I’m a marketer and salesman from my college days. I waited tables, sold suits, and sold books door-to-door, and I loved every minute of it. When I got accepted to dental school, I already had the goal of becoming an entrepreneur dentist.
But since I went to dental school on scholarship, I had a four-year work obligation with the United States Public Health Service in New Orleans working at a children’s clinic. So, I used it to my advantage. Those four years gave me time to not only hone my skills as a dentist, but study business at the same time.
However, there weren’t a lot of courses back in the 1980s designed for dentistry, so I studied other business successes. What I learned changed everything for me, and the most important thing I learned was that marketing is the lifeblood of the dental business.
Marketing brings in patients. If you have a constant flow of new patients, they will generate revenue for you, provided you can deliver the services you are promoting. The only thing you have to do is follow through with good service, which will lead to referrals, and the cycle continues.
In dentistry, though, I found myself spending a lot of time training people in marketing. They would assume that because I had a marketing department, they didn’t need to worry about marketing. That’s wrong. Marketing is everything you do. How you pick your location. How you address your niche.
But it is very difficult to convince dentists, assistants, receptionists, and management that everyone belongs to the marketing department in some way. Start early. Bake that idea into your culture. Everything is marketing. Your written messaging. Your visual brand and logo. Everything you do makes an impression, and that’s marketing.
In dentistry, marketing has four purposes:
- Let people know your practice exists and get them to initiate contact.
- Communicate the special value you offer to your niche.
- Make people feel comfortable and confident about you.
- Get patients to refer you to friends and family.
Mailers, billboards, Facebook ads, and all the rest can accomplish the first purpose. The look, feel, voice, and service that people experience when they come into contact with your dental business, even when they drive by your building, will do the rest. You’ve got to pay attention to everything, because you never know what can cost you a patient if you become complacent.
When I started Kids Dental Kare, my marketing consisted of, well, everything. You don’t always know what’s going to work at first, so you try it all. In general, for dentistry, I divide marketing into three rough categories:
- Category One: Visibility marketing, including outdoor ads, bus bench ads, newspaper ads, and direct mailers, lets the people in your niche know you’re out there.
- Category Two: Relationship marketing is about getting people to know, like, and trust you, which mostly means going into the community, talking to and educating people, and reaching out to other dentists and physicians in the area to build trust and get referrals.
- Category Three: Maintenance marketing mostly consists of creating email offer campaigns aimed at current patients (to get more referrals), sending out Christmas cards, and other outreach. You’re letting them know they’re appreciated so that they keep coming back.
Early on, I had 19 or 20 marketing activities going simultaneously, including advertising, presentations at elementary schools, speaking at community centers and leaving collateral, hiring outside reps to talk to other dentists to build my professional referral base, and so on. If the Internet had been a thing, I would’ve been working that, too.
In the beginning, you try everything because marketing is the rocket fuel for your business, and you’re building from scratch. Over time, by tracking where your patients come from, you’ll see what gives you the best return on investment, and you can drop some of your less productive marketing channels.
One thing I found was that, because my niche was pediatrics, the more personal my marketing was, the better my results. After I ran my Armenian ads in Russian on local television, the local station aimed at the Armenian community asked me if I wanted to do a commercial for them in Russian. So, I did.
Then I was invited to the Armenian dental society meeting, and everyone knew me because I had been marketing and advertising to the community. Two guys came over to me during that event and wanted to know my secret. How did I break into the Armenian community and get so many of them as patients? I said, “Well, they like me and trust me with their kids.” It was that simple. I’d talked to them, respected their language, and connected with them.
I also sent out a simple, but very, very effective, letter to all the doctors in the area that said something like this: “Hi, I’m Dr. Jerry Lanier, a general dentist that has a practice limited to kids. If you have any kids with behavior management problems that you prefer not to treat, I would like to be a resource for you.” It generated a lot of referrals.
Just remember that marketing is an investment in your business and future.
Dr. Lanier, DDS, EMBA, is an entrepreneur dentist who founded Kids Dental Kare, a small DSO that he sold to Western Dental in 2017. He built 26 de novo offices as 100% owner. His emphasis is on dentists building a franchise-like brand and devising an exit strategy focusing on EBITDA. As an investor, he is now involved in TKO Dental Properties and MKTGdocs.com. He graduated from Meharry Dental School in Nashville, served for four years in the US Public Health Service Corps in New Orleans, and received an executive MBA from UCLA, Anderson School. He is the author of The Entrepreneur Dentist: How to Exit your Dental Business Rich, which will be available on May 15, 2019, in hardcover and e-book format at bookstores nationwide and online. To connect with Dr. Lanier, visit LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and entrepreneurdentist.com.