is that the recipient will think of the dentist in a positive manner. Not only will the recipient think the dentist is a dedicated healthcare person, but that he or she is at the forefront of the field. Hopefully, the contact will tell his or her friends, co-workers, and participants (and their parents) about the dedicated dentist. As a result, if they are looking for a dentist, that dentist now becomes the obvious choice. Additionally, the donor dentist becomes the obvious choice should the coach or team members need a dentist from an occurrence during the chosen activity.

Gifts to Current Patients

The basic idea here is to provide your current patients with a feeling of appreciation for their being loyal patients in the practice. This should motivate them to stay in the practice and to recommend the dentist to friends and family. CDPs such as power toothbrushes (like Sonicare [Philips] or Crest SpinBrush), emergency items for parents, or flavored toothpastes for children would be good choices to use as patient gifts. These gifts can be used in several ways within a dental practice, such as an apology for wait time or to thank a referring dentist.

(1) For large, full-mouth reconstruction cases, a CDP could be given as a “thank you” gift to the patient. Giving a gift such as a Sonicare power toothbrush shows care and consideration to patients and helps them maintain their substantial investment in the reconstruction. A gift of a new CDP reflects positively on the donor, as he or she is up on the latest techniques in the field and cares enough for patients to share these items with them. Actions like this encourage patients to “brag” about their dentist and encourage their friends to become patients.

(2) There are also times in every dental practice when a treatment plan does not go as anticipated. The dentist may keep a patient waiting, have to cancel an appointment, or redo a bridge that does not fit. When this occurs, dentists sometimes adjust the fee or give tickets to a movie. By giving a tangible gift as compensation for these problems as opposed to a bill adjustment, appreciation will be remembered every time the product is used.

(3) The gift of a CDP can wonderfully express gratitude to a patient who was referred to the practice by a current patient. An example of this is the book The Complete Teething Guide, by Kathy Arnos. New patients will feel very welcome in the office when they are greeted on their first visit with a new book. A gift for the referring patient will also be greatly appreciated.

(4) For the general dentist, giving the gift of a CDP to the patients he or she sees most frequently helps build a great relationship with pa-tients who have been treated for many years, allowing the relationship to be nourished and well maintained. Once again, gifts such as these encourage patients to “brag” about their dentist and may encourage their friends to become patients.

(5) For the specialist, appreciation for referrals from general dentists can be shown by giving CDPs such as a Save-A-Tooth. During the year-end holiday season as specialists scurry around to identify gifts of appreciation for referring dentists, a CDP will be a nice choice.

LECTURING TO LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

The second method of in-creasing the dentist’s interface with the community is through lecturing to local community service groups. The following are examples of these kinds of groups:

(1) school PTA,

(2) Lion’s Club,

(3) Rotary Club,

(4) Elk’s Club,

(5) Optimist’s Club,

(6) Key Club,

(7) Masonic organizations,

(8) Red Cross,

(9) United Way,

(10) Boy Scouts,

(11) Girl Scouts, and

(12) local summer camps.

Lecturing to local community service groups is an accepted method of presenting oneself as a superior healthcare person in front of a large number of people at one time. It positions the

dentist as a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner and  shows his or her dedication to oral health. The dentist should prepare a short, 15- to 20-minute lecture on dental trauma. These lectures are sometimes available through local and state dental associations. Some companies, like Phoenix-Lazerus (manufacturer of Save-A-Tooth), will provide the dentist with a complete lecture with purchase of their products. This makes a presentation to a group as easy as possible. The lecture should be informative and interesting, and if people in the audience are looking for a dentist, the presenter will be a natural choice.

Local community service groups should be identified, and the head of the association should be contacted and told that the dentist would like to give a presentation about “how to save knocked-out teeth” or some other topic of interest. The dentist should provide, if requested, an outline of the presentation. The dentist can give the same presentation to many different local associations. Ob-viously, the more presentations given, the more new patients will enter the practice. This can be one of most effective means of generating new patients for your office.

GENERATING PUBLICITY FOR YOUR PRACTICE

 

In order to generate publicity, a dentist should purchase a large quantity of CDPs and make a large-scale donation to the local school district, ambulance squad, or police department. This donation should provide each nurse, EMT, officer, athletic team, or team member with a needed item like a Save-A-Tooth. With this volume of purchase, the dentist should contact his or her local news organizations (include newspapers, local television, and radio) and tell them what is being done. Many local news groups include personal interest stories such as this in their newscasts. When a dentist contacts these organizations, he should be prepared with the date the donation will be made and should also be prepared to allow members of the press to be present at the donation.

In addition, dentists can offer complimentary mouthguard services, whereby young athletes in the community are invited to visit the dental office for impressions of their teeth and the fabrication of custom mouthguards at no charge. The dentist should  send all local papers a press release similar to the following sample:

Local Dentist Donates Mouthguards to Area Athletes

Dr. John Smith is a local dentist whose dedication to saving teeth has been shown by his donation of complimentary mouthguards to several local community schools and athletic groups. The athletic department of Springford Area School District, the local Midget Might football league, and the Mini-Flyers ice hockey league are among the most prominent recipients of the free, custom mouthguard ser-vices Dr. Smith has provided in his office.

Dr. Smith is a general dentist who has been in practice in Royersford for more than 10 years. When asked why he made such a substantial donation, Dr. Smith said, “I wanted to protect the smiles of our athletes. Since most people don’t know how serious a problem dental injuries can be, I wanted to make sure that every athlete was protected.” Only 10% of athletes regularly wear their mouthguards, so Dr. Smith thought that by donating the mouthguards, he could ensure that all athletes have a mouthguard and will be encouraged to wear it for every athletic practice and game.

Dr. Smith is focused on this community and, as a dentist, knows that the best way of treating dental trauma is by preventing it from occurring. The cost of replacing a knocked-out tooth is very high over an athlete’s lifetime, and through this donation Dr. Smith wanted to protect athletes from experiencing this kind of injury.

For more information about protecting athletes or for general dental questions, call Dr. Smith at (610) 519-0404.

An article such as this or a short piece about the donations on the local news will be the ultimate free advertising vehicle. News such as this gives credibility to a professional and will certainly attract many new patients to the office.

SUMMARY

 

This article proposes a new method for increasing new patients in a dental practice. It augments the practice externally by increasing the dentist’s presence in the local community through the following ways:

(1) distributing a consumer dental product to local community groups such as emergency rooms, ambulances, and kids sports teams,

(2) lecturing about dental trauma at local organizations, and

(3) creating positive press about the dentist and his or her practice.

The practice is also built internally by giving out CDPs to selected patients. By initiating this program, a dentist can substantially increase the number of new patients in his or her office. With the increase in new patients, the dentist will be able to raise fees, be more selective in the parts of dentistry he would like to perform, and become free from third-party payment.

The dentist who appears focused on providing the best care to everyone in the community will shortly see new patients entering his or her practice. With this program, a dentist can focus on marketing and building the practice without the stigma frequently associated with these activities. The dentist now appears altruistic instead of driven to make more money by building the practice. This image, along with the contacts initiated in the program, will provide the dentist with a strong, very public image that will attract new patients.


References

1. Kotler P. A Framework for Marketing Management. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall; 2001:227,15.

2. Levin RP. Marketing on a tight budget. J Calif Dent Assoc. 1998;26:512-514.


Ms. Weikel received her master’s in business administration with a concentration in marketing from Lehigh Uni-versity. She has several years experience working in the healthcare industry as a marketing consultant, and continues to do so. She also works for an endodontist as his marketing and practice relations manager. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (610) 858-7392.

Disclosure: Ms. Weikel is a marketing consultant for healthcare companies, including Save-A-Tooth.